23 October 2015

Spooks 5.6: Hostage Takers (Part One)

I have no doubts - this is easily the strongest opening to a two-parter we've had yet. It is exciting, action-packed, has emotional and political depth and feels completely free of padding. Raymond Khoury has excelled in the scripting of this episode, and the entire cast seems to be on top form to make this is a really special story.

Unfortunately this does cover a lot of the same ground as The Cell, an episode transmitted just three weeks before this one. It shares the same political groups, the same kind of targets and the same methods. The remainder of the execution has a different emphasis and plays out in a different way but it seems a bit of a clumsy editorial decision to have two such similar stories in such close proximity. No matter though, as this is certainly a strong enough episode to dismiss that.

A group with Middle Eastern origins is attempting a Domesday scenario. With a network of bombers rigged to go to paradise at the same moment, the entirety of London will be affected. It's crucial that MI5 penetrate this cell in order to stop the atrocity from occurring. This has all come about because the UK is in talks with Saudi Arabia to sell them nuclear weaponry when their oil supply runs out. As Adam points out, it's not the most stable region of the world and not the obvious choice for this kind of deal. Nonetheless, it looks to be going ahead.

The terrorists who have smuggled themselves into the UK appear to have links to Al Qaeda, something they share with one of the princes of Saudi Arabia. In an attempt to find out what's really going on, Ros gets closer to the pair, trying to swap their hard drives for examination. The first one goes fine when she administers the sleeping agent, but the second has a fit when he tries it. Luckily she manages to save him and the effect of the drug are strong enough that he is still suggestible for a short period. She duly invites herself to a Saudi trade reception the following evening, the time at which the bombs are also supposed to go off.

Not realising these events are connected, Adam and Zaf go after the bombers. Adam in particular gets to shine in this episode, which is something that happens less than you'd expect from the series lead. He's just having a nightmare of a day overall and having his nose broken by a terrorist he's pursuing doesn't exactly help. He finally gets together with Wes' nanny Jenny after she wakes him from a nightmare, and it's nice to see a relationship evolve so naturally. Rupert Penry-Jones is great in this episode, really proving why he's in the headline role. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is great too, as she finally gets some proper scenes, and chance to show what she can actually do.

Hostage Takers is Andy Hay's only directorial contribution to Spooks and that doesn't seem just to me. All the way through I was racking my brains to think who the director could be, as he employs a style I like a lot but couldn't place. It turns out that's because I'm not familiar with his work. He uses timelapses a lot but there's also lovely fluidity in his shots. His steadicam and pull focus work is great and makes this show feel really classy, like a flagship BBC One drama ought to.

Throughout I was thinking the title didn't make much sense, but as we reach the last scene, it finally comes together. At the trade reception armed gunmen overrun the building in scenes reminiscent of the series one episode One Last Dance. It remains to be seen how closely events follow the pattern of the earlier story, but I trust Raymond Khoury is more intelligent than to pedal the same story again. With the threats to the children of the minister arranging the nuclear deal, I suspect there many become even more eponymous hostages.

This is a really solid episode. It's exciting but feels less mindlessly so than The Special or Gas and Oil. There's a few bits of wooden acting (Neil and Sally aren't exactly amazing) and the early pacing wobbles around a bit but everyone seems to be trying their hardest with this one. Andy Hay uses some lovely shots (all the tracking bits are gorgeous) and Khoury has created a typically deep and thoughtful story. This is probably the most complicated suicide bombings plotline Spooks has had, but I mean that in the best possible way. I can't wait to find out what's really going on as all the threads draw together.

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