Hunted episode 1 review: Mort

New BBC spy drama, Hunted, from Frank Spotnitz and the makers of Spooks gets off to a strong, if chilly start…

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 Mort

Meet Sam Hunter (Melissa George), polyglot spy, trained killer, and the best operative of morally dubious and well-funded private sector spooks company, Byzantium. Shot twice in the same day, once as an elaborately staged rug-pull on both her mark and the audience, once for real and quite probably by the people she works for, it’s fair to say that Hunter isn’t having the easiest of times.

Hunter’s not the kind of operative to let an assassination attempt stop her though. After a year’s recoup in a remote Scottish cottage (mostly spent running up hills in different hats and eating tinned pork) she’s back on the job, and looking for answers.

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From the stylised Bond-style silhouetted opening credits to the preview of next week’s action, Sam Hunter is positioned as TV’s answer to Jason Bourne, a multi-lingual, neck-snapping, globe-trotting spook who’s been royally done over by her own people. Was it her boss, who greets her impromptu return from a year MIA with cool collection? Or her ex, whose baby she lost in utero during the attack on her life? Or any number of similarly slippery co-workers about whom we know next to nothing? At this stage, it’s impossible to hazard a guess, so sparingly is information dealt out in this opening episode.

One thing we do know about Hunter; she doesn’t mess around. She’s so hard-core she doesn’t even sleep in a bed, but sat upright on the floor in a part of the room she must have designated as ‘flashback corner’ because every time she sinks into the spot, she relives an out-of-focus traumatic childhood memory.

What’s immediately impressive about Hunted are the locations and moody, atmospheric direction. A series of hazy orange-tinted scenes in Tangier establish Hunter’s bamf status as she efficiently dispatches a building’s worth of lackeys whilst rescuing the cargo – a kidnapped professor – her team was tasked with retrieving. Back in London, the orange tones give way to steely, shimmering blue, as if the Byzantium’s headquarters scenes were filmed in an aquarium rather than a hi-spec office block.

With minimal dialogue and sparse, quiet landscape shots (if there’s a grimy window to be filmed through, the director found it), the first half of the episode keeps us at a distance from Hunter, who’s as much a mystery to the viewer as her assailant is to her. Her next undercover job – posing as a bereaved mother and live-in tutor for the grandson of a wealthy crim (Patrick Malahide) – promises to reveal more of Hunter’s emotional life than her impassive, inscrutable performance has so far unveiled.

At this early stage then, Hunted is a pleasingly tense and good-looking addition to the autumn schedule, if a little cold. It’s something of a blessing the dialogue is sparse judging by the odd clunker of a line (“I knew you’d come back, even if it meant they tried to kill you again”), but the intrigue is there, as is the atmosphere and the action, which is plenty to be going on with for now.