01 October 2015

Spooks 3.4: A Prayer for My Daughter

This is a strange episode. It takes place against the backdrop of a peace conference intended to resolve conflict in the Middle East, but is far more concerned with the arrival of Harry's daughter. However, it doesn't really deal with either of its main topics especially well. Thrown into the mix as well is Adam's wife Fiona, but unfortunately she doesn't have much of an impact either. The result is a pretty confused episode which does nothing particularly well.

The big issue of A Prayer for My Daughter is the emergence of a terrorist organisation calling themselves the November Committee. They disagree with the peace talks, claiming that the only way peace will ever come to Israel is through the eradication of those who don't share their beliefs. Danny and Zoe join up with a group who volunteer to go out to the West Bank to try and help the situation, and it's here that they meet Harry's daughter, Catherine. They initially infiltrate the group out of fears for pro-Palestinian MP Nicholas Ashworth, who they fear may be next on the November Committee's hit list - it's their job to seek out the undercover agent.

And, fittingly given her heritage, it turns out that Catherine is working undercover, although not as you might imagine. Harry and co jump to the conclusion that she is the November Committee agent thanks to the lack of evidence against, but the real explanation is much more innocent. Catherine is a rising star in the world of documentary film making, and is apparently charting the progress of West Bank volunteers. However, she has found out about the Committee from her ex-boyfriend, who was in the Israel Secret Service, and is trying to get to the heart of their network.

The double agent turns out to be Ashworth's boyfriend, but luckily Zoe and Danny arrive just in time to abort his murder, planned to look like suicide. This is an expansive tale in storytelling terms, taking in media moguls and parliamentarians alike, all the while dealing with the rising tensions between Palestine and Israel. Just taking the plot in black and white terms, including Fiona's involvement, it works fine. Everything feeds into each other and every scene is justified by later events. However, I couldn't help feeling the execution was somewhat lacking. I think the performances were more or less fine - I'm even starting to like Danny this series, what's wrong with me? - the whole thing just felt a bit lacklustre.

I don't think this episode does anything especially 'wrong', it just doesn't do an awful lot notably well. The scene at the end between Harry and Catherine is affecting thanks solely to Peter Firth's remarkable portrayal. He can say a thousand words without opening his mouth. Firth is a truly remarkable actor, and is proving even now that he was unquestionably the right choice for the role of Harry Pearce.

This is Ben Richards' second episode of seventeen and to be honest it's one of the weakest the series has delivered. For the third series, he's written the same number of episodes as the excellent Howard Brenton, including the finale. The producers obviously see something in his writing that appeals, but I'm not sure I have yet. His first episode wasn't much better than this in script terms but the lovely direction from Sam Miller helped things enormously. So far I can't really see what's so good about Richards' work; it's pretty much on a par with Matthew Graham's stuff.

Cilla Ware unfortunately still doesn't have much of the skill with the camera that various previous directors have shown. I learned from the behind the scenes features on the DVD for her two episodes that she started off making documentaries, and reviewing her work in that light makes a lot more sense. The picture quality is still notably worse than Jonny Campbell achieved, so I look forward to seeing how another director - Justin Chadwick is next - presents the footage. A lot of her scene transitions look positively amateurish as well, which is a shock after becoming accustomed of late to some beautiful, filmic wipes and flares.

But it isn't solely Ware's fault this episode is a bit underwhelming. It has a variety of strong stories but uses none of them to their full potential. The hook is supposed to be our fascination that Harry has a daughter - and we also hear about his wife for the first time since Thou Shalt Not Kill - but it's not a massively engaging hook when the material is presented this blandly. Peter Firth is excellent as always, Fiona fails to make an impact, Ruper Penry-Jones puts in a nice performance as Adam and Sam is once again reduced to being the tea girl. Oh and what is it with Ben Richards giving his episodes awful, often meaningless titles?

This episode in a word? Dry.

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