20 September 2015

Spooks 2.3: Spiders

Spiders is an interesting episode, because it's the first time Spooks has dealt with a technology-based threat, and it's notable that it's actually on MI5 themselves. Knowing a bit about IT security, a lot of this seems pretty unrealistic unfortunately but I can forgive a lot of it for the story Matthew Graham is trying to tell about a psychologically-damaged child.

Across the course of the episode we get to see Zoe and Danny take on cover stories in an attempt to try and get closer to the truth of the matter and find out who is hacking the Grid. Zoe assumes the role of an English teacher to befriend a history teacher suspected of being the culprit. Danny returns to a cover story he's been working on with a far-left newspaper, as the misdirection puts him off-scent too.

It turns out that a schoolboy is actually responsible and planted the intel about the history teacher to get unrivalled access to the MI5 network; he knew they would watch the school from nearby. His father was a former agent who was killed in Greece, and the boy holds the service responsible. As some kind of revenge - although he talks about letting all the agents come home to their families - he's hacking the inner sanctum to publish all the information he can find.

Society today is famously becoming more and more dependent on technology, and back in 2003 computers were new and scary. It would be another four years or so from the first broadcast of this episode before we got one at home. With this in mind, it's quite a topical issue to base an episode around. I don't think it was put to the best possible use, with immobilisation so seemingly indomitable and the downtime so short and sweet on each occasion, but I admire the team for tackling it.

While Zoe and Danny take more of a central role, Tom of course still has his part to play. It's significant to me that when Tom's in it less, the team seems to work better as a whole. At first, it looks like this threat is simply insurmountable - there's nothing they can do to combat the system shut down, but through all the various branches of Section D coming together, they manage to work out what's really going on. And like in the last episode where Tom muscles in at the end with "We have procedures for this.", here it's someone else who resolves the immediate danger - Zoe. One thing that did leave me incredulous is that the entire operation is brought to a standstill with the press of an escape key. Surely the 'child genius' wouldn't have left a little thing like that to chance? And if the solution was so simple, why didn't Zoe press it earlier - and why didn't Tom suggest it when he was in radio contact with her? So he could march in and save the day, act the hero? Pfft.

On the topic of continuing arcs, it's nice to see the development of Ruth, and good to see they're actually using her now she's here, but I was disappointed with the lack of Sam. Shauna Macdonald's great, and I hope they use her more in future episodes. Danny apparently fancies here but I've barely seen the pair exchange glances, or even set eyes on each other, so I hope if they are going to go down that route it gets a bit more development. Tom meets with Dr Vicky again, and her vetting seems to have cleared miraculously quickly compared to Ellie and Maisie's. He's such a miserable git when he's with her, it's starting to really irk me. She's gotta be an odd one to like him so much. Anyway, just my tuppence. I've no idea whether the business with Ruth dealing with the child and husband being attacked in the sleepy Greek countryside is intentional foreshadowing - or indeed harking back to this later on - but it made think.

This is the third of four episodes directed by Rob Bailey, and he's learnt a lot from the first two. The image quality of this second run has been better throughout, but Bailey also employs better techniques and camera movement and angles. He doesn't get to the heart of the claustrophobia and sense of impending doom this episode ought to be riddled with, but it's a good step up from last time. This is also Matthew Graham's only episode of Spooks. He's never been a particular favourite writer of mine (although I'm yet to see Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes) but this is a relatively solid episode, all things considered. In places it feels like a script editor has come in, but for the best. It's a competent script matched with competent direction. This episode won't win awards but at the same time it's hardly appalling.

Enjoyable, but the first episode that feels like a filler episode that could easily be excised from the schedules without too much difficulty. I hope this isn't a sign of things to come. The next one looks exciting though!

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