27 October 2015

Spooks 5.10: Aftermath

What a stunning episode. Aftermath has it all; crazy extremists, politics, a mole and most importantly a whacking great bomb. It's also a great season finale, dealing with Adam's mental imbalance in a much better and more mature way than with Tom Quinn two series ago. To top it all off there are copious amounts of nail-biting, edge of the seat moments right to the very end. There's no doubt in my mind that Aftermath is one of the very best episodes yet.

The main plot of this episode concerns the environment, which feels like a subject that hasn't been tackled before - though I could of course be wrong. The Thames Barrier is stormed by ecological activists, who say they will flood London unless a document detailing the real environmental state, relating to climate change and humans' damage to the planet, is made public. From memory, I can't recall a setup quite like this. We have had situations where something is controlled until something else is released (even recently in the Raymond Khoury double episode Hostage Takers) but in those stories whatever the villains want released is normally a direct threat to civilians. This is basically an extreme freedom of information request.

David Farr clearly has an acute understanding of what is required and expected from a Spooks finale. By this stage we're firmly in the territory where any drama series is expected to have a story to finish the series that is somehow bigger than the rest. This is a really interesting way of achieving that. More than that though, he seems to recognise the way Spooks specifically likes to handle its season closers. We launch straight into the action and it quickly becomes apparent that hitting the ground running is a necessity of this story. Even though this is a jam-packed episode, it never feels rushed thanks to Julian Holmes' considerate direction, lingering on the moments of tension, and blitzing it at action-heavy moments.

Under the pretence of wanting to negotiate, Adam goes to the Barrier in order to distract the terrorists to give Special Forces time to infiltrate and gain control. He eventually manages to get them into a position where the cameras are unmonitored and activates his signal, but at Harry's command they don't go in. Thanks to this he has another of his suicidal impulses and begins riling them. They ring Thames House and tell them they aren't prepared to negotiate with him, so Ros is sent in his place. But soon after she gets there, he disappears.

By this time, it's fast approaching the moment at which the terrorists intend to open the Barrier for maximum devastation. With that in mind, Harry orders divers to blow the gate they're in up, with the idea that this won't give them enough time to set off the bomb they have. But before the divers activate the charge, Adam reappears, recomposed, and shoots all of the terrorists. The panic is over but thanks to the communications blackout he can't contact the Grid, and so the bomb is set off anyway. He and Ros struggle against a grating as they fight for their lives against all the odds. Thankfully, the final shot of the series is the pair breaking the surface of the Thames.

What I like about this climax is the seeming inevitability of their defeat. The pair willingly regularly put themselves at risk for their country, and they trust in Harry to do what's best for the greater good. But with the water rising and the grating shut fast, it seems their fate is sealed. You can't reason with water to go back down again - you know they'll have to find some ingenious way out. It's also such a terrifying way of dying, and at one point it looks Ros actually has died. I really couldn't remember whether she survived this series or not, and having your two main character in such nail biting jeopardy really raises the stakes, if they weren't already high enough for you with a few million lives at risk.

But as strong as the plot of this episode is, David Farr never negates the character side of things. Adam's mental instability is a huge part of this episode, with the revelation that he shouldn't be at work as Diana Jewell returns. There's no mention of Jenny, but there's more than enough else going on that the omission is barely noticeable. But Farr also continues the work of Neil Cross in making Ros much more likeable. At the start of the series I really didn't like her cold, brash attitude. Transforming that into a dry sense of humour over the last few episodes has worked wonders for the character's appeal to me. And it means I actually cared when it looked like she and Adam weren't going to make it. Beyond that, Farr manages to give Jo a bit of the limelight as she tries to get her mum out of London. Her personal life hasn't been mentioned all series, so it's good to see a bit of that creeping back in. There's no such luck with Zaf, but I've given up hope of that now.

In Aftermath, there's a cohesion of talent so great that this is my favourite episode yet. The rest of the fifth series has generally been decent but this blows the majority of it out of the water - no pun intended. I've been wraking my brains for the last couple of days since I saw this episode and I can't think of anything at all I didn't like. Julian Holmes loves using what Jonny Morris would call 'whirlycam' and the 24-style timings are back (see also The Special and Gas and Oil) but they're all part of the style of the episode as a whole. And the CGI water isn't brilliant but it's still impressive and barely seen so I can forgive it. This is a truly gripping story, and one that all involved should be proud of. This is mature drama at its finest, there's none of the stereotypical Spooks melodramatics in sight. Excellent.

I was researching this review to praise Tom Beard, who also had memorable parts in Hunted and Hustle, when I found out he sadly passed away due to cancer under a month ago. It's a tragic loss, as he was always such a class act. I for one will miss him, and what a massive shame he didn't receive more public recognition.

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