Spooks Revisited: A Look Back at Series Nine
What’s it been like? Being Lucas North?
Series nine is Spooks at its peak. Sharp writing and a fresh modern feel make for the most psychological series yet. The Digital Fix is revisiting classic spy drama Spooks one series at a time. Catch up on the previous eight series here.
There’s little more alarming than the thought of a close friend or colleague being revealed as someone else entirely. The ninth series of Spooks makes that terrifying possibility a reality with the bombshell revelation that the real name of Richard Armitage’s character is not Lucas North but John Bateman – who was manipulated into perpetrating an embassy bombing in the mid-nineties and killed the real Lucas North to steal his identity and create a new life.
Over many years at MI5 and in a Russian prison, Lucas had convinced himself he wasn’t a killer and suppressed memories of his namesake’s murder – until the return of Vaughn Edwards (Iain Glen), an old acquaintance of John’s, breaks open a Pandora’s box of revelations and splits the Section D team apart. The back-and-forth between Lucas and Vaughn, sprinkled throughout the series, is deliciously manipulative, as he re-enters Lucas’ life under the pretence of pleading for help before stepping up his manipulations to new sinister levels, infiltrating Lucas’ life with disastrous consequences for the latter’s mental state.
In the present day, Harry has made Lucas Section Chief, taking the plunge to trust him like just as he trusted Ros – which turns out to be a massive mistake as Lucas becomes increasingly unpredictable, volatile and desperate. Armitage portrays the “a killer who dreamed he was a hero” with a brooding menace he was born to play, acutely conveying the psychological torment his character endures at Vaughn’s hands. It’s scary, psychological and gripping stuff, all the way down to a classic one-on-one rooftop showdown between Harry and Lucas in the finale.
Laila Rouass joins the supporting cast as Maya Lahan, Lucas’ third romantic interest in as many series. She doesn’t accomplish much beyond being the love interest, so there’s not much to say about her here other than Lahan being suitably earnest and doughy eyed in the limited role.
New head writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent continue to interweave the Harry-Ruth storyline across the series. Their complex relationship becomes intrinsic to a decision Harry faces in the finale: hand over to Lucas something called the Albany file – a blueprint for a genetic weapon desired by the Chinese – in exchange for Ruth’s life. It’s a clever call-back to the moral decision Harry was forced to make when Ruth was reintroduced – divulge confidential information or be complicit in the murder of her parter and adopted son. That time, he wasn’t able to save Ruth’s partner; this time, his actions become considerably more volatile. At some point, Harry has realised how much Ruth means to him and that he will act in more forthright fashion to save her – even if that means drastic action. It’s in series ten that the consequences of such impulses come back to haunt him.
Ruth may not always be front and centre in the plot, but when it comes to the quieter, more personal moments that require an emotional touch – Nicola Walker is the person to call. Peter Firth is solid as always, his character showing hints of wit and wisdom, always calm and collected but ready to show vulnerability. The pair come to a tenuous understanding that marriage is an arrangement that would never work between them (“We couldn’t be more together than we are right now”) but they clearly still feel for one another – and their hesitancy to express those feelings outright is made all the more tragic by the developments in series ten.
Just as the storytelling becomes more intimate and personal, the scope in other ways becomes broader: we make it away from the UK for most of the first episode – a big part of why things feel fresh and vitalised – and a rising China becomes the primary ‘foreign’ antagonist in the back half of the series. Two fresh faces at Section D do a large part of the action-oriented problem solving, namely Dimitri Levendis (Max Brown), ex-military, and Beth Bailey (Sophia Myles), a private contractor previously rejected for a role at MI5. Of the two, Beth is the one we come to know better, but both prove charismatic, capable and engaging, if still supporting, members of the cast.
There’s also Simon Russell Beale’s new Home Secretary replacing Robert Glenister in the role, and a welcome return for tech guru Malcolm Wynn-Jones in episodes six and seven – although this essentially constitutes an extended cameo. Hugh Simon recaptures the innocent charm that made his tenure on the Grid so enjoyable to watch.
After previous attempts were met with mixed results, finally the serialised version of Spooks sticks the landing with the series nine finale. It’s the most epic and best executed of the past four series, working not only as an epic final episode but also a natural end to the plot progression across eight hours of drama. The series builds up to the finale, rather than peaking in the middle and fizzling out towards the end (series six), peaking in the penultimate episode that works better as a finale than the actual last episode (series seven), or being a decent finale but should have had certain elements introduced earlier on for full impact (series eight).
Series nine is the best series of Spooks so far – beating out the seventh’s fresh and vitalised feel and the opening few series’ exciting establishment of tone and format. This could have been where the show ends and it would have finished on a high – as it happens, the tenth and final series pushes the drama on further to a thrilling yet harrowing ending.
Series Nine’s Best Episode: Episode Two
David Farr flexes his superior screenwriting skills one last time with his final script for the show. As explored previously, the episodes of Spooks that stand out most prominently are the ones that do something different: I Spy Apocalypse (2.06) is set completely on the Grid; The Broadcast (6.04) uses non-linear storytelling. Episode two tracks the fallout from a single event – a shooting in an elevator – from three different perspectives, a triptych of interlocking storylines that build upon each other to tell a great story with twists and revelations that leave you grinning.
Series Nine’s Best Sequence: Pre-titles sequence (9.01)
What a fantastic pre-credits sequence to the first episode. Acting to wrap up loose ends after the end of series eight, it’s a confident start to the new series. Within the space of seven minutes the team attends Ros’ funeral, Ruth rejects Harry’s sudden marriage proposal (!) saying their lives are too complicated for such indulgence, and Harry assassinates the old Home Secretary (Robert Glenister), revealed to have been part of the Nightingale conspiracy, in a moment of intimate horror.
Series Nine’s Best Writers: Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent
Credited wholly or partly on five of the eight episodes, new head writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent write Spooks sharper and smarter. Not only do they provide innovative new ways of getting round plot obstacles (Need a character to diffuse a bomb? Don’t get them to cut a wire – have them use a cigarette lighter) they make the writing personal and therefore more impactful. Brackley and Vincent, whose tenure continues into series ten, end Spooks on a big high.
What’s your favourite part of Spooks series nine? Share your thoughts in the comments.