SS-GB episode 4 review

SS-GB’s penultimate episode is the calm before the finale’s action-packed storm. At least, it had better be…

This review contains spoilers.

It’s finally happened; Douglas Archer has dropped the pragmatism and taken a stand, silencing critics Sylvia and Harry in the process. Next week, he’s on a mission for England so terribly bold and dangerous it deserves a terribly bold and dangerous English codename – Lionheart say, or Nelson’s Pointy Hat. Let’s go with that.

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In Operation NPH, Archer and his trusty walrus companion Harry Woods are going to break the King out of German custody and transport him to a remote airfield where he’ll be flown to freedom. The ‘Next time…’ trailer promises that there’ll be guns, planes, fisticuffs, warships and all sorts of excitement.

It needed to, frankly, because there wasn’t much in episode four to raise the pulse. It was a pretty morose hour, largely comprising Archer dolefully watching the already-terrible world around him get even worse. Harry was detained, Barbara was arrested and Bernard Staines was tortured to death, and in the face of all of it, Archer maintained his impassive composure and gave little away.

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In the opening moments, we saw Archer gaze around the aftermath of the Highgate cemetery bomb, looking immaculate while taking in the bloodshed. Then we saw him witness the street executions of two people resisting arrest, ever immaculate but troubled. Later, we saw him gaze through the barbed wire of an East London Detention Centre, still looking immaculate but slightly more troubled as he watched his compatriots receive rifle butts to the face.

It was a gobful of spit Archer received in the face, courtesy of firecracker Sylvia. By the time he was sexily tending her wound back at his after her escape though, all that had been forgotten and Archer had gone considerably up in Sylvia’s estimation. He called Sylvia brave, Barbara Barga called him brave, and posh men in expensive rooms talked in urgent, low voices about the necessity for everybody to be brave. That was very much the general vibe of the hour.

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Adding to the general sense of misery was Archer’s teary goodbye to little Dougie, who’s been sent off to the unoccupied zone to keep him out of harm’s way during Operation Queen’s Teapot (That’s better, isn’t it?). The reunion of Harry and wife Joan provided a similarly low-key, emotional moment, accompanied by the same mournful piano score.

The only liveliness was provided by Huth’s drunken wake for his fallen comrade, during which he provided an arresting mental image with the line about Karl Marx farting in his eye, before positioning himself as a rival to Barbara Barga by asking Archer to come away with him. Having received two solid offers in one episode, Archer should have been feeling pretty pleased with himself, but there’s no time for smugness in an occupation, just gritty forbearance and manly nods.

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Barga’s US citizenry, it seems, didn’t make her as immune to the Nazis as she’d thought. Her arrest complicates things for Archer and is bound to distract him from Operation Hooray For Churchill (keep up). At least she had the nous to stash that cigar case in her false-bottomed hat box.

More distraction is bound to come from the impeccably uniformed Huth, who’s bound to throw a spanner in the works of the King’s escape.

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Seeing as this is a detective drama, once Archer has ferried Bluejacket to that remote airfield, perhaps he can start work on a couple of remaining mysteries here: 1) if they filled his coffin with explosives, what did the Resistance do with Karl Marx’s farting corpse? And 2) How is a show about a rip-roaring plot to smuggle a captive king out of an enemy-occupied country this very dull?