Spooks - Season 9
After nine years, I guess it's possible to run out of good new story ideas. And so with ninth season of Spooks we're faced with a bunch of recycled ones with a few twists, and a mind-numbingly awful plot arc that we should probably cover first, lest it take over and ruin the entire review, much like it did this season of the show.
To put it simply, Lucas sees a photo and is suddenly reminded that he used to be in love with a woman, and decides he's going to do anything to be with her. In the course of which it turns out he used to be a terrorist and stole the identity of a guy who had already passed all the entrance exams for MI5, and thus joined up, because no-one that originally assessed him or was taking the first lot of exams with him thought to go "hang on, that's a different bloke".
And so we get Lucas framing an innocent man and letting a woman die, before finally flipping entirely, kidnapping Ruth and blackmailing Harry. It'd be a great plot development, if it had been done well and actually been hinted at in previous series. As it was, it came out of the blue. We'd never even been exposed to the more ruthless side of Lucas' character before; indeed, compared to Adam, Tom or Roz, he was always portrayed as somewhat softer and more merciful. The whole thing seemed shoe-horned in to find an interesting way to write out the character.
Still, it was almost worth it. The penultimate episode, where Lucas finally flips, was wonderfully tense and intriguing, the scene with Lucas revealing his past to Harry being one of the series highlights, as was Vaughn then pulling the rug from under us as we find out that Lucas' carefully spun tale of a naive, misguided, youthful mistake was nothing more than a ruse. With Lucas on the run the scene is set for a brilliant season finale. Which Spooks, of course, fails to deliver.
Rather than have Lucas hunted by his old team-mates (and finally giving Dimitri and Beth a moment in the spotlight) we're instead introduced to a new character, presumably to take over as our leading man next year, who is utterly unconvincing. The whole thing is solved by this new character convincing Lucas' girlfriend to turn on him, in a scene that's somehow deemed not important enough for us to actually see. Then there's a bomb threat and Lucas jumps off a building. Oh and it turns out this file that was so important that caused this whole mess was a fake anyway.
Still, while the plot arc was a disaster, there were some interesting bits along the way. The show has adapted to the current political climate, with a new Secretary of State who has an interesting relationship with Harry - they're not friends but he's not portrayed as the typical 'bureaucrat getting in the way' character. Plus with Obama being President of the US, the show can finally do a "the President's life is in danger" story and actually have us care. In fact, the whole episode dealing with the Israel-Palestine question was a remarkably even-handed and brave piece of drama.
There's also a fun episode involving the Chinese and Russians joining forcing to takeover the Grid's computer and surveillance systems, leading to some entertaining skulduggery as our agents try to work against them while not letting on that they know anything is wrong.
The rest of the series is mostly forgettable: there's a multiple-viewpoint Rashomon-style episode, one involving a joint operation with the Russians, and an utterly forgettable episode revolving around desalination which is about as exciting as it sounds.
Throughout it's nine years on air the show has changed hugely, most specifically in the structure of its plots. In early seasons of Spooks, the characters (and Harry specifically) were assumed to always know what was going on. The show revelled in making the viewer more ignorant than the characters, only to then wrong-foot us by revealing that what looked like a screw-up was part of the plan all along. We were watching these intricately planned operations play out.
These days, our MI5 team seem to always be on the back-foot, reactive rather than pro-active, and also borderline incompetent. It seems nearly every single episode had a foot chase in it, and every time the bad guy got away from the highly trained intelligence officers. Indeed, it's only when Lucas finally crosses over to the dark side, that he starts acting like he knows what he's doing. Much as I still enjoy the show, I'd love to see a return to those days, if nothing else it's more comforting if we can at least pretend MI5 knows what it's doing.