23 September 2015

Spooks 2.6: Without Incident

With the coming of Without Incident, it really feels like Spooks has found its feet. There's a personality to this episode in the way it's written and directed that marks it out to me as a special series. For the first time, I think there's justifiable grounds for claiming there's a political, even satirical, subtext to the episode. And I like that.

As you may be able to tell from this episode's American title - 'President's Visit' - it centres around the advent of a surprise visit from POTUS himself, and as such our 'special relationship' with the United States. Christine Dale has already made herself known at Thames House several times over the last couple of series but this is where her importance takes a step up. I think Harry - and particularly Tom - will find it harder to dismiss her influence in future.

This is a bit of an odd episode because it doesn't really have much of a plot of its own; instead it concentrates more on furthering relationships and storylines spanning the whole series. Every element of the script - working with the Americans, investigating the Libyans, Vicky and the psychological check-ups - seems more focused on the impact of actions rather than the actions themselves, which is something I enjoyed.

The biggest immediate threat in this episode is a microlite that strays off course, straying within a few miles of the location where Blair and Bush were set to meet. But the whole visit is of course a cover-up for America to negotiate with Libya under the radar. I get the feeling we'll see more of that soon. It's interesting to see the way David Wolstencroft weaves the story of Tom and Christine. Before now, she's regularly made it clear she'll do whatever might be necessary to secure her country's safety or gain intel, which adds a dark undercurrent to the illusion of them getting together at the end of the episode. Is one or both of them playing the other? Time will tell, but for now I don't think so. If they are, it's definitely more likely to be Christine than Tom.

There's plenty to occupy the rest of the episode's runtime though, not that it ever feels like padding. Miranda, the staff psychologist, is doing her annual rounds to check up on those charged with the country's security. It's understandable that you would want them in a stable mental state, but at the same time given the kind of work they do and the impact it so clearly has on them, I wouldn't expect them to all be 'normal'. Forget terrorists and dirty bombs, the most stressful thing for staff in this episode is Miranda. It's a really humorous subplot from Wolstencroft and it really brings home the reality that for all the super-sleuthing and the world-saving (see last week's I Spy Apocalypse) it's just another job, with a desk, an office and busy body HR types like any other.

Malcolm and Sam get their own chunk of the action in this episode too, which I was delighted about because - as I state frequently - they are my two favourite characters. MI5 officers at Heathrow have accidentally spilt tea in an American crate they weren't supposed to be looking in, and it's up to the pair to conceal the damage whilst rooting for information about Libya. It's a real nightmare for them, especially when the CIA are sitting ten yards away in the meeting room. It's another really enjoyable part of this episode though, and shows that things don't always go as smoothly as earlier episodes may have portrayed.

And then there's Tom's crazy ex Vicky. After an unceremonious dumping in the last episode, she clearly feels scorned and so has decided to exact a little revenge. Either she doesn't believe what Tom really does or things he's just a lacky. He is however very much a big fish, essentially being in charge of counter-terrorism in the UK. Her underestimation of his importance leads to her posting his phone number and address on male escort flyers all round the city. Once Christine Dale finds out, Vicky's life becomes a little less cushy when she realises she's endangering the life of the President of the United States with her brattish antics. I think it's probably safe to say we won't hear from her again, especially now Tom's got himself a flashy new transatlantic partner.

Without Incident is about exactly that - ensuring that the visit of President Bush to the United Kingdom passes without complication, whilst allowing him to subtly negotiate with the Libyans, which Harry very handily now has footage of. This is a great episode for the whole team, which pressures mounting in a different way to the last episode, and I do wonder how long this core unit that fronts the show can be sustained. I'm beginning to warm to Danny now (in a very small way) but I still think he's played too poshly (for want of a better word). Keeley Hawes is once again great, and Megan Dodds impresses as Christine - when she tells Tom she just wants to impress her superiors I really believed her, whether it's true or not - but the real stars of the show for me are Shauna Macdonald and Hugh Simon. More from them - and Wolstencroft and Chadwick - please. Great work all round. This is a confident series firing on all cylinders.

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