05 October 2015

Spooks 3.8: Celebrity

What an extraordinary episode this is. I mean that in both the sense of it being unusual and it being very good. Here the threat to public welfare is less tangible than normal and you can't put an exact number on the lives saved through the work of this operation. That doesn't mean that the work done by MI5 here is any less important though, as the fall of the government is averted, for the moment at least.

Celebrity has two main plotlines, one triggered by a death in a park, the other ending with one. Harry is left to deal more or less single-handedly with the drunken antics of MP John Sylvester while the others look into the abduction of a former grunge star's infant son - under his watchful gaze of course. It all begins with the aforementioned 'musician' - Riff - being knighted. To celebrate, he has an enormous, riotous house party. During the party, the security guard is... distracted by one of the attendees, and the baby is snatched. As a method of keeping the peace and national spirits up, MI5 are called in to ensure the child's recovery.

John Sylvester, meanwhile, is a member of parliament with two children and a wife. One night though, he tells Harry, he got drunk and slept with a young foreign woman he didn't know. And then they went to the park to do it, things escalated and he ended up hitting her. She's found a few days later in the same spot, dead. Harry obviously doesn't put up with this once he finds out about it, and demands Sylvester confess to the Prime Minister and resign.

There are a number of games and agendas at work here though that make things wonderfully complicated. It's one of the joys of Howard Brenton's writing that nothing and no-one is as they first appear, and Celebrity is no exception. It turns out B, Riff's cocaine-addicted wife, orchestrated the whole kidnap with one of his old tour managers as a publicity stunt. The pair are getting older - he can't write music as well as he used to be able to; she can't model. They needed some kind of boost in the public eye, she reasoned. It's a decision that will get her killed.

After Oliver Mace intervenes and stops Sylvester's letter from reaching Downing Street, things become even more complicated. Initially he wants to bury the story once Riff and B's son is found, as it will get almost no coverage in comparison. However, once the baby is found dead (dropped whilst being brought back) there is no good news to hide it amongst so the explanation of his resignation is changed to a desire of Sylvester's to spend more time with his family.

What this episode is really about is the price of fame. Whilst B would go to any lengths for more attention and adoration, Sylvester would give anything to disappear into the shadows and never be bothered again. It's a sly move of Brenton's to dress this up in such a way. There's so much spin in this episode they may as well have called it 'Dryer'. It's a really intelligent commentary on a part of modern society this show doesn't normally deal with, and it shows the flexibility of the format. As much as everyone is nonplussed as to why they're not defusing a bomb or taking down a Mexican warlord, this was a really shrewd direction to go in. The collapse of the government at this stage, just as Al Qaeda are thought to be planning their next attack, would be more disastrous than ever before. It's MI5's job to prevent that from happening, it's just in a different way to normal.

It appears I was right about Fiona. Even though she hasn't permanently joined the team, she's brought in by Mace from MI6, and by all accounts everyone is very impressed. I wouldn't be shocked to see her taking an active role in the season's remaining episodes, despite what Adam might want. This is another chance to see most of the regulars getting plenty to do, which is really pleasing. The three murders by Riff at the end, including his own, are the final stamp of Brenton's message. Come on Howard, tell us what you really think. It's not exactly a subtle point he makes, but that doesn't make it any less worthy or enjoyable. It's all in the execution, after all, and Brenton is consistently excellent in that department.

As much as I like Tim McInnery's Oliver Mace, I can't help but mourn the loss of fellow Blackadder alumnus Hugh Laurie's Jools Siviter from the first series. You could argue Mace is a more developed and thought-out character but I'd love to see the pair working together. And while we're on the subject of shared history, this is basically becoming 'Spot the Hustle actor' nowadays. This week, it's Vincenzo Nicoli, who played Pete in the third episode of the first series. Don't ask me how I know that off the top of my head when he only had two lines.

Anyway, this is a quality episode that I thoroughly recommend. There's satire, comedy (the call signs), political intrigue and two big mysteries to solve. It's Howard Brenton at his best. I was kind of dreading this episode to be perfectly honest when I saw the trailer, but how wrong I was. It looks great too thanks to some dynamic work from Bill Anderson. And I appreciated the altered soundtrack to reflect the episode's content. Overall, a winner for me.

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