20 October 2015

Spooks 5.3: The Cell

It's brave of Ben Richards to cover much of the same ground as the episode Nest of Angels from Spooks' second series after it attracted so much criticism. As with the episodes of the fourth series that covered a lot of familiar ground, Richards gives this a slightly different angle. This feels personal and dangerous, making it the best episode of the series yet.

This chiefly concerns a plot by Islamic extremists to detonate a devastating bomb in central London, which differs from the earlier Howard Brenton episode only in its location. Zaf has infiltrated the eponymous cell (what a dull title, by the way) and at the start of the episode we see him forced to watch as the leader shoots a man from the Department for the Environment, trying to flush out any MI5 spies. We later learn he even shares a flat with them.

The undoubted highlight of the episode is the climax, when the martyr with the detonator to the bomb is steadily getting closer to the van Zaf is driving. This story has a solid structure and plot though, which makes it all the more surprising when Richards comes out with something as shallow as Gas and Oil. There's lots of elements to this, such as the man they attempt to turn, his girlfriend, the other man they share the flat with and the South African weapons of mass destruction dealer. All of these things come together very neatly to form a strong individual story.

I had hoped Jo would get more of a part to play in proceedings here but sadly, her role is pretty much as significant as ever. Her job is to secure the deal to try and get the bomb in order that the Islamic cell can't, and so wines and dines the dealer, played brilliantly by Larry Lamb, only to find herself being throttled up against the wall after she doesn't agree to his 'terms'. It's too late anyway, the weapon is on a ship on its way to Britain. Miranda Raison is great but tragically she doesn't get much to do. I would've liked her to be afforded Ros' role, rather than being shoved out of the limelight for Richards' own creation.

But nonetheless, Ros does get centre stage of all the regulars here. There's not a strand of the plot she's not involved in; she rescues Jo, she gets reports from Zaf, she recruits one of the terrorists' ex-fiancée and she seems to think she can control Adam. I don't mind the newcomer being central to their first proper episode's plot, but I do mind her being rude and bitchy and thinking she's the centre of the universe and God's gift to espionage when she's only just walked through the door. Hopefully other writers will be more sympathetic with the character, as at the moment she's pretty unlikeable. Richards won't write her again until the last story of the sixth series (if she's still around then) so we've quite a gap to find out.

It's good to see Zaf finally at the heart of an episode, and without wanting to appear discriminatory or whatever, it's nice to his heritage actually being used as at first it appeared something of a gimmick to fill certain demographics. Raza Jaffrey actually gets something to play here, even if it is quite a loose cover story, and he's notably better here than in any previous episode. Here's hoping we learn and see more of Mr Younis now, and it's not a one-off.

Julian Simpson returns to direct his third of four episodes and this is a better looking episode immediately than the last two. I'm not sure what's different, it just all looks much prettier. The framing is much more varied for one thing, and the way he manages to contrast the fine restaurant Harry and Ruth go to with the grime of the flat and estate Zaf is staying on highlights his range well. It also shows the spectrum this show can cover, within the same episode. It can just as easily walk the corridors of power as it can a South London alleyway, and Simpson shows he gets that.

This is in conclusion quite an impressive episode, and hopefully indicative of things to come. I loved Harry and Ruth getting together and think it extremely childish of her to call things off simply because word of their dinner got around the office. I hope this doesn't mark the start of her exit, which I know must come at some point over the next two series in order for there to be sufficient time before she returns. I wasn't initially keen on the character but over the last couple of series she's become an indispensable part of the team. Another thing I've noticed about the last few runs is how little they've dated. You could pretty much put this out now and people wouldn't complain about the production values. Sure the phones and some of the technology look old but they're the only noticeable things. Things are looking up for Spooks.

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