02 June 2009

MI-5: Season 2

MI-5 Season 2 Heavy and Addictive
By Kristin Battestella

I can’t help myself; I keep watching more and more of the British spy series MI-5. The ten episodes of Season Two have been viewed, leaving me feeling intelligent, intense, and thirsty for more.

MI-5’s Section D leader Tom Quinn (Matthew Macfadyen) can’t seem to find the right balance between his secretive work and his love life. Likewise, Junior Offices Zoe Reynolds (Keeley Hawes) and Danny Hunter (David Oyelowo) struggle with their less than cut and try undercover assignments. Presidential visits, extreme terrorists, and military corruption are all in a day’s work for boss Harry Pearce (Peter Firth).

I thought the six-episode debut season of MI-5 was swift and dynamic, but 2003’s Season Two has upped the ante. Still small at ten shows, head writer David Wolstencroft keeps things tight, complex, and most definitely not cookie cutter. More international hijinks and intrigue come into play this season, and MI-5 is not afraid of subjects that would be taboo or tame across the pond. Critical episodes focusing on Muslim extremists, US and British relations, and the market for selling and stealing worldwide secrets keep the viewer on the edge. After all the grey at the office, MI-5 also tosses personal drama into the mix. Despite the action and complex plot, we never forget that spies are people, too.

MI-5, Volume 2After all the intensity of MI-5, I find it amusing that the show could also merely be about Tom Quinn’s lovelife. Three-count it three in ten episodes-relationships go sour for him. Sure, they all start off well and good, but after all the secretive phone calls and serious assignments, how can we possibly expect him to have a normal life? Macfadyen plays the serious spy and conflicted man to exception. His relationship with CIA liaison Christine Dale (Megan Dodds, Ever After) would seem like the perfect match, but we know mixing with foreign operatives can’t be good-and the cliffhanger finale reminds us just in case. As slick and badass as Tom runs his operations, Macfadyen makes sure we find him a little tragic, too.

Likewise, Keeley Hawes has grown beyond just being the pretty girl agent on MI-5. She keeps Zoe likeable-even though she makes mistakes and is afraid of losing herself amid all the undercover lives and cover stories. Even with these seemingly understandable flaws, Zoe rises to the occasion, leads up some missions, and does what needs to be done. Thankfully David Oyelowo‘s Danny has also been given more to do. We’re passed the hip token black guy introductions and now Danny is an equally unrested agent with a job that’s often too close to the edge. We even spend some ambiguous time with Peter Firth’s boss Harry Pearce. The chief at Thames House is strict when needed, but somehow loving of his underlings-and hey, he’s not perfect, either.

Naturally, we do have a few cast comings and goings this season. Nicola Walker (Chalk) as intelligence transfer Ruth Evershed and Shauna MacDonald (The Descent) as rookie operative Sam Buxton seem promising, but as yet they sprout information when needed or do favors like secretaries. Geeky agents Malcolm Wynn-Jones (Hugh Simon, Cold Feet) and Colin Wells (Rory MacGregor, Primeval) seem more defined as they sprout their gadgetry wisdom. We don’t doubt any of their work, but we’ve yet to go home with the supporting agents. I don’t know the reasons of their departures, but I miss season one standouts Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run) and Hugh Laurie (House). We were just getting to know their secrets. I suppose cast movements add to the dangerous work of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Anyone-high or low, good or bad-could be gone at any time.

Maybe there were touches of it previously, but this season I’ve really noticed MI-5’s handsome uses of split screens, archive news footage, camera tricks, and lighting techniques. It’s fast, busy, off colored, and askew; yet MI-5’s look is somehow still pleasing to the eye. Sometimes in movies, we are so inundated with herky jerky cameras and strobe lights that we can’t absorb it all. Here, however, the distorted view of newsreels, security cameras, and computer screens seems natural. The split screens represent the multiple views and angles of a mission, and the blue or red glows are the natural gadgetry lights. MI-5’s modern visuals give the viewer the look and feel of what it’s like for these agents. Some of the technology and mechanical talk may or may not be factual or realistic, but it’s dang cool. Maybe the cell phone can do it all!

Fans of pure action and sweet toys can enjoy MI-5 without a doubt, but intelligent audiences looking for thought provoking commentary will certainly find what they’re looking for as well. It’s rare to find a series that is so frank in its portrayal of our post-9/11 world yet so complicated in the black and white of its characters. We have a few curses and some naughty British slang, but there’s really nothing to deter teen viewers. If you’re smart enough to see the big picture MI-5 is talking about, then by all means, you should be watching. Some PBS stations have shown MI-5 at its uncut 53-minute length, so check your local listings. Look for the DVD sets online, in stores, or check your favorite rental and streaming options. I know I’m already saving up more time and money for more MI-5.

1 comment:

Kristin Battestella said...

Hey folks.

It looks like MI-5 has a regular spot airing uncut on my Philly PBS Station WHYY Wednesdays at 9 p.m. est. They just showed the season two finale this week. Check out your pbs station to see if they are showing MI-5!