17 October 2015

Spooks 4.10: Diana

Howard Brenton is a great writer. The plots at the heart of his episodes are perfectly sound, but the skill of his writing can make even the most ludicrous ideas seem credible. Take, for example, this episode, which seems to stem from the question of whether Harry Pearce killed Princess Diana. I can imagine Brenton chortling in his office after he came up with the premise but it's a credit to all those behind this episode that pretty soon it comes off as a feasible idea.

It all starts when ex-MI5 agent Angela Wells turns up at Ruth's house. This isn't another case like Gary Hicks in The Book; Angela used to date Ruth's step-brother Peter before he shot himself. He used to be part of Princess Diana's protection detail but was fired in 1997, apparently for drink-related problems. Angela tells Ruth that she thinks it was actually because he discovered a plot to murder her, which Ruth quite rightly quickly dismisses. But then she's shown a No Eyes document and Angela's claim seems a little more plausible.

The next day, Juliet Shaw allows Angela onto The Grid, but Ruth realises what's going on and demands she leave. But it's too late; her handbag is laced with explosive and she has a remote detonator. She holds the entire team to ransom - unless they find concrete evidence that MI5 plotted Diana's demise by dawn, and so prove Peter right, she will blow Thames House to kingdom come. Nice one Juliet.

After a night in the spookily-lit Grid when Angela insists on a lockdown, the team come up with a solution of how the tragic accident could have been anything but. Adam and Ruth discover that Harry was indeed on a committee Angela claimed, and the document was legitimate, but it has been twisted the wrong way in their heads. The committee was actually formed to anticipate the worst, and they predicted Diana's demise with unnerving accuracy. The truth begins to come out, and with it Harry forms a plan...

It's actually Ruth that seems to defuse the main situation. She talks to Angela of Peter, and how he never really loved her. This seems to tip her over the edge and she relents. But this is only the first stage of the plan. For the past seven months she's been working at Pegasus, the top-secret underground bunker where the Royal Family are to be evacuated in case of emergency. Whilst collecting things up after she's left Ruth discovers there's a file on Buckingham Palace's security missing. The team immediately insist the royals move to Pegasus, which is exactly what she wants; Angela's rigged Pegasus to be an enormous bomb. The ultimate revenge.

Fortunately they discover the nexus of the bomb before the Royal Family arrive, and Adam and Malcolm have to defuse it. In the heat of the moment, Malcolm freezes and so with two seconds to go, Adam cuts all the wires. Better, he reasons, than doing nothing. But as Adam and Harry get back to Thames House, someone is waiting for them. Adam is shot, and the assassin looks to be lining up on Harry. I think we're supposed to assume it's Angela, but to be honest I'm not so sure. And I happen to remember that Adam doesn't die in this way. Nonetheless, it'll be really interesting to see where the story's taken next, as Ben Richards once again handles the first three episodes of the series.

As I've asserted before, it's a very close-run thing for me between Howard Brenton and David Wolstencroft for my favourite writer on Spooks. I think after this series it probably has to be Brenton though. His consistently high hit-rate considering the number of episodes he's written (thirteen so far) is really impressive, and there's at least two knockouts written by him a year. The way he takes a completely off-the-wall concept and turns it into a fully-fledged piece of drama with excellent characters, gripping dialogue and edge-of-the-seat action is second to none on this series. This entire episode is amazing, tense entertainment but the last quarter in a completely different way to the first three.

Julian Simpson directs this relatively nicely, but I think the best part of his contribution is the way the Grid is relit. It's a hive of bold colours that look as ominous as they do gorgeous. It's great to see it looking so different, and even totally different to the last time the Grid was under lockdown. I look forward to seeing what he'll with his final pair of episodes, coming next series.

Looking back on Series Four, I can happily conclude it's probably been my favourite so far. The first series gets a higher statistical average (8.5 compared to 8.3 if you're interested) but I think I've actively enjoyed this more. There are things about it that aren't perfect - The Special could probably have comfortably been one episode, Zaf is still devoid of any personality or motivation - but I've had a great time. Probably the best new thing Series Four's brought to the table is Jo Portman. She hasn't quite had the development I would've liked, but there's plenty of time for that yet. She's shown to be quite vulnerable throughout all of her episodes (except her first, The Book) and this is a nice opportunity for her to show off some of her training. Miranda Raison is completely likeable and totally the right choice for Jo. I can't wait to see more of her next year.

So all in all this is an excellent episode to end the series on. It's typical Howard Brenton with a fantastic script, idea and characters and it's a shame in a way this series has come to an end. If you want to read a review saying how bad Spooks has got by this point, for a bit of balance (including a slate on this episode before it was even aired) you can do so here. It feels like Juliet Shaw has been part of the furniture for much more than a series, and I wonder how long she will last when we pick up the cliffhanger ending. This series has belonged to Peter Firth, Nicola Walker, Rupert-Penry Jones, Olga Sosnovska and Miranda Raison. Rory MacGregor and Hugh Simon have been great as Colin and Malcolm but unfortunately haven't had that much to do. The best series of Spooks yet ends on a high.

PS - It's the week after posting this and I've just realised it's Howard Brenton's last episode! What a shame, he's given us some of the best Spooks we'll ever get. How tragic he should leave before it even reaches its halfway point. Still, thank you Howard for all the good you did!

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