21 October 2015

Spooks 5.4: World Trade


David Farr's second episode of Spooks is exactly what I've been looking for from the show's fifth series. This is a plot based around character and political fragility, delivering an episode that's tense and rammed full of gripping twists and turns. There are so many alternative agendas in this story that you almost forget what the cover agenda is supposed to be.

The entire episode is set across a three-day peace conference intended to end suffering in Africa. With representatives from all over the world, it's a major event, with the potential for a major disaster. It turns out that one of the presidents whose country the summit seeks to aid is far from reputable after an attempt on his life. Whilst MI5 were caught up keeping tabs on the activities of the Americans and Japanese, the real moral enemy was under their noses the whole time.

Gabriel Sekoa is a nasty piece of work. He's planning a genocide of detractors in the north of his country, the fictional West Monrassa, and needs this conference to distract media attention. Everyone around the table knows Addressing Africa will ultimately change nothing, it is in effect an exercise in public relations and little more. Or that's the theory; there's so much else going on beneath the surface.

The whole team have decamped to the hotel of the conference, save for Jo and Malcolm who seem to be monitoring everything night and day back at the Grid. Ros endears herself to me a little here as she gets closer to the American ambassador, Traynor Styles. She really can be a useful asset - if only she lost the attitude. I get that she's upset her father is getting a longer prison sentence than she expected at the end of the episode but her outburst at Harry is completely uncalled for, especially when she's so new to the department. Any good work done by the rest of the story was undone twice over here.

The story with Ruth and Harry continues to rumble on. I don't see why Ruth is so touchy. She was confident enough about things to go out for dinner with him, but visibly cringes just to be in the same room. It's not like they were caught doing anything untoward, she just needs to handle the situation responsibly. Adam and Zaf also enjoy substantial roles here, which show both of them in a good light.

This is undoubtedly my favourite episode of the fifth series yet. It reminds me somewhat of older Spooks stories, in that it's more straightforward and realistic, with a beating heart throughout. The moral dilemma Harry and Adam face at the climax is far more substantial than anything we've seen over the last three episodes, probably longer. Their decision is for the greater good, which is supposedly how they are always supposed to act. Thanks to the ulterior motives of their superiors, however, that isn't always the case. The same is true again here as the Foreign Secretary forbids what is essentially Sekoa's execution. Only moments before though he has been recorded saying what a dead end Africa is. I believe the exact phrase was 'albatross around our necks'. Oh dear, things are shifting away from him.

Kenny Glenaan isn't a director I'm familiar with, and this is his first of only two episodes for Spooks. I think that's a shame as he shows some characteristic flair that goes beyond the 'average' look of the series. I'm thinking particularly of the use of the circular motif of the hotel lobby balcony. It's both an effective way to signal the start of a new day - the repeated imagery - and it looks great. One thing I'm less keen on is the flashing to negative every now and then, but overall I liked what he did. A quick note on the production front: there's an appalling number of typos and misspellings on MI5 software!

All in all, David Farr rather seems to be the one to watch at the moments. After two episodes with strong premises and strong scripts, I'm looking forward to watching more of his work. He manages to achieve a good quota of character scenes whilst still keeping the plot running along at a healthy pace. This is a great idea for an episode and I'm surprised it's not been done before. The politics and intrigue make for some of the most interesting scenes of the year. One of Spooks' stronger episodes for sure.

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