MI-5 1 (2002)


Our rating: 2 out of 5

Rated: TV14

reviewed by Charity Bishop

Considered one of the better spy programs on television, MI-5 or Spooks as it is known abroad, is a fast-paced, character-oriented drama about a division of the British secret service. There have been a rash of abortion-clinic related bombings in London and all fingers point to an American anti-abortion activist who has recent fled into the country after eluding several arrest warrants in the States. Heading up the team of talented agents meant to catch her and turn her over to the appropriate authorities is Tom Quinn (Matthew Macfadyen), an expert at undercover operations who has just started up a relationship with a single mother who has no idea what he does for a living.


Running amuck of their American cousins in terms of jurisdiction and using all their resources to attempt to catch this woman before she pulls off another lethal attack, MI-5 employs the assistance of two of their other top employees, Zoe Reynolds (Keeley Hawes) and Danny Hunter (David Oyelowo) to bring her in. Believing she will set off another series of attacks to correspond with her husband's execution, they have only forty-eight hours to bring her to justice. The first season, which consists of six stand-alone episodes, tackles all number of international and local events, from rising racial tensions to spies within the organization, planned assassination attempts against dignitaries, and a political hostage situation. There is an undercover operation that goes terribly wrong, and a bomb set to go off seconds after the season finale's conclusion. It's not as hair-raising as 24 but does come with an adrenaline rush.


Like most British productions, there are no censors for evening entertainment and unfortunately MI-5 is allowed to get away with some fairly graphic language and occasional sexual situations. Several f-words and a dozen or so abuses of Jesus' name accompany frequent abuse of s**t. The first time we meet Tom is in bed with his naked girlfriend but the camera barely avoids anything explicit. (They kiss a bit and flirt before he gets up to go to work.) He invites her and her daughter to move into his flat with him. On an undercover mission, a fellow agent makes a sexual play for Tom, who excuses himself from the bed. In "Traitor's Gate," we see from across the room and overhear the end of a sexual tryst, as well as the woman's bare back and underwear as she puts on her clothes. One of the female agents in MI-5 is having sexual affairs; one of her liaisons corners her in corridor and pulls up her skirt before they make out passionately. In the second episode, an abusive husband forces his wife to show his friends her breasts (implied).


Themes of lying are explored in Tom's relationship with Ellie, but what disconcerted me a bit more was the latent liberal and anti-American undertones. They did not surprise me and were cautious not to be too openly antagonistic, but there were several cases that might be offensive. The first was the pilot and its emphasis on anti-abortion bombings, a minor division of misguided so-called believers who are unable to comprehend the concept of God much less act in His name. This woman, deliberately an American activist, cites scripture in her defense and argues with Tom about the meaning of "thou shalt not kill." The next episode features a white racist, and a later episode features the impending arrival of President Bush. Nothing derogatory is said about him but I got the feeling no one in the agency was all that invested in his protection. The Americans are all depicted as obnoxious and pushy.


Violence is prevalent but rarely graphic except in one instance in which a woman is tortured by having her arm dunked into boiling oil and then her face. The sight of it was not nearly as grotesque as the emotional aftermath in which a bullet is put into her head. I'm accustomed to the good guys always saving the day, and rescuing their fellow agents from certain death just in the nick of time, a non-realistic but comforting form of entertainment, so it shocked me to have one of them dead within hours of starting the series. My opinion on it is varied. The social commentary that runs beneath does not trouble me much, but the language is something of a problem and I sense that impending seasons will push things a bit more. That being said, the characters are rather likable (well, some of them) and it has a nice stream of guest appearances, ranging from Anthony Head to an extremely irritating Hugh Laurie. I have a feeling I've been recruited.