Tag Archives: Richard Armitage

The Spies Who Went Into The Cold – No More Spooks

As reported by various news sources today, the tenth series of Spooks to be shown this Autumn will be the last.

Because Jo The Hat would kill me if I didn't use a picture of Richard Armitage

The decision was rather unusually taken by the programme makers Kudos rather than by the BBC, on the grounds that they wanted to stop the show whilst it was still “in its prime”. Anybody who watched the most recent season may choose to strongly disagree with this statement, but still.

Despite its dip in form of late, Spooks can easily claim to be one of the most consistently brilliant dramas of the past ten years. This was due to a number of factors. Firstly, its excellent writing. Secondly, its often shocking plots. It speaks volumes that Spooks became something of a victim of its own success in this sense – you ended up expecting the unexpected, which when it happened became, er, totally expected. But the impact of killing one of its major characters in only  the first series without any warning is more than most serial dramas ever manage. Although I doubt deep-fat fryer manufacturers were quite so welcoming of this turn of events.  Continue reading

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Spooks: Then I remembered to breathe, and Lucas North was dead

(Series 9, Ep.8) I’ve been on holiday, hence my very belated watching of the series finale (and finale is the proper word here) of Spooks. And now I’ve watched it, I really, really feel like I could do with another holiday. Drained, I am. Wrung out.

If you let the little implausibilities and “why didn’t he just – ? ” questions flutter away on the breeze like a losing lottery ticket, it was the most gripping and tense hour of television I’ve seen for ages. It wasn’t so much the action (though Lucas kidnapping Ruth and attaching her to a drip of anaesthetic that would kill her in 3 hours if Harry didn’t find her first, or Harry gassing Beth and Dmitri so he could steal the real Albany was action of the highest order). What was really gripping was the psychological drama played out between Harry and Lucas, the man he’d placed so much trust in and who’d become the living embodiment of what Harry’s entire career had stood for.

Lucas’s role was brilliantly written and brilliantly played by Richard Armitage – the prison flashbacks, the glimpses of the hell he’d been through made me think, even to the very end, that maybe Lucas had been “programmed” by the Russians,  Manchurian Candidate-style, to acquire Albany, and there’d be a way back for him once Harry had got everything sorted out and a spell in MI5’s version of The Priory restored his basic moral decency. Richard Armitage’s performance was complex and subtle. Lucas was no Bond villain set on world domination – all he wanted was some peace, to be with Maya and perhaps deal with some of his demons. The tragedy was that it was never going to be possible, he was too aware of what he’d done and what he was.

Harry Pearce is a man similarly haunted by his life’s experiences, similarly seeking a calm existence with the woman he loves, similarly realising this will never happen. Peter Firth’s lugubrious face and pained eyes were heartbreaking at times, as he felt the full force and loneliness of being where the buck stops.

It maybe wasn’t the best series of Spooks ever, but it was masterful the way the last three episodes built to this shattering conclusion, with Lucas now reduced to a paste after jumping from a high building (I assume, though we never saw a body – maybe that spell in the MI5 Priory is on the cards after all) and Harry’s career possibly at an end after his actions made him almost as rogue an officer as Lucas himself.

Right at the end a little caption came up informing us that Spooks would return in 2011. Two words: Can’t. Wait.

Posted by PLA           (more Spooks here)

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Spooks: “My name isn’t Lucas North. My name’s John”

(Series 9, Ep.7) The Lucas/John plot has been simmering along for this entire series – slightly irritatingly, it must be said, until last week, when it started to come to the boil rather spectacularly.

That the stakes were higher than a very high thing could be gleaned by the expression on Lucas’s face as he held a dying woman in his arms, watching her bleed to death and letting it happen rather than risk her revealing any more about him.

This week, everything unravelled for him. Ruth was already suspicious (don’t you feel the country is in safe hands as long as Ruth is on duty at Thames House 24 hours a day? Without her, I fear we’re lost as everyone else in Section D is just a tiny bit less competent). It was time for Harry to give “Lucas” a bit of a face-to-face staff appraisal. Being MI5, this took place in a deserted warehouse-looking-thing. Harry employed his contemptuous stare to maximum effect, and Lucas ‘fessed all. He’d been, back when he was John,  an unwitting part of a bombing of the British Embassy in Dakar in which many people had been killed. The real brains behind the operation was Vaughn, who had killed John’s mate (and MI5 wannabe) Lucas North so that John could assume his identity.

Bad enough, but was this the entire truth? It wasn’t Vaughn’s version. Vaughn had Maya handcuffed in a cellar somewhere, but was slowly bleeding to death himself because Lucas had stabbed him in the leg during a friendly chat in a park (Ros would have been proud). Vaughn’s version of events was that Lucas/John had built and planted the bomb, fully aware of what he was doing, and had killed Lucas North himself with his own bare hands.

Who to believe? And what motivated John then, and Lucas now? And what has Albany got to do with it all? As usual with Spooks, I’m left with more questions than answers, which is why I love it so much.

Meanwhile, in a side plot Ruth was embroiled in a plot to assassinate a mafia boss, and showed that when push comes to shove she’s as handy with a gun as the next spook. But where Ruth differs from Lucas (at least from the Lucas we’ve been seeing recently) is her humanity. She told Harry that she’s numb to the effects her actions have, and is even beyond grieving for her dead partner. This is how she carries on. But Ruth recognises the unnaturalness of this, she feels the pain of normal people caught up in abnormal situations.

Next week: the hunter becomes the hunted, as the search is on for Lucas North. A name which, by the way, suits him far more than plain ol’ “John.”

Posted by PLA               (more Spooks here)

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Spooks: They’re going to kill the President!

(Series 9, Ep.5) Dastardly plot of the week was a plan to kill the “leader of the free world” (that would be the President of the USA) by blowing him up with a person bomb (that would be an Israeli delegate to a top secret Middle East peace conference who’d been injected full of explosives). Even more cunningly, there was a decoy sniper shooting people at the front of the hotel where the talks were taking place (he was top quality, as well – he could shoot right through buildings), in order to get the Prez re-routed round the back to meet up with bomb woman.

It was a nicely convoluted plot, although first glance at the female Israeli delegate who wasn’t speaking to the other Israeli delegate, her father (because he’d once let her languish as a prisoner of the Palestinians for 14 months because he wouldn’t give in to their ransom demands), should have been enough to alert everyone involved that she needed Watching Very Closely.

This was all foiled in the nick of time (phew) by Dmitri and Beth, who were on the spot as undercover Home Office staff, by Lucas who was running about in full action man mode, doing bits of breaking and entering, almost getting strangled and being generally being pretty heroic, and by Harry, Tariq and Ruth doing all the mental agility stuff.

The episode benefited hugely from not having too much of the Lucas/John stuff in it – this was saved for the very end, when Lucas popped over to visit Maya, and found her apparently living with the sinister Vaughn (who was supposed to be off Lucas’s case last week when he delivered the Albany file to him). What’s going on? Whatever it is, the preview of next week’s episode looked like Lucas wouldn’t be handling it too well.

Lucas continues to be front and centre as star action hero, but Beth and Dmitri are starting to shape up nicely. Beth isn’t and never will be as majestic as the wonderful Ros, but I’m definitely warming to her. And Dmitri in a suit is quite a lovely thing – should anything (heaven forfend) happen to Lucas, Dmitri  could fill his shoes quite well.

And just a pedantic footnote to whoever did the captions. It’s Stansted Airport, not Stanstead. Unless Airforce One arrived at some airport so top secret (yet still in Essex) that we haven’t heard of it yet.

Posted by PLA                    (more Spooks here)

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Spooks: How to turn an asset

(Series 9, Ep.4) This was just the kind of Spooks episode I like. Lots of split-screen, edge-of-the-seat type stuff. Lucas and Dmitri abseiling down the side of the Chinese Embassy; Lucas’s tattoos (I know, I’m shallow, I admit it); clandestine meetings on park benches; Dmitri defusing a very big bomb in the back of a truck. “It’s my first time,” he admitted cheerfully to Tariq, but luckily he’d brought his lighter with him because it was just what he needed to melt an essential component.

The plot turned on Beth’s attempts to turn an asset from the Chinese Embassy, which happily coincided with a plan to do away with a Chinese scientist who’d invented an end to water shortages worldwide. Honestly, it puts you off trying to invent globally important stuff when, no sooner have you cracked it, someone somewhere will want to kill you. That’s why I’ve made no recent progress with my musical wardrobe for the blind (shhhh!).

Like Dmitri and his bomb defusing, Beth was a virgin at asset turning. Her colleagues advised her to go with her instincts, which looked to be fairly dodgy as it seemed her asset was working for the other side. He turned out to be a triple agent, who was working for the Chinese unwittingly by being bugged, so that’s a big hurrah for Beth’s instincts. And Tariq’s lie detector.

Ruth got to leave the office for a while, as her linguistic skills (Mandarin is fine, but her Cantonese is just cringeworthy, apparently) made her ideal to go undercover in the Chinese Embassy. She was still there when news of a bomb threat came through. Harry told her to leave the Embassy immediately – he looked all worried and upset, bless him. Ruth, as well as being fluent in just about every language and being like human Google (you’d want her on your pub quiz team) also has balls of steel and wasn’t about to leave till she’d found her scientist.

Meanwhile, Lucas was attempting to sort out his messy former life (which has something to do with China) by supplying Vaughn with a very top secret file from MI5’s computer. To get this he had to steal the identity of a junior (disposable) colleague. To cover his tracks he also transferred a lot of money, so it looked like the colleague was only trying to commit fraud. The fact that Lucas was able to shrug off destroying this person’s life should tell us that the stakes are very high. Is Lucas this season’s Connie?

Posted by PLA                (more Spooks reviews here)

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Spooks: Sometimes you have to do what’s necessary, Harry

(Series 9, Ep.3) Did Harry cock up by allowing rogue terrorist Aibek to escape from a scene where the FSB were dealing somewhat harshly (ie spot executions) with his colleagues? Or was he simply being decent and British?

Either way, Aibek ended up running around London looking for a secret cache of paroxocybin, a substance that could be used for great good but would probably be used for great evil if anyone with pernicious intent got hold of it.

For a while it looked like he already had it (he was carrying a cool-bag – you have to keep paroxocybin frozen, otherwise, like a carton of Ben and Jerry’s, it will go off quite spectacularly).  Cue one of those tense chases through the London underground that I enjoy watching so much, with Lucas, Beth and Dmitri and a FSB agent who’d been attached to MI5 all hurtling around muttering tensely at Tariq through tiny microphones.

Aibek evaded Britain’s (and Russia’s) finest, and pitched up in the office of a scientist who’d been hanging on to a little supply of the coveted chemical because of it’s potential for positive use. A bit of a beating later he still refused to ‘fess up where it was being kept. Aibek turned his attention to the scientist’s daughter, also a scientist, almost drowning her until Lucas etc turned up in the nick of time. Aibek was apprehended, but the nasty FSB officer killed the scientist’s daughter – because the Russians wanted the nasty stuff.

It all got complicated after that, with Aibek being used as a decoy to sort the nasty Russian out. All was well that ended well, and the deadly substance was taken away to live in a big fridge at Porton Down.

As a little postscript, the mysterious Vaughn pitched up to mutter mysterious things at Lucas. It’s time Lucas changed his route home, as Vaughn seems to be able to pop up with alarming regularity. Maya came to see Lucas at his home. He told her that the reason he hadn’t been in touch for eight years was that he’d been in prison. When we left them, he looked about to reveal his prison tattoos to her – lucky, lucky Maya.

Posted by PLA       (who loves Spooks but is frequently confused by it)

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Spooks: Confused? You will be

Just a reminder of those prison tattoos

(Series 9, Ep.2) I have to confess I got totally lost watching last night’s Spooks. Who was meant to be assassinating who in that elevator? Were the gunmen Columbians or Nigerians? Were they after the man who was after the oil tycoon, or were they after Beth? And how could Beth get a job working for MI5 without them delving into her background enough to know she got up to some dodgy stuff in South America in her gap year?

All this bamboozlement was quite aside from the central question that we’re supposed to be worrying about – why do people keep calling Lucas “John”? And who is Maya? Didn’t he have a Russian wife previously?

There is such a thing as a plot that’s too convoluted, and this was it. The best thing about it was the sexual tension between Ruth and Harry.  She rings him. “I don’t think we should be sharing late night tete-a-tetes. Let’s just stick to work,” he tells her. “This is work,” she replies. Harry pauses for a nanosecond before replying, “Good.”

Posted by a confused PLA who should maybe stick to In the Night Garden from now on.

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Spooks: Being Lucas North

(Series 9, Ep.1) Just in case we were holding out a slim hope that Ros Myers might not be dead after all, the  series opened at her funeral. Even so, I half expected Ros to pop up from behind a pew, brush a stray hair off her black leather jacket and tell everyone that rumours of her death had been greatly exaggerated.

Sadly, it didn’t happen, and the small congregation of Harry, Ruth, Lucas, Tariq and a couple of non-speaking extras were left to shuffle outside gloomily.  Life goes on, though, and there’s no time to wallow in grief when there are baddies to fight. This week’s baddies were Al Qaeda, or, as we must now call them, “AQ.” I think this abbreviation should be adopted right across the media because it would stop that problem about whether reporters should pronounce it “Al Kyder” or “Al Ky-eeder.”

Anyway, AQ had a nasty man on board a ship containing a lot of explosives heading for Britain (as in heading for blowing up the part of Britain known as Portsmouth). But never fear, on board the ship was also Lucas North (my lord, that man moves quickly), an agent called Dmitri who sounds Russian but is in fact “one of ours,” and a maverick private security expert called Beth Bailey. Lucas isn’t terribly fond of maverick private security types on his patch, but it was lucky that Beth was around because it was she who sorted out the fact that the nasty AQ man was only pretending to be driving  a ship full of explosives towards Portsmouth at high speed. What he was actually doing was setting off a couple of radar-proof mini-submarines which could sneak past the Thames Barrier (huh – calls itself a barrier) and detonate in the murky waters beneath the Houses of Parliament.

Luckily there’s apparently a room in the basement of the aforementioned seat of government which contains an electro-magnetic pulse bomb for just such an eventuality. It’s a weapon of last resort, though, as it plays havoc with mobile phones, pacemakers, iPods and just about anything else electrical. Still, Harry is employed to take these tough decisions, and take it he did.  Luckily the back-up generators at St Thomas’s Hospital (which is directly opposite the H of P) kicked in just in time and only nine people died.

Even so, death hangs heavy in Harry’s heart, what with it being so soon after losing Ros and whatnot. He’d also had to kill the former Home Secretary (the Robert Glenister one) early in the episode when it turned out that he’d been One Of Theirs all along. All this death was getting to him. He was even planning to retire, and asked Ruth to marry him so they could live in a rose-covered cottage in the country. Sensibly, Ruth turned him down. Retirement couldn’t compare to the thrills they get in their current job, and besides, Britain needs him. Britain also needs Beth Bailey, and Harry offered her a job.

Right at the end of the episode, Lucas was on his way out for a kebab or something, and met a Sinister Figure who seemed to know about Lucas’s secret past (the past that’s so secret even we don’t know about it yet). “What’s it been like, being Lucas North?” he said. Well, I imagine for one thing it’s utter joy every time you look in the mirror, but that’s just me.

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Strike Back: Started well, then got silly

Oh dear. I did wonder whether Strike Back was going to be my cup of tea, but I really wanted to like it. Admittedly this is mainly because I’ve been missing my regular dose of Richard Armitage since Spooks and Robin Hood finished.

It started promisingly enough, with an Iraq-based sequence which the Radio Times warned “wasn’t for the squeamish.” I don’t know whether they gave their preview DVD to Bambi, but there wasn’t anything particularly squeamish-making about it. It was very tense, however. Porter and his army buddies were faced with a young man with a bomb strapped to him and his finger on the trigger. Apparently the standard procedure in this situation is to shoot the person in the head, which will disable the trigger reflex. Porter, however, took hold of the detonator in the man’s hand and calmly cut the wire to the bomb. The bomber told Porter he owed him his life.

So far so good – there’s obviously more to Porter than your standard macho hero. It was all looking good for the character to be a conflicted type like (by some mysterious coincidence) Lucas in Spooks, or Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood.

Unfortunately as we leapt forward to the present day to find Porter now wearing a comedy wig and with his life in ruins because of his earlier experiences, it all started to get silly. I liked the scenes in MI6 because it was like Spooks (I’m sorry to keep banging on about it, but Strike Back kept reminding me at every turn about what a superior series Spooks is), but my interest waned as soon as they started training Porter back up to match fitness by providing him with some on-prescription sex and sub-Apocalypse Now “preparing for battle” scenes. Because only Porter was qualified to sort out a nasty situation involving a kidnapped journalist.

I’d love to tell you how part one ended, and I’d love to discuss part two (which was on straight afterwards), but I can’t, because I turned off about five minutes from the end of the first installment. That’s how bored I was getting. It’s quite possible it perked up in part two, with all the characters set up and so on, but I was past caring.

I’m just going to have to wait for the next series of Spooks.

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Spooks: Not afraid to die

The series finale to Spooks, and we knew it was going to be Ros’s last episode. How would she go out? With a ticking bomb and a helluva bang, that’s how. To the very last her core of iced iciness remained intact. In a hotel room, practically sitting on the counting-down bomb with a baddie, she told him they’d stay there till he told her which room he’d stashed the Home Secretary and the Pakistan Prime Minister. “I’m not afraid to die,” she told him, and he believed her. We believed her. She left him tied up, with the plastic ties she keeps in the pockets of her leather jacket for such a purpose.

Sadly she doesn’t keep a set of trolley wheels in her jacket pocket (this is where big coats really do come in handy), because when she and Lucas found the Home Secretary and the Pakistan PM, they’d been paralysed with a nasty drug. It was imperative to get the Pakistan PM outside and in front of TV cameras, otherwise his supposed demise would be used as an excuse to start a nuclear war. Ros commanded Lucas to lug him out (help couldn’t be summoned as outside communications had been cut off). This left her to try to drag the Home Secretary out with only seconds remaining as the bomb counted down. This was the new, younger and lighter Home Secretary – I don’t think even Ros would have attempted to drag Robert Glenister very far.

Lucas got out, the Pakistan PM was dusted down and unparalysed and delivered into the safe care of BBC News 24, and Lucas started back to the hotel to get Ros – and the bomb went off. End of episode. And, presumably, end of Ros. We will never see her like again.

Luckily we won’t be seeing Sarah Caulfield either, as she and her rubbish American accent (which veers from Brooklyn to Baton Rouge and back in the same sentence) got shot in the head. And not before time.

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