19 September 2015

Spooks 2.2: Nest of Angels

I don't envy Howard Brenton having to write this story. It focuses for the most part on a Muslim extremist terror cell operating out of a mosque in Birmingham. This kind of subject matter is never going to be particularly easy to present, as there is little with the potential to offend as much if done wrong - especially in a BBC One flagship show.

It all begins when MI5's agent in the mosque is discovered and tortured. Sent to a specialist clinic in Truro, Tom's told he's suffered a blood clot in his brain and so will never speak again. This immediately sets the group up as dangerous, but would also alert Mohammed Rashid, the terrorists' ringleader, to their presence. Despite this, Tom is determined to intervene and goes to see Rashid himself. He's beginning to annoy me a little, always insisting he knows what's right, and he always has to do everything himself as if no-one else is good enough - something which he has said before. I hope this doesn't continue for too much longer to be honest.

Fortunately at the same time an Algerian agent arrives in Britain, having escaped the French secret service. He agrees to penetrate the cell for MI5, and he discovers an attack using a teenage suicide bomber is imminent. There's a little forced ambiguity over his allegiance after he misses three rendezvous, but I never doubted his true motives, after being so affected by the death of his family at the hands of Rashid's allies. The panicked lack of faith by Tom could be justified, but isn't in this situation. Of course the cell are going to be watching their new member, come bearing money and commitment. And meeting the same person - who they already know! - at the same location? It's just more bigheadedness from Tom. As I think back, his selfish actions over the last series are beginning to annoy me more and more. He ought to be confident in his work, but not as self-confident as this.

Things are wrapped up with a raid on the mosque, but they don't manage to stop the bomber. Luckily, the Algerian agent is with him and sacrifices himself to stop the blast, with a school playground just next door. Once again Tom emerges the hero. He even sleeps with the gobby doctor from the last episode, Vicky. He always looks so depressed after sex too, it'sc weird. Zoe and Danny are unfortunately relegated back to their usual role of researching and waiting around, but at least the former gets another drink with the man from Legitimate Targets. Sadly Sam barely features.

This feels like one of the most dangerous episodes yet. Rather than being set in a leafy countryside or an expensive building, this feels very urban. With it all set on ordinary, terraced streets, you feel like this could all be happening for real just round the corner. Brenton does very well to cover the topic of religious extremism whilst still maintaining respect for said religion. He makes it very clear this isn't the norm but makes it completely feasible and believable.

Bharat Nalluri's last direction for more than eight series went down well with me too. He does very well to disguise the fact that, for whatever reason, they couldn't film the outside of a mosque, and there's some lovely moving shots. Static two- or three-shots are still his preference by the look of things but I can forgive that because the presentation language of TV and film has developed over the twelve or thirteen years since this was made.

In summary then, Nest of Angels is a truly dangerous addition to the series. No matter the viewer's faith, the shorthand of suicide bombers quickly creates an image to resist, to tell you that these people are evil and ruthless. Speaking of Ruth, this is Nicola Walker's first episode of many, although she doesn't get all that much to do here. Her arrival does however deliver us one of my favourite moments from the entire series - the way Peter Firth plays the "You're the intelligence officer, you should know." line is priceless. Ruth will be with the series to the very end, and to be honest I'd forgotten she joined this early. I never really liked her - too inappropriately bonkers and headstrong for me. Seeing a theme here? To redress the balance, I think Harry, Sam, Zoe, Malcolm and Colin are all great. Much like this episode.

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