26 October 2015

Spooks 5.9: The Criminal

In Neil Cross' first episode for the series, he poses a more intellectual script than we are used to. Cross will rise in prominence in terms of Spooks, even running the next two series, so it's interesting to see where he started. It is a bit of a frustrating story but nonetheless a solid debut.

The main guest star this week is Richard Dempsey, played by Alec Newman. Dempsey is apparently an MI6 officer who went rogue fifteen years ago. He will say anything to protect himself and is now back in the UK to murder Niko Grecic, an old Serbian colleague before he defected. The trial of a major Serbian war criminal is ongoing at the time of this episode, and witnesses that could lead to him being sent down are being selectively eliminated. Despite their own personal feelings about Grecic, MI5 are tasked with protecting him - or more specifically, Ros is.

Adam, Jo and Zaf, meanwhile, are tasked with tracking Dempsey down and eliminating him. This is a direct kill order - the man has no useful information to offer and is a direct threat to UK security. The operation is more complicated than it would appear though, with history between Richard and Adam. It's something of a subtle arc this series that Adam's mental health is deteriorating with the stress of losing Fiona and bringing up Wes alone.

This episode only adds to that confusion as Dempsey tries to convince Adam of his innocence. He was apparently being run as part of a black operation, and was a mole inside a terrorist cell all that time. He was even responsible for Adam's first bout of torture back in 1992. This obviously clouds his judgement somewhat and makes him suggestible. Dempsey provides a convincing explanation for his actions but to me it seemed like a series of planted clues. Unfortunately, Adam, Jo and Zaf all swallow his story and by the end of the episode he's a free man. Instead, an MI6 chief seems to be the guilty one.

So the story is all tied up, with a few nice bits like Ros thinking on her feet after their location is compromised. But then in the last scene we see Dempsey assassinating Grecic six months later. This puts a totally different, and quite baffling spin on events. First, Dempsey is a threat, then he isn't because John Russell admits deceit, and then he is again. It would be fine without Russell's confession. It seemed to me that Dempsey laid out the story in case of being found out by MI5, which he is. Was he hired by another party to finish Grecic off at the end or did he just have designs on him from the start? It's really quite a confusing turn of events.

This episode is more about character than plot and Neil Cross gives creating a morally ambiguous ally/villain a good go. There's a good back story too that lends the whole thing credibility. But where the real work is done is in the characters of Harry's two senior operatives. Adam is so affected by this he decides not to put Jenny in danger any longer and breaks things off with her. In the heat of the moment, she claims it's because he can't bare living a 'normal' life as part of a family unit. She may not have meant it, but there's probably an element of truth to it. It remains to be seen how serious each of them were, and how their relationship - and that with Wes - develops from here. I'm pretty confident Adam will sacrifice himself driving an armed car in the next few episodes, and I'm pretty sure he would only feel so suicidal if anything were to happen to Wes. With the series finale up next, my sense of dread is growing...

In terms of Ros, Neil Cross portrays her perhaps most responsibly of anyone so far. Here, Hermione Norris' character is dry with a sense of duty rather than a cold, bitter bitch. The highlight of the episode - if not the series - for me has to be the momentous exchange between Ros and Grecic. "Safehouses are such lifeless places," he remarks. "I live here," she snaps back instantly. The delivery and direction make it utterly hilarious and still has me chuckling now. I've given up any hope of seeing something to convince me Zaf has a life outside work, and Jo hasn't had anything resembling that (not even a mention) in over a series. It's nice to see some work being done, but it would only take a line or two to really help things.

This is Julian Holmes' debut as well, the first of six episodes he will direct. He forms part of the trio of directors who will helm the final series, so given he'll be joining Alrick Riley and Bharat Nalluri, he must have something pretty special to contribute. This isn't a fantastically well directed episode, but neither is it appalling. The jury's still out on Holmes for me, but there are a few very nice moments.

This is a little bit of a step down from preceding episodes but still well above average, even for Spooks. Neil Cross will inform much of the show's next two years so I'm encouraged to see his emphasis on thoughtful plotting and character rather than mindless, meaningless spectacle. This isn't a classic episode, but neither is it disposable. The trailer for next time is irregularly good too. Things look to get pretty messy... It's the finale, and I'm going in.

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