25 September 2015

Spooks 2.8: Strike Force

Threats to British security can of course come from within as well as from foreign powers, and Steve Bailie's sole contribution to Spooks - Strike Force - is another episode that deals with that. This time, it's the military that threatens to wreak untold havoc. The strange thing is it's done with the noblest of intentions.

After war hero Major Sam Curtis is reported to the MoD for being suspected of organising terrorism by the man who's effectively his secretary, Tom's compulsory annual two weeks amongst the forces as head of Section D are transferred in order that he be under Curtis' command. This, to Tom, feels like snooping on a colleague and so he is deeply unsettled. Instead of acting like the reasoned professional he's paid to be, he behaves like a toddler, complete with tantrum.

But against Tom's instincts it turns out that Curtis is up to something, cue another tantrum. Completely unexpectedly, it also ties into the other major plot of the episode, which concerns a massive vat of nuclear waste needing to be driven to Dover before the ports close due to strike action. Curtis takes the convoy to an oil refinery ten miles outside London, at which point it takes MI5 a staggeringly long time to realise that the location is significant. Yes, they're not just going to blow themselves up (the casing on the nuclear waste is too thick to be damaged by that) they're actually going to detonate the oil refinery they've arrived at. Good work Ruth - keep her on. Oh, they have.

And then like a lot of other episodes this series the climactic scene seems to last for about two minutes before the problem is resolved with just one simple action. This isn't necessarily a criticism, it's just an observation about the pacing. Perhaps my issue is that the pattern of immediate problem resolved, fade to black, fade up on a party isn't that narratively satisfying. If, in this example, you had a minute or 90 seconds of Tom and Danny chatting/arguing (that is Tom's default mode this week) about it, with the latter trying to justify events to the former and at least discussing what could have been at stake, it would have rounded things off a bit better for me. I know that's a lot of extra time to find, but there's plenty that could be nipped and tucked throughout the episode.

In Tom's absence, Zoe is acting head of section which is another strange turn of events in the Zoe/Harry relationship of late. One week he's ripping into her, the next she's ripping into him and now they're thick as thieves. With Tom also going off the rails and being effing cross with Harry for neutralising potentially devastating terrorist action, could we be looking towards a shake up of the regular team? For the last three or four episodes, Zoe has been quite out of character compared to the run up to that point, and I much prefer her 'traditional' character, so hopefully that will make a return over the next couple of episodes.

The other topic of the episode is Ruth's potential recall to GCHQ. I wouldn't be particularly sorry for her as a character to leave as she's barely added anything to the episodes thus far (and is a bitch to my favourite Sam - "Get this sorted now!" etc.) but it's clear she's an asset to the fictional team, so it makes sense that she's staying. I wonder how much truth there was in the potential of this being her last episode. Was she really on trial to see how well she worked, or was it just a bit of filler? Danny really is bloody useless, isn't he? Every single bloody time he goes undercover he gets found out - twice in this episode! As a spy he's pretty naff, and is still far too holier than thou for my liking. His relationship with Sam has helped him in my estimations because he's a different character around her but the rest of the time he's a frustrating stand-in who occupies valuable screen time that could have gone to development of relatively underused figures like Colin, Malcolm and indeed Sam. It's really annoying just how poor at his job he thinks he is, whilst simultaneously thinking he's the biggest stud on the planet - just see the way he rounds on Colin in I Spy Apocalypse. Oyelowo's performance really doesn't help make him another appealing to me.

This is an episode that puts Tom firmly centre-stage and luckily for Matthew Macfadyen, who plays him, he's really pissed off throughout this episode since thatt's the emotional state he seems to resort to most readily. Tom being unhappy about having to infiltrate the army might be interesting if a) he wasn't miserable about everything every bloody week and b) he wasn't being paid a huge sum of taxpayers' money to do his damn job. As it is, he comes across like a real brat, and even says eff you to Harry on his birthday. I'm quickly tiring of Tom and really don't want to have to put up with another series of this miserable sod. Grow up mate.

So all in all an average episode by Spooks standards but not one I was particularly looking forward to watching, and not one I'd be eager to go back to, unlike the two lowest-rated episodes of the series (I Spy Apocalypse and Without Incident). Not like me to have an unusual opinion, but there you go. The direction is alright, nice in places, but nothing really to write home about. I feel the series is becoming more and more homogenised as we go on; whereas in the early stages each episode had its own feel and identity, now the direction feels more or less identical from story to story. Perhaps some more dynamic, visionary folks are needed to jazz this up about. Let's see if Sam Miller's up to the job next time.

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