Spooks Revisited: A Look Back at Series Eight
How does the series eight story arc fare? Which characters die, and which one returns after a three-year break? Find out in the latest instalment of Spooks Revisited from The Digital Fix.
Series eight of Spooks starts off a little differently. With a cliffhanger ending to the previous series to resolve and the matter of a key character’s reintroduction, the first two episodes are devoid of series arc connections. It’s only at the end of the second episode that a hint at a conspiracy “to change the world order” is dropped in, and only halfway through the series itself. does that the arc properly kicks into gear.
As a result, the Nightingale arc is looser than last year’s Sugarhorse plot – and scarier. Conspiracy within the ranks of intelligence and government is a terrifying prospect and fantastic for drama, and while series eight doesn’t fully dip into the realm of paranoia, the notion of there being something deep-rooted and wrong lends itself well to a show all about furtive spy missions and counter-terrorism.
And it took three years, but at last the finale feels like more of a conclusion to the arc than simply being extra plot tagged on at the end. It’s not perfect – ideally the new members of the conspiracy introduced in the final two episodes would appear earlier in the series to maximise the impact of their betrayal – but it’s a noticeable improvement upon the series seven and eight finales, arc-wise.
The show shows no sign of holding back from big character departures, as two more team members are killed off. Jo is around for only the first three episodes but has certainly a hard time of it: developing a connection with a woman who ultimately kills herself in front of her; being, again, unnecessarily sexualised at points in the second episode; and then being shot by Ros in the third episode, after really not being given much to accomplish up until the climactic moment of her death.
It’s a shame, given the potential in Miranda Raison’s performance. Even the manner of Jo’s death, although unexpected and sad, does more for Ros’ character moving forward (namely her trauma over killing a colleague, even if it was to stop a bomb threat) than Jo’s legacy. Raison gave it her all, but other actors simply get more to play with overall.
Ros gets a much better exit. She’s as snarky, edgy and powerful as ever, keeping her cool even running away from explosions. She’s also at peak effectiveness as leader, hard but without the coldness of past section chiefs (her actions in episode six, for example, are morally complex and rich in character development). And Hermione Norris is very good in the role, striking that difficult balance between snarky with a keen eye for the solution, and showing enough vulnerability to make her likable. Norris conveys with impressive subtlety and nuance moments of high emotion, anger and sorrow. This series shows Ros at her best, and her death in the final moments of the finale is unfortunate indeed.
Ruth is back! It’s a welcome return to a much-loved character who was always the real heart of the MI5 team. Last seen fleeing the UK in series five, she now lives a peaceful life in Cyprus with partner and stepson – until she’s brought back into the fold and immediately put to the test, being forced to watch her partner being shot and left helpless to intervene. The tragedy of her loss threatens to define her as the series progresses, but Ruth being Ruth, she perseveres (and soon enough the moment falls by the wayside anyway). Nicola Walker returns to the role at full strength and once again prove her mettle as one of the show’s standout actors.
Shazad Latif joins the team as Tariq Masood, replacing a retiring Malcolm, who has become the second-longest running character on the show. Although he was not been given a Malcolm-heavy storyline as many other characters have been afforded, it’s the kind of quiet and unassuming departure the character deserves. Hugh Simon gave the role a dignity, loyalty and wisdom that shone through in times of crisis. The decision to bring in a younger tech whiz as Malcolm’s replacement seems in keeping with the times – and his youth is often cause for a wry aside from Ros or a jibe at his casual fashion sense – but perplexingly, the production team appears to think that only one person of non-white ethnicity can be part of the main cast at any one time (first Danny, then Zaf, then Ben, and now Tariq).
Sarah Caulfield (Genevieve O'Reilly) is the most prominent recurring character, with a key role to play as a CIA liaison officer who acts as Lucas’ romantic interest. For the first half of the series, she is a blatant re-hash of Christine Dale from series two: an alluring blonde American agent who shares sexual tension and later a relationship with the male lead, sometimes working against him and sometimes with him. Sarah risks becoming a damsel in distress for Lucas to save – until the end of episode four, when she is revealed to be part of the Nightingale conspiracy after pushing her boss off the top floor of a building. It’s a great twist, one that brings an instant added depth to her character.
Not long to go now until the end of Spooks; just fourteen more episodes and the show will end its original run. True to form, the eighth series kills off multiple characters and introduces new (and returning) faces, with a decent story arc and, as usual, great character work.
Series Eight’s Best Moment: Sarah kills her CIA boss (8.04)
At a key turning point in the series, CIA officer Sarah discovers that her boss is about to learn of her involvement in Nightingale’s plot to establish a new world order – so she decides to throw him off the top floor of a building. Not only does this brilliant moment raise the stakes of the Nightingale arc, it also saves a character who was at risk of fulfilling the ‘romantic interest for the male lead’ archetype and elevates her to ‘dastardly antagonist’ status.
Series Eight’s Best Character: Ros Myers (Hermione Norris)
There are few Spooks characters as fierce or witty as Ros. With a wry sense of humour and an edge to her personality, Ros gets the best lines and the meatiest work to do across these eight episodes. Hermione Norris brings a cool, calm and collected vibe that completely sells Ros’ confidence – but she is isn’t afraid to let the rage and anger show when the writing calls for it. Series eight shows both character and actor at their best.
Share your take on the eighth series of Spooks in the comment section below and we'll return for the final retrospectives early in the new year...