Just back from a little pre-Christmas jaunt to sunnier climes and have been catching up on some missed television. Two episodes of the always-sublime The Thick of It (the Richard Bacon episode was about as joyous as it gets), an episode of Miranda (heartening to see deservedly healthy ratings), and an assault on the stack of In Treatment I need to catch up with.
And of course, there was an episode of Spooks, something that for eight seasons I have always relished. Until now.
I’ve had an uncomfortable feeling about this new series. It started off well, the opening couple of episodes being fairly tight and tense. And hurrah! The return of Nicola Walker as the divine Ruth Evershed, long missed from this perennial of dramas.
And then it all went a bit wrong. Episode 3 started it off - it was fairly mundane, slack stuff by Spooks standards. And no amount of bad writing can be covered by the death of yet another Spooks regular, especially so soon after the shock death of Ben at the hands of Connie last series. Now that was genuinely unexpected and brilliantly played, but Jo’s death was a waste of a long serving character’s exit. Killing off regulars in Spooks has officially become hackneyed.
To be fair, Spooks has always sailed very close to the wind when it comes to believability, but zesty writing, tight direction and good performances have always kept it restrained just enough. But I can’t put my finger on just what the problem is? Has the show become a touch too worthy for its own good, believing it’s perhaps a bit better than the reliable piece of espionage fluff it always as been in the past?
There are two major problems I can pinpoint. One is some duff casting here and there, especially in the Grid’s CIA counterparts. Brian Protheroe didn’t particularly distinguish himself as the ill-fated Samuel Walker, complete with a wince-inducing American accent that would make Dick Van Dyke blush. But, and this pains me, it’s Genevieve O’Reilly who lets the side down.
As Sarah Caulfield, the CIA’s liaison to MI5, she is about a miscast as any actress I’ve ever seen. Dreadful accent, dreadful performance. I like O’Reilly, she was great as the lead in ITV’s The Time of Your Life, but something has gone horribly wrong here. I find it inconceivable that the production team were unable to find two better American actors working in Britain to fill these roles.
It doesn’t help that O’Reilly has been saddled with a storyline that’s been seen before in Spooks - the CIA liaison officer getting it on with an MI5 agent was seen way back in season two. Is this is a sign that the show may have gone a season too far?
Elsewhere, there has been some ropey dialogue, epitomised by an exchange between the Home Secretary and Harry, referring to a plot to challenge the world order as we know it. I know Spooks has had some lines over the years that have been a bit, shall we say, chewy, but it’s getting silly now. Who speaks like that?!
There are saving graces - they still have fantastic leads in Hermione Norris and Richard Armitage, not to mention the wonderful Peter Firth as Harry. Their trademark slick direction remains, and the end of episode four was a genuine shock. So a little of the old Spooks verve is still there. Let’s just hope it isn’t gone for good.