I happen to like Spooks (but no doubt will forget to watch the next nine episodes). Last Tuesday’s opener twisted and turned through an hour of morally dubious decision making before leaving Asnik out on the streets of London, breathing something deadly and American all over an unsuspecting populace. No doubt if this was a movie, we’d arrive at this point after ten minutes, but as we have ten hours of this storyline to get through an hour was perfectly adequate. And very skilfully done it was too.
The only problem I have with it is that it all seems so reactionary.
The heroes of Spooks are members of the Security Services, which is all very well, but I can’t help hankering after the days of Edge of Darkness and Defence of the Realm for something a little more hard edged, subversive even. These well regarded series were informed by nuclear paranoia, and took strident and well considered anti-establishment positions.
Not so Spooks, which is set almost entirely inside the world of government. How much of this is a knock-on effect from 9/11 it perhaps difficult to quantify, but maybe it’s no co-incidence that, since then, we have seen a proliferation of series such as The West Wing and 24, where the machinery of the State is seen as being benign and even overly moral (or, at least, sacrificing the interests of the few for the many).
Where Edge of Darkness and Defence of the Realm explored complex conspiracies that went right to the heart of government, Spooks seems to invert this to give us a wholly new type of paranoia:
Series 5, Episode 10: An environmental terrorist group threaten to flood London if the government doesn't publish a secret document.
The role of government is now to protect us from an ever present array of long haired, loon panted left wingers and other assorted crazies with evil agendas.
Series 4, Episode 10: Ruth is asked to procure evidence that Harry was responsible for the assassination of Princess Diana.
Harry wasn’t responsible for any such thing of course – he’s merely been the target of another crazy person whom MI6 is duty bound to stop at all costs.
No doubt if a crusty old peace campaigner dared show his/her face in the world of Spooks at the moment, they would get a swift garrotting.
The current series of Spooks is a bit of a concern for precisely these reasons: we’ve already discounted the (now benevolent) Iranians as being behind the plot to let loose a deadly chemical agent on the hard working people of Britain (Copyright Gordon Brown), so I guess that leaves the old ‘splinter militant group’ fallback (Albanians? Disgruntled Russian business interests? It really doesn’t matter at the end of the day). What this does is to ensure that no-one is offended – a cop out in other words (didn’t The Devil’s Own do something similar?). Instead of taking some left field narrative choices to inspire some meaningful debate (like: what exactly is it that MI5/MI6 do that the police can’t?), I suspect that Spooks will focus entirely on just such a plot strand, but I hope (against expectation) to be corrected.