SS-GB episode 5 review

SS-GB failed to ignite at every step of the way. Spoilers ahead in our review of its final episode…

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

It should have come as no surprise that a dramatisation of England under Nazi rule would a massive bummer—as premises go, it’s hardly puppies at the circus—but lord, that was a slog.

After four interminable weeks of watching Douglas Archer do little more than set his jaw against the wretched state of things, the finale failed to significantly raise SS-GB’s game. It was by far the most gripping episode of the lot, but still felt as inessential and unsatisfying as everything it preceded. There was no victory for Archer, no resolution at seeing the Nazis booted off England’s fair shores, and certainly no honey for tea. (Wrong war, I know.)

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We left our spiritless hero wandering the Hampshire downs, having been betrayed by Mayhew and saved by Huth. His mission to rescue the King was just a diversionary tactic to help the US naval attack on Bringle Sands, and had always been intended to fail. Better for the bragging rights that the infirm monarch die in an heroic escape attempt under a shower of Nazi bullets than make it to Washington and look weak, ran Mayhew’s logic. This way, the Queen and her sweet, bereaved daughters could press the flesh in the US to rally America against the enemy.

The rest of the episode largely comprised Archer and Woods growling in low voices at one another and everyone slowly smoking cigarettes and exchanging worried glances as urgent telephones rang and anxious percussive music played. Doing a decent impersonation of tension though, isn’t the same as actually creating it with characters audiences care about.

Unlike most novel adaptations, which leave you with a definite, if often rushed, ending, it felt oddly as though SS-GB is pitching for a second series. Archer escaped Kellerman. Barbara escaped torture and her embassy guard. Harry awoke in an underground Resistance bunker… all three of their fates left undecided. Only Sylvia, the King and Huth received a final goodbye, the first two gunned down in an ambush, the third stoically facing a firing squad, boots polished and blindfold refused.  

Prior to that, there was an element of farce about the Blue Jacket mission. Faced with a largely unresponsive monarch, it was all a bit Weekend At Bernie’s. Archer and Woods rolled the King about in his chair, attempting the equivalent of a nonchalant whistle as people marched by on their way to work oblivious to the fact the head of state was off his tits on morphine not feet away.

The car trouble—first a dodgy clutch, then a flat tyre, then a failure to start when Sylvia tried to drive the King to safety—only added to the sense of farce. After Archer had commandeered his third motor of the mission, you had to wonder if the four of them would eventually end up cycling into Bringle Sands on bicycles stolen from canoodling picnickers, or rolling down the Hampshire hills in a bathtub on wheels.

The farmhouse interlude was a highlight (even if Hampshire had been temporarily relocated to the West Country to judge by everyone’s accents). There was genuine tension over the talk of brandy and pheasant, and excitingly, Archer proved his marksman skills by taking out that rations-hoarding collaborator.

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The other peak was Huth and Archer’s scene against the backdrop of that gloriously faded stately home, which exuded a sort of elegiac Brideshead Revisited melancholy to it. Despite some truly hammy dialogue and scant characterisation over the past five weeks, Lars Eidinger has been the most consistently watchable thing about about SS-GB. His other work will be worth keeping an eye out for. Should a successful case be made for a second series (and I really can’t see how one can be) Sam Riley, whose performance never really went above a functional whirr here, will be lost without him.

All in all then, something of a damp squib.

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.