Our Rating: 3 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
One of the more popular British television shows to "cross the pond," MI-5 or "Spooks," as it is known abroad, is a fantastic look into the politics and concerns of English secret service agents.
Andy Sullivan is about to have the worst day of his life. Newly returned from the war in Afghanistan and celebrating survival in a pub with his friends, on his way home he is nabbed by a group of terrorist-sympathizing thugs who intend to use him as a threat to the government to put an end to Remembrance Sunday ceremonies, in honor of fallen civilians in the War on Terror. His kidnapping and the videotaped threats come on the heels of another current operation in which MI-5 has just exchanged spies with the Russians and recovered one of their better known operatives, Lucas North (Richard Armitage). Having endured seven years of imprisonment and occasional torture, Lucas wants to put everything behind him and get back to work. Since they are a few agents short and the head of the division agrees that he should be back in service, Lucas is permitted to join Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones) in attempting to track down and stop the kidnappers before they kill a wartime hero -- and set off a series of other bombs around London.
Meanwhile, one of their top agents Ros Myers (Hermione Norris) may have been compromised, leading them to suspect there may be more than one double agent within the government. I must say that overall, I am quite delighted with this season of the series, since it avoids some of the flaws of earlier installments while also presenting us with an array of interesting plots, many of them revolving around Al Qaeda. The show does not paint away from showing extremists for the dangerous threat they are and in that sense, avoids the politically correct mentality that has attached itself to many American series and films that deal with similar topics. It was refreshing just to get down to business without any politics intruding, although one could say that the American government is not portrayed all that well here; it is either hiding things from MI-5, refusing to grant them access to interrogations, or just plain manipulating them, so there are one or two passing snide remarks about the White House. But really, given that this is a British production and they have a right to be proud of their secret service, I doubt anyone will much mind. At least, I didn't.
The first episode can be a bit hard to follow if you have not seen the previous season, but also features your only chance to see Armitage and Penry-Jones share the screen. I for one did not mind being a tad confused. The cast is really terrific overall, this season featuring more greatness from Peter Firth as the head of their division, as well as Gemma Jones as one of the higher ranking operatives. There's not a bad actor in this, even among the lesser one-episode characters. Many of the storylines revolve around terrorism and the Russians but do foray into other topics like financial instability and government bail-outs, insider trading, UN assassinations, etc. Language does intrude from time to time but does not pervade the episodes (there are a few uses of s**t and mild profanities). Violence is expected but rarely graphic; there are multiple explosions in which people are hurt, a few exchanges of gunfire, and quite a bit of karate in taking out bad guys; dead bodies are shown here and there; a teenage boy takes a bullet in the face, spattering the wall behind him with blood; an agent has his throat cut, and sprays blood all over the room before dying on the floor, a pool of it spreading out around the gaping wound in his neck. One episode features a flashback of Lucas being water-boarded for information (his face is covered with a towel and water poured all over it, to give the impression of drowning and/or suffocation).
Myers insists a man strip naked when she confronts him and it's implied to the audience that she, quite literally, grabs him between the legs and squeezes until he agrees. The camera catches partial backside nudity in a mirror in the room, but we see nothing else. Early episodes feature brief flashbacks that infer two agents were romantic with one another; in the fifth episode, in order to maintain her cover, Myers sleeps with a man; the camera shows them passionately kissing and a couple of brief flashbacks that include heavy breathing. In one of the final episodes, Lucas meets a fellow agent in a strip bar; she performs a lap dance for him while passing along information; the camera leers on scantily-clad girls dancing on stripper poles. There is not a tremendous amount of character development but the cast is likable enough that we rapidly come to know and empathize with them. Certain of them are dealing with emotional issues, and others may not be what they first appear. Once you get into the series, it's quite addictive, so if you do turn in, leave yourself a nice amount of viewing time since you won't want to stop once you start. Oh yes, and be prepared both to lose characters you love and for a several month wait, since more than one character perishes and season eight has yet to arrive.