This review contains spoilers.
Terrorists and kidnap take precedence this week, as a team member’s family are drawn into the fray.
I should think that it’s always difficult to write and create an episode like this, especially one that deals with religion, and a little closer to home than normal. It must be a balancing act to avoid offending anyone, but the writers want to make things look and sound authentic while also showing a potential threat, and showing the people and mindset behind these threats. However, it seems that once again the writing team behind Spooks has got the balancing act down to a tee, as the critical threat to the public is played out on a very personal level.
With an imprisoned religious fanatic, Zubier Al-Saad (who bears a passing resemblance to a real-life preacher who may have difficulty scratching an itch on his nose) preying on the susceptible and indoctrinating them into his terrorist cause, the team are well aware of the potentially volatile situation. As such, they have Ashur Mohali, a mole working on the inside. A former lecturer whose family has terrorist links, Ashur is assigned to keeping tabs on any terrorist activities that might be plotted within the walls of the prison, with the incentive that his daughter will be allowed to gain access to the UK.
When Ashur is released along with another inmate, it’s is soon evident that Zubier has brainwashed him. Already slightly unstable, this other prisoner has been radicalised and is planning, along with a cell on the outside, to stage a terrorist attack in London. However, it’s not just the MI5 team watching, as the terrorists, and more specifically the cell’s ruthless handler, are in turn watching them, especially Erin and her family.
While this episode is really a fantastically put together development of set pieces, it’s once again the little things that really stand out, and show why Spooks really blows other series such as this out of the water. It’s all about character and motivation – the team at MI5 could so easily be a set of cardboard cut-out assassins, hackers and analysts, not having any interaction with the events that are happening around them (the recent Body Farm and Philip Glenister drama, Hidden, for example), but it’s things such as the concern by Erin for the safety and well-being of Ashur and his daughter, especially after the events of the past two weeks, when the team assets haven’t made it out in once piece.
Intelligence, it seems, is more politics than action, which is evident from the callous way the home secretary deals with the situation. In Spooks, espionage isn’t just about car chases and shoot-outs, but rather paperwork, signatures and administration.
Ruth, once again, excels this week, and while she’s not out in the field or really dealing with the imminent threat, her steady calm and duteous nature means that the whole department keeps on an even keel, especially when it seems Harry’s letting his personal life and vendettas get in the way of the job at hand. From her level-headed pleading with the home secretary to her heart being broken when Harry and his former flame Elena Gavrik get a little too close, and finally confronting Harry about how she feels. Ruth knows that a life-service to the intelligence agency will mean secrets, and Harry, although he cares for Ruth, will never tell her everything, and that their life together would always be full of mistrust and secrets.
Ruth also plays a pivotal role in what’s to come – it’s been hinted that Harry’s former friend Jim Coaver is the one attempting to break up the potential Russian/British intelligence partnership, and while there were no hard facts, seeing Coaver with the rouge agent, who has been plaguing the team since the beginning of the season, as well as being seen getting in and out of a suspect’s vehicle, all suggest that he’s the one behind this season’s big conspiracy. However, even if Harry is right, and his erratic behaviour will lead him along the right path, the major issue is that Coaver works for the CIA, and if Harry makes a move for either personal or state security reasons, America’s big guns could very well turn on him.
On the subject of guns, Ashur’s loyalties are really put to the test, as it seems the terrorist cell is using his daughter for leverage, and will go to any length to get the terrorist attack to go ahead. With the cell’s handler being a particularly nasty character, and the rules changing, with Ashur being used instead of the other unstable prisoner for the terrorist attack, the last ten minutes of this week’s show rival anything a Hollywood action film could put together. Tense, with massive stakes, the Trafalgar Square showdown is fantastic viewing, and the ruthless efficiency of the team in taking down both Ashur and his handler is perfectly delivered.
The stakes are raised further when Erin’s daughter is kidnapped – a reminder that Erin, although a ruthless agent, is also a mother, and that her family takes priority. On the edge of quitting the team, it seems that Harry may well lose another agent before the end of the season. And with Ruth considering the offer made to her by the home secretary, it could be that Harry won’t have a team left by next week, when he’ll have to tackle his biggest assignment yet – taking on the USA.
You can read our review of Spooks series 10 episode 3 here.