03 October 2015

Spooks 3.6: Persephone

And so the number of MI5 agents dwindles further still. Unlike The Sleeper, however, Persephone makes no pretence of the fact that this could well be Zoe's last episode. From the very start, we're presented with her up in the dock for the manslaughter of an undercover police officer, and things sadly don't get any better as time goes on.

This episode is mostly told in flashback and there is an element of dramatic irony over the Spooks gang. As a viewer, you know that this story wouldn't get told if she did get off scot-free at the end like Harry wants. An an outside, it seems her fate is sealed. But despite this, the script tries to deceive us several times. The courtroom drama is a good framing device and including the flashback sequences helps to break up what is a notoriously stale and sedate form of television.

However, the plot of the events leading to this endgame aren't massively interesting sadly. It's all to do with the Turkish mafia, which you think would be played as enough of a dramatic hook to keep the viewer engaged, but sadly it isn't true. The story goes that Zoe gets close to a middle-ranker in order to get access to one of the more powerful figures, who also dabbles with Al Qaeda. After telling the first she slept with the second on a business trip, he is apparently enraged enough to visit the second's lair and shoot him and his men. One of these was an undercover member of the London Met investigating drugs smuggling but MI5 for some reason had no idea of his involvement.

The characters just aren't written as credibly as normal here. In any other episode, I'm inclined to believe Ruth or Adam or someone - anyone - would have fully vetted all the boss' known associates and found out what was going on. The whole episode hinges on Zoe having given the kill order, but oddly we never see this. That's a really weird choice, whether it was a decision made at the scripting stage or in editing. This pretends to have emotional depth all the way through but the truth is Ben Richards just can't write as well for these characters as some other writers (I've no need to name them by now) are able to. I can't really put my finger on what's wrong, I think it's probably just the entire approach that doesn't work for me. When I say 'wrong', I'm not stating it as fact, it just doesn't work so well for me.

Despite all I've said, there are a lot of good bits to the episode. The premise itself is commendable and it's to be admired that the team have once again not just gone for the easy option when writing out one of the regulars. This is an original exit strategy for Zoe, it's just a shame it's built on such weak foundations. The arc with Danny's love of Zoe has been building ever since they were taken hostage by Herman Joyce in my opinion (whatever happened with Sam though?) so it's good to see that paid off. One thing going for Richards' interpretation of Zoe is that she's still credited with intelligence. Of course she knows how he feels. All the viewers do. What happens with Will North is probably yet to be discovered, but I'm happy Zoe's had a happy ending after two and a half series of constantly being under threat.

The direction here is nice but even looking as pretty as this can't entirely salvage what should have been a momentous and dramatic exit for Zoe. I wonder who'll be first to replace her, as this show seems unable to cope with any more or less leads than the magic three. My guess for the immediate future would be for Adam's wife Fiona to join the team, even if only for a few episodes. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that yet, but we'll wait and see.

In conclusion then, this parades around like a shatteringly strong and memorable episode, but I'm afraid it just isn't. You may have noticed some tactical avoidance of mentioning names earlier on, simply because I can't. Yet I can recall perfectly those of Mary Kane, Herman Joyce and Peter Salter, which ought to tell you something. Keeley Hawes gives as good a performance as ever in her last outing and I will miss her. She's been the backbone of the last twenty episodes and has rarely faltered in her work. Her last conversation with Danny is moving but the rest of the episode is more or less soulless. It's with regret I also say goodbye to Justin Chadwick, who has contributed excellent work to the series. An enjoyable episode, but not as good as it should have been.

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