14 October 2015

Spooks 4.7: Syria

Wow, what an intense episode. From the very start it's clear this all about Fiona but in her last episode she's acting distinctly out of character. Across the last series and a half, Olga Sosnovska has put in truly powerful performance after performance, without as much recognition in these reviews as she probably deserves. There clearly has been some kind of plan for the character though, and it's entirely fitting that the episode that sees her departure from the series should also deal with the fallout of her and Adam's exploits in Damascus a decade ago.

This is an unusually-structured episode compared to normal. Rather than the usual threat-investigate-danger-neutralise format - if a structure so loose can be called a format, and I mean that in a good way - this focuses squarely on Fiona for pretty much the entire hour, and even includes flashbacks to both six months ago when she is recognised in public by an old friend Syria, and back to Adam's torture. The backstory is basically that her then-husband was framed for spying for the Israeli government by Adam and was thought to be hanged. However, neither of these things were as they appear.

A Syrian trade exhibition has opened in London, and their Foreign Minister Riyad Barzali has arrived in the country, accompanied of course by his Secret Service minder. He wants to do a deal with British Intelligence, but Fiona's involvement (at her own insistence) as a PR consultant pitching to Barzali, she's soon recognised. It's at this point things become really complicated as her hanged ex-husband, who was a double agent all along, reappears. Barzali wants Britain's help to overthrow the dictatorship of Syria and introduce a more democratic system, for the people. But once the Syria agents learn of this, he is soon eliminated.

Farook kidnaps Fiona and we learn that getting to this point was her intention all along. Her friend that she met six months ago told her he was still alive then, but she held off from telling Adam because she knew he would only go after him himself. She wanted to be the one to finally kill him once and for all. She complains of being tired of living a lie all the time early in the episode, and sure enough we learn that she had to change her identity upon leaving Syria. Normally, she thrives on leading multiple lives, the pleasure sparkling in her eyes. Here, that look has been replaced with steely determination. I wouldn't want to get in her way.

It's not a particularly noble sacrifice, if I might be so bold. She willingly goes into the lion's den, but as soon as she's there she seems to fight for a way out. Farook shoots her as she tries to escape, only to receive the same treatment from Adam. She dies in his arms after finally getting closure. Her last words, telling her husband to look after Wes, may be clich├ęd but they're realistic. As everything races through her mind, it must be hard to know what to think. It's a really touching end and I hope more time is afforded to mourn her passing than Danny got. This will hit Adam particularly hard not just because they were soul mates, but the way in which she was murdered. When Zaf was being held at gunpoint in The Special, he muttered "Not again. I won't let this happen again." Now he will feel like he has let her down, despite all evidence to the contrary.

It's nice that there's been a little arc running across the last few episodes too, presumably from the six months it's supposed to have been since Fiona met her friend. She has been unusually downbeat and subdued, and it's because of this preoccupation of her mind. I like character arcs like this; they show the producers and script editors are really thinking about their characters, who are ultimately what the success of the show rides on. Even though they're not the focus of the episode, Syria does afford other regulars Ruth, Colin, Jo and Harry some nice development. Despite my own feelings about the character, I am glad to see they're committed to Juliet Shaw, and that she wasn't just a one-off to be forgotten about.

Raymond Khoury has written a couple of strong episodes before this, but I don't think it can be disputed that this is his pinnacle up to this point. It's such a layered episode, dealing with such deep issues, juggling characters' emotions and storylines, and resolving threads that have been dangling for over a year. His understanding of character is exemplary and the way he manages to build such an exciting plot, particularly the last ten minutes, around things we already know but still make it feel fresh, is really impressive. I'm glad to see there's another couple of episodes lined up from him for the fifth series.

This is a great episode, there's no two ways about it. The pace and tension build nicely across the sixty minutes and the last quarter of an hour gives us some of the most exciting television Spooks has ever delivered. Omar Madha joins the series for his first of six episodes and although he's got a weird way with transitions - at least he's trying new things though - I quite like his style overall. It's not 'traditional' to have a leading member of your cast leave in episode seven of ten, and the writer/director crew assigned to the challenge probably isn't all that predictable either. But that's just right for Spooks. No-one's safe, and this episode only goes to reinforce that. Two fine performances from Olga Sosnovska and Rupert Penry-Jones round off what's been a very strong era for Fiona Carter.

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