Tuesday, 4 November 2008

War on Reality

Contains spoilers for Spooks, Series 7, Episode 1

Don’t get me wrong, I love Spooks – I love it so much I’ll even watch it in French (and my French is notoriously rubbish). But as Adrian Reynolds has pointed out in insightful fashion, there’s something a bit ‘smoke and mirrors’ about the new series - and I can see what he means. This resides predominantly in the ever-so-slightly clunky plot mechanics. Hmmm – thinking about it, perhaps that’s a little unfair: ‘clunky’ is the wrong word. When you consider the way that writers Neil Cross and Ben Richards handle the various thorny problems that a Spooks narrative throws at them, you start to realise what a finely tuned machine the whole thing really is. It may well all be smoke and mirrors, but you don’t actually realise until way after the closing credits – which in my book, makes it a pretty major achievement.

Let’s face it, most narratives are going to contain some stray thread of implausibility or lapse in logic that, once worried and pulled at, means that the whole thing is going to unravel like a demented cat’s cradle. However, Spooks seems to be a special case. Last week’s opener started from a point that could have easily been totally implausible, but - due to some superlative writing - didn’t feel artificial or contrived: well, not that much.

Private Andy Sullivan is kidnapped by an al-Qaeda cell and threatened with a spot of decapitation unless Remembrance Day is cancelled. In a show of ballsy Brit bravura, Sullivan refuses to read out his captors’ pre-written statement, forcing them to read it out themselves. Once in receipt of the offending broadcast, the Spooks team is able to match the voice pattern of one of Sullivan’s captors against ones they have on electronic file – this inevitably puts them on the trail of the cell and its nefarious backers.

Taking this at face value, there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with it – and indeed, there isn’t. But the logic Nazi that resides deep in my psyche couldn’t quite shake the thought that it just seemed a teensy bit contrived. The fact that one of Sullivan’s captors is forced to read out his own written statement direct to camera is the conceit that essentially sets the narrative in motion – without the voice to match to a suspect on their spiffy CGI database, the Spooks team would have been on a hiding to nothing straight from the off. I’m not a connoisseur of kidnap videos by any stretch, but I can’t imagine there’s any way on god’s green earth that any self-respecting al-Qaeda member would read out his own list of demands on a video which every security service in the western hemisphere would be queuing up to analyse with one of those weird toothcomb things.

Like I said – I’m a logic Nazi. It’s a problem – unfortunately not one that can be treated with any known medication (I’ve tried the odd anti-psychotic, but they don’t work either).

However, all credit to the writers – at least they get this little implausibility out of the way quickly.

Which then neatly leads on to the next teensy tiny problem:

Even though Spooks is grounded heavily in an instantly recognisable world, it’s almost as if that world is too real. So Spooks compensates for uncomfortable reality by giving everything an overwhelmingly positive spin, and throws in a bit of wish fulfilment to boot as well: kidnap victims are rescued unscathed, terror plots are successfully foiled with no civilian casualties, and MI5 agents have the public’s best interests at heart. Reality itself is far more horrific, random and mundane than anything Spooks could throw at us. But then again, it’s just fiction - right? Why would anyone want pesky reality playing a part in proceedings?

At least Spooks has the good sense to up the ante every now and again and kill off one of its main characters - which sort of begs the question: how much reality can we really take? I love Spooks, but every now and again, it would be nice to see how the team deal with the fall out from a full-on terrorist outrage (inasmuch as terrorist outrages can ever really be described as ‘nice’) ;-)


Piers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Piers said...

Surely the answer is to watch Spooks: Code 9?

All the post-terrorist-outrage-action you can lay your hands on.

Chip Smith said...

I've seen a couple of Code 9s, mostly to see what Gareth McLean in the Guardian was moaning about a while back - and they're great! I wasn't expecting a great deal, but what I did catch was riveting - not much in the way of mass murder, unfortunately ;-) (I missed the first episode, perhaps that's where all the death and mayhem was)

Lucy said...

Spooks has ALWAYS been wildly implausible - or am I a dirty great cynic?

Word Verification: NON SP - an omen per chance after my post on the blog today???

Chip Smith said...

I think this answer here is twofold -Spooks is of course wildly implausible, and you're a dirty great cynic ;-)

I've been following your exploits on SP quite closely - glad to see that your 'detractors' don't bother reading your comments before replying! Put it down to a short attention span and the fact that the inet these days is akin to being on the receiving end of a spot of road rage - like you, I'll stick with the blogs thanks, not because I'm afraid of posting stuff to SP (you gotta pay to do that anyway), but because it's tiring explaining yourself to people who don't bother reading what you've written.