Spooks Revisited: A Look Back at Series Ten
Spooks ends with a powerful and harrowing final series. Discover what The Digital Fix had to say on series one through nine here.
The final series of Spooks makes for an intense ride. For viewers who have stuck with the show across a decade, the six-episode sequence thrums with consequence and emotion – but also holds up as six hours of riveting drama for casual viewers. After eighty-one episodes leading the Section D team, it’s now Harry’s turn to be the main character. The ongoing arc revolves around the repercussions of Harry’s relationships both old and new, personal and professional, as his history with Russia comes back to haunt him and his intimacy with Ruth threaten to destabilise everything.
They may be only six episodes, but they’re strong, polished and personal. In the fallout from Lucas’ death, we see Harry in the midst of a tribunal into his misconduct. After being allowed to return to work on a probationary basis, his decision making becomes increasingly reckless, until he’s poised by to be extradited to the US for inadvertently assisting the murder of the CIA Deputy Director. Ruth struggles to navigate her position as both Harry’s would-be lover and also his underling on the Grid, before eventually taking up an offer to work for the Home Secretary in the final two episodes.
Developed across years on the show, the relationship between the pair finally resolves. By the time of Ruth’s temporary departure in series five, their budding romance had just begun to flower – but a lot has happened since then. After being ripped from her new life in Cyprus, forced to watch her would-be husband shot in front of her and thrust back into the world of MI5 in series eight, Ruth has really been put through the wringer. The best scenes are between the pair as they attempt to navigate the existence, or otherwise, of their relationship. She’s his closest confidante, the one he trusts most of all on the Grid, and her presence exposes Harry’s vulnerability and humanity in ways his job never has. It’s involving and emotional writing, and both Nicola Walker and Peter Firth elevate the material they’re given to the next level.
Harry’s long history with Russia, alluded to at various points over the years, is placed front and centre. The elegant and beguiling Elena Gavrik (Alice Krige), Harry’s former lover, is an MI5 asset from the days of the Cold War whose husband, oligarch Ilya Gavrik (Jonathan Hyde) and Harry’s old counterpart in the KGB, is now spearheading a new strategic partnership between Russia and the UK. Their son Sasha (Tom Weston-Jones) is a loyal FSB agent whose parentage is a boiling pot ready to bubble over – Harry believes himself to be Sasha’s father, not Ilya. The twists and turns of this family drama are embedded into the arc, and the revelations and shifting loyalties are as much part of weekly plots as the latest assassination attempt or terror attack.
In a rare case of a character’s departure taking place off-screen, Sophia Myles’ Beth Bailey has been decommissioned by the new Section Chief Erin Watts (Lara Pulver), putting the latter at odds with the team still loyal to Harry. Yet beneath the glamorous facade, there’s surprising depth, for Erin is a single mother whose strong bond with her daughter is key to the resolution of episode four. There’s not as much space for Erin to prove herself in the leadership role as other Section Chiefs had previously, but early on she has one such chance when running an asset, Martha, whose identity has been made public. Erin acts as a confidante and guiding force as Martha grapples with her life being thrown upside down, before taking the morally grey decision to cut off contact and leave Martha to fend for herself.
Her actions play into one of the themes Spooks has touched on before: an innocent individual’s life ruined in as a result of involvement with MI5 (series three’s The Sleeper, series seven’s Accidental Discovery). It’s a harsh life as a spook, but harsher still on the innocents caught in the crossfire and forced to live with the consequences.
Dimitri’s back again, as is Tariq for episodes one and two, joined by newcomer Calum Reed (Geoffrey Streatfeild), whose tendency for quips and insubordination means he doesn’t fit neatly into the team dynamic. This initially seems the extent of his characterisation – until the sudden death of Tariq in episode two, poisoned on route to the Grid after discovering vital information. This is especially tragic given he and Calum, initially at loggerheads, had just begun to develop something approaching friendship. Only shortly beforehand, a fantastic scene saw Tariq bring the snarky Calum down a few notches, forcing the latter to acknowledge his comparatively privileged background when contrasted with Tariq’s ongoing hard work to prove wrong those who had not believed in him. Not only does this scene prompt Calum to reconfigure his attitude toward the team, it also hints at a more mature Spooks willing to engage in topics of race and discrimination.
Tariq’s unfortunate demise gives us a new perspective on Calum; of all the team he’s most committed to uncovering the reasons behind Tariq’s death. Another character with a meaningful role to play this year is Dimitri, who is the core focus of episode three. In this much-needed Dimitri-centric plot there are moments of both action and emotional intimacy for actor Max Brown, as his character is tasked with honey trapping the sister of a dangerous anarchist suspected of planning a dirty bomb attack. It’s clear that by the finale, those team members who have survived the events of series ten have reconciled their initial misgivings and bonded through adversity. There’s some fantastic development for each member of the Grid this year, which makes you wish we had more time with them. But alas, the show ends on a high, and this is the last we see of Dimitri, Erin and Calum, apart from the latter two appearing in the film Spooks – The Greater Good, which was released in 2015 to mixed reviews.
Bharat Nalluri, original director of the first filming block way back in 2002, returns for the final two episodes in 2011. It’s a welcome return for a director who defined the look and feel of the show, and his episodes function as a good old two-part finale where everyone’s storylines converge and culminate in an ending that is exhilarating and unexpected in equal measure – the hallmarks of Spooks at its best. And speaking of welcome returns: the finale features a cameo appearance from original cast member Matthew Macfayden, returning after seven years to the role of Tom Quinn. His fleeting appearance is not strictly essential to the plot, but functions as a pleasing nod to the show’s beginnings and a pleasing coda on which to end. (And let’s face it, the list of surviving characters isn’t long.) And with that, Spooks is done.
Series Ten's Most Talented Actor: Nicola Walker
Was there ever any doubt? Ruth was always the real heart of the Section D team, and Nicola Walker epitomised that humanity through a performance that tugged on the heartstrings. After a run like this on Spooks, none can deny Walker’s talent.
Series Ten's Best (Worst) Moment: Ruth dies in Harry's arms (10.6)
Vincent and Brackley had two options to end the Ruth-Harry plotline: give the pair a happy ending, and have them leave the service and settle down together; or kill one of them off and have the other live with the heartbreak. In a moment of intense grief and mournful emotion, they chose the latter.
Spooks' Best Series: Series Ten
Tense, dramatic and heart-breaking, the final series of Spooks hits all the right notes. Start to finish the pace is riveting, plot developments hit home with intended force, and the characters whom fans have come to love face the consequences of past actions.
Could a Spooks revival work? Creator David Wolstencroft has stated that if the show were made or revived today, there would be “greater racial diversity in the cast” with “more women writing and directing” and less of a London-centric focus. And rightly so – Spooks is stronger when leaning away from harmful stereotypes (of Islamist extremism, of a mostly white MI5 solving the problems of BAME communities), and at its best when doing something different, examining MI5’s impact on innocent civilians and folding in psychological themes on top of the thrills and explosions.
But if this is all the Spooks the world ever sees, these eighty-seven episodes have proven exciting, tumultuous and unique indeed.
Do you think Spooks ends on a high or a low? Tell us your opinion in the comments section below.