29 September 2015

Spooks 3.2: The Sleeper


And so the old order begins to crumble. This, if you didn't know, is Tom's last full episode. The business with Herman Joyce really seems to have upset something within himself, and throughout The Sleeper we see a spectrum of Tom's different sides, culminating in his decommissioning. It's a bold step to show an officer of the service going mad as a direct result of his work, but certainly the right decision to make.

At the crux of this episode is Professor Fred Roberts. When a new terror cell comes to the attention of MI5, they plan a sting to flush out the group. 24 years ago, Harry recruited Fred as his first sleeper, helping him with chemical research which led to a Nobel Prize on the condition that if his expertise were ever required he would be called upon. The team stage an explosion at an East End block of flats and then make it look as if Roberts has been arrested in connection. They want to fool the terrorists into thinking he can make red mercury, a fictional substance more deadly than plutonium. Sure enough, the group soon show themselves and try and purchase some from him.

And here's where Tom's meltdown begins. He's been running the operation up to now, and it has gone exactly as hoped. Tom is the rogue element in the equation though. He at first takes delight in seeing Fred and his wife arguing and her moving out. But later he's totally disgusted with the service and what it's doing to an innocent man. He tries to take Fred to his family in Leeds, jeopardising the whole operation. He flips, like a switch. Understandably, Harry can't have that.

If Matthew Macfadyen wanted to be written out, there were a number of ways it could have been done. Tom could have died, he could have left, or he could have been dismissed. Howard Brenton obviously went for the last of these, and I think it was the most dramatically-satisfying decision, without wanting to sound too detached from reality. Tom has been driven slightly mad by this job and the breakdown has been clear across the last couple of episodes most prominently, but it goes back a long time. Remember his disillusionment with Harry and the service in the latter half of the second series? It definitely wasn't, but Brenton manages to make this whole thing look like it was planned very far in advance. The fall of Tom Quinn (help, I've caught the bug everyone else seems to have of only being able to say his full name!) has been interesting, and in a way I'm glad he's gone. There's only so much mileage in one team dynamic, and I think it was probably explored to its maximum potential.

Replacing him - effectively - is Adam Carter, who we met last time. Adam as played by Penry-Jones is once again a bit aloof and upbeat until it comes down to it, then he turns on a sixpence and he's the embodiment of all your nightmares. Yes, all of them. I look forward to seeing how he pans out, and I wonder how long it will be before his wife is inevitably introduced. In the trailer for the next episode, Who Guards The Guards?, Mace is seen instructing MI5 to undergo surveillance from MI6. Given Adam was lifted from that department and his wife still works there, I have a feeling we'll be introduced before too long. And with Tom out the way, it looks like we'll be getting an Adam-centric episode which is probably only right given the relatively minimal exposure so far.

Danny and Zoe have been known before to lose faith in Tom and sure enough it doesn't take long for them to once again. I'm sure they have respect for him, but they want to do what they think is right for the good of the country, something which their former boss loss sight of a little here. By signing up to the service, they're agreeing to do whatever protects civilians, with no regard of the personal consequence. The pair look sad to see Tom go, understandably, and I wonder if it was as much for him losing his way as them losing a friend. Zoe looked a bit sadder than Danny but then that's hardly a surprise given Matthew Macfadyen and Keeley Hawes had been together for two years. Indeed, they got married just a couple of weeks after this episode was broadcast, and are still together now with a couple of kids for good measure.

With so much of this episode focused around Tom and the professor, it leaves little time for the rest of the ensemble. After they all gained a little boost in prominence in Project Friendly Fire, I can only hope the likes of Sam, Malcolm, Ruth and Colin get a bit more airtime over the coming few weeks. They're all good, solid characters who could hold up their own plots so it does seem a bit of a shame to see some characters shoved into the limelight time and again, even though that's how it would be in the real setup. Anyway, more please.

Howard Brenton has the series down to a tee now. He can write solidly almost blindfolded, it would seem. His episodes aren't just reliably high quality, there's an unpredictability to them, a lack of format, that keeps it all interesting and engaging. No wonder he's the head writer; he gets the series better than anyone else currently working on it, with creator David Wolstencroft almost gone. Jonny Campbell makes the whole thing look inexpressably beautiful too. It's like the cameras have suddenly been put on the right setting. This standard would pass for high quality drama now, let alone eleven years ago! It's all so sharp and pretty. There's even a few pull focuses which actually work for the first time. What a tragedy he didn't work on the series again.

A very solid episode that sees Tom out in fitting style. The old guard begins to crumble at last... Who'll be next?

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