13 October 2015

Spooks 4.6: The Innocent

It's clear to me now that the fourth series of Spooks has a few very prominent themes. The most significant of these is the anti-establishment stance, which is interesting considering the series' heroes work for the establishment. In the first and second episodes, we had Richard Boyd, the CIA agent in league with Shining Dawn. In the third, there was the corrupt MP William Sampson. In the fifth episode, we had the Security Services assassinating its own. And now here, the head of Special Branch is revealed to have knowingly imprisoned an innocent man. In addition, even though she was acting with the best of intentions, Juliet Shaw was directly responsible for the death of a prince in Road Trip, the fourth episode of the series.

This is David Farr's first script for Spooks and it's a mighty good one to start with. There's lots of twists and turns to keep the viewer hooked and he's got an intriguing, intelligent premise to base his episode around. After two years in solitary confinement without trial or evidence, a man called Nazim Malik is released on Harry's recommendation as the threat of an imminent attack is being stepped up. They want to catch him in the act to bang him up for good and catch his accomplices in the process. But, as already mentioned, there are complications.

After a day's surveillance of Malik, his only activity is meeting a man at a lock-up. Enough suspicious activity for MI5 to intervene, but as he's about to throw himself off a car park, they learn of his innocence. It turns out he was in the Algerian military, and stationed in the south of France. He was ordered to massacre a village consisting mainly of women and children. He and a friend refused and so were to be shot. He fled to Britain on a truck from Paris (possibly the same one Adam got a couple of weeks ago) with his family and hid them. At the same time, another Nazim Malik was also holed up in north Acton. Special Branch arrested the wrong one but to avoid admitting their mistake and going after the right one, who had probably fled anyway, they imprisoned an innocent man.

Now he's free, Malik just wants safe passage for him and his family. But in order to avoid being caught by the Algerian authorities, he needs fake identities. He's found a supplier for new passports but he can only have them on the condition he completes a job. That job happens to be the assassination of the president of the Algerian Bank, since he's a top grade marksman. Thankfully Adam and co manage to free his family from the clutches of their kidnappers and so the president lives to see another day. Malik and his family are given safe passage to Ireland, with enough money that they need never work again by means of compensation of the hardships they have all endured as a result of the British authorities not following procedure.

As good as the main story of this episode is, I do have a couple of small gripes. For one thing, not that many of the team actually get that much to do here. Fiona at least gets a subplot in the first half of the episode, but apart from that it's pretty much just the Adam show, with Zaf as his wingman, but admittedly he does get a good scene at the climax with Malik. Admittedly he does - yet again - fail in his task but he manages to hold off the murder long enough for the children to be saved. After last week's baptism of fire, this episode doesn't offer that much for Jo to do but I did like how she was treated. She shadows Adam for a lot of it, learning the ropes as you always do in a new job. Nice to see her talents being put to use as well rather than forgotten about as soon as she enters the inner sanctum. She's certainly the right choice for the team's new member.

Arguably the best served of the regulars here is Peter Firth. Harry gets a great many scenes to show off his range and ultimately it is Mr Pearce that walks away victorious. I find it pretty rich of Juliet to question him so frequently when in the last couple of episodes she has not only caused the death of a major foreign Prince but covered up the murder of one of the service's finest former assets. Who is she to overrule Harry, who has time and again proved he knows better than her? I wonder if her role in the series is a replacement for Oliver Mace, who was himself filling in for Jools Siviter. To be honest I would have preferred either of those two for this run. Anna Chancellor's portrayal always matches the scripted attitude perfectly but I just can't stand the character to be honest. Oh well, hopefully only another four episodes of her.

Jeremy Lovering returns for the only time here. His direction over the last two episodes has been exceptional. His use of lighting and post-production effects has really raised the bar and put him in the same kind of league as Alrick Riley. I especially love the way he half-lights faces. It's a simple visual but looks so good when done right, as here. The rest of his direction, particularly the crane shots, is delicious too, and I think it's a great shame he didn't do more for the series. On the note of direction, it must be bloody expensive to film outside Freemasons' Hall in London. I'm pretty sure the same four plate shots have been used since the very first series, and it's really obvious. I almost wonder why it's necessary to even show the outside of Thames House. At least the absurd captions seem to have gone walkabouts for now. The one that sticks out in my mind is the hilariously daft 'Secret Meeting Point' in the series two episode Strike Force. It comes just after Zoe says she'll meet Tom at the meeting point, making the caption over her appearance in the middle of a forest a bit of a 'You don't say...' moment. For the most part they're unnecessary, especially when returning to locations in the same episode and are a bit of a lazy shortcut for a writer in my humble opinion.

All in all, a cracking debut from David Farr. Considering he still has seven more episodes to go before the series is out, this is a very encouraging sign. It's great to see more new talent being taken on, even in the fourth series. The agendas of the series continue to rumble on, possibly at the puppeteering of script editor Faith Penhale, who's never credited anywhere sadly, or the producers. Another little moan - why no DVD extras? And please can we get rid of the stupidly overlong and melodramatic menus? They make me chuckle the first few times but now they're just annoying. Anyway, lovely work all.

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