06 July 2009

MI-5: Season 4

MI-5 Season 4 Still Going Strong
By Kristin Battestella

After being addicted to the British television spy series MI-5 for the past few weeks, other things came up so I took a break from Season 4. In the back of my mind, I speculated that maybe this season just had too many cast changes and wasn’t as tight as previous series. Upon returning to the show, however, I was again surprised by just how much MI-5 can shock your brain.

Amid the ups and downs of daily life, married MI-5 agents Adam (Rupert Penry-Jones) and Fiona Carter (Olga Sosnovska) struggle with the demanding nature of their secretive day job. Relationships come no easier for Intelligence agent Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) or their boss Harry Pearce (Peter Firth). Newer agents Zafar Younis (Raza Jaffrey) and Jo Portman (Miranda Raison) are learning the ropes at Thames House, but National Security Coordinator Juliet Shaw (Anna Chancellor) walks a fine line amid British red tape and international intrigue.

Season 4 branches out a bit with more international heavy storylines, foreign locales, and global suspense. From internal terrorism to ex KGB cohorts, Syria, Iran, and Turkish tension- creator David Wolstencroft keeps MI-5 relevant. It’s only been four years since this season originally aired, but in our fast-paced world, the politics of MI-5 are still pushing the limit of what American audiences are used to. I will say, however, that this show is better when it keeps the personal in the intrigue. We care about all the treachery because we like the people who deal with all these dangers on a daily basis. From tensions with our dearest friends to conspiracy theories about Princess Diana; as an American, I like seeing the homegrown UK trials and tribulations. That simple, ‘they’re people, too!’ works for some mighty fine television.

MI-5, Volume 4Since losing MI-5’s original lead trio, Peter Firth’s boss Harry Pearce has stepped up to the plate. We’re seeing more of Harry’s personal dilemmas in and out of Thames House. He’s cool and collected for his team, but we’re beginning to see things aren’t so clear-cut for him. Government politics and backdoor deals take their toll as well. We also get so see more of Nicola Walker and her Ruth Evershed in and out of the office. She has personal friendships but total professionalism with Harry and the team. Once shy, Ruth becomes a strong voice of information and support for the younger and newer members of the team. I hope to see more of her and Harry next season. The final two episodes here give these characters their due, and I’m aching to move on to next season after Episode 10’s cliffhanger. I’m waiting for the Season 5 DVDs to arrive, and oh, the agony!

It may seem strange to say, but Adam Carter’s role at MI-5 isn’t as clearly defined as his predecessor Tom Quinn. If he’s the Section Leader, how can he be the boss of his own wife Fiona? Outside of this quirk, I like the mix of their familial relationship with their highly unusual workplace. Penry-Jones’ Adam has all that leftover clout from MI-6, but he’s beginning to let all this spy baggage hinder his stride. He’s still played as cool and badass and at the highest level of his game, but tough choices and crazy decisions midway through the season dent Adam’s armor and somehow make him more likeable. Of course, we have another cast departure due to Olga Sosnovksa’s pregnancy. Fiona Carter’s exit seems quicker then last season’s played out departures, but hers seems more realistic. She’s a darn good spy, a great wife who surely has to let a lot go in this business, and a loving mother who keeps her son as unaware of her double life as possible. Sure, it’s fun to spot all the pregnancy cover up tricks, but we like and subsequently miss Fiona.

Despite some fine departures this season and last; we get no onscreen explanation for the absence of desk agent Sam Buxton (Shauna Macdonald). She was all right, but I like the introduction this season of Miranda Raison (Match Point) and her junior agent Jo Portman. The character comes into the system quickly with only an investigative journalism background, but she has instincts and spunk. It’s annoying sometimes when as the rookie Jo makes a mistake, but I like the way Adam takes her under his wing. Maybe there might be some romantic chemistry there or at least an early crush on Jo’s part; but it also seems like the writers are pushing Jo towards a character strengthening relationship with fellow young agent Zaf. Unfortunately, like the obligatory minority before him, Raza Jaffrey’s (Mistresses, Sharpe’s Peril) Zaf hasn’t had much to do beyond being the young hip guy. Adam was the young hip guy last season, and now that’s he’s matured, I suppose we need another hip young guy? I hope Zaf grows up some for next season. We’ve yet to dig deep with him like MI-5 is capable of doing.

We know some agents better than others-and I think the staggering of the comings and goings of our personnel is a good thing-but this season has finally presented a character of which I’m not fond. National Security Chief Juliet Shaw (Anna Chancellor, Suburban Shootout) is perhaps meant to be a bitchy high up political woman on Harry’s side, but her seeming incompetence at the actual spy game undoes any political help she may bring. It’s realistic that maybe she got the job because she’s a woman, and her horrendous mistakes at MI-5 are also true to the real life workplace. Unfortunately, all this makes Juliet her very unlikable. If she did have a past romantic relationship with Harry as we’re led to believe, it doesn’t warm her up any.

I’ve noticed that the bulk of my MI-5 reviews have focused on character analysis, and frankly, that’s because if you don’t care about the people at Thames House, you won’t like the show. There’s a lot of spy in jokes regarding MI-5’s sibling MI-6 and Her Majesty’s most famous spy, James Bond. Though it’s a smaller scale as a 10-episode television season, I have to say MI-5 has a lot going for it against the current incarnation of Bond. It’s much more realistic and statement making than Craig’s attempts, as well as more intelligent. Where we like an element of fantasy in Bond’s lifestyle, we expect MI-5 to be edgy and heavy. In that regard, the show is much more akin to the Bourne series than what some call the ‘Bournification’ of Bond. Nevertheless, we stick with Bond and MI-5 not for all the action, gadgets, and effects- but for how these people react in the extreme situations of their dangerous and deadly day job. If you think you have it bad, spend the night with MI-5.

Strangely, this season doesn’t bother to swap the British name Spooks for MI-5 in the opening credits. I suppose if you’re this far into the series, you understand the term and thus the makers aren’t worried about potential American offenses. Unfortunately as I mentioned earlier, this is also the last season offered on Netflix Instant Watch streaming, so it’s back to my DVD queue proper until I can purchase the upcoming seasons. The sets are affordable enough, just tough to find in brick and mortar stores. Still, with rental and streaming options and PBS airings stateside, there’s no reason not to take a chance on MI-5. Intelligent, mature audiences will enjoy the grit, emotion, and intrigue.

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