29 July 2010

MI-5: Season 7

MI-5 Packs A Lot for Season 7
By Kristin Battestella

Wow.  It’s taken me almost a year to catch up with MI-5 Season 7!  I had to wait a long time to rent all the DVDs from Netflix; and now that the gang from Thames House is back in my life, I don’t know how I survived so long without them!

Sir Harry Pierce (Peter Firth) struggles to keep Section D afloat after the sudden death of Senior Officer Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones).  Despite the return of Ros Meyers (Hermione Norris) and junior officer Jo Portman (Miranda Raison) after particularly heady missions, life at Thames House is testy thanks to complex Russian relations inside and out.  Former Section Chief Lucas North (Richard Armitage) has been released from a Russian prisoner after eight years; and his relationships with Harry, tech officer Malcolm Wynn-Jones (Hugh Simon), and analyst Connie James (Gemma Jones) are ambiguous at best.  When Operation Sugarhorse is compromised amid the turmoil within, who trusts who becomes the ultimate question.

Despite being shortened to only eight episodes instead of ten for 2008’s Season 7, creator David Wolstencraft packs a lot onscreen here.  The writing and development of the personal is still tight, but the storylines and overarching plots are not as complex due to the episode constraints.  Some scenarios seem slow or more glossed over than previous seasons; but the Russian intrigue, mole hunts, and double agent hysteria keep MI-5 on form.  Recent global events like the energy crisis and recession woes share some of the spotlight, but Wolstencraft was smart to spend the bulk of the shortened time on the ins and outs at Thames House.  Perhaps MI-5 isn’t as personal as it used to be, ie ‘people who happen to spies’, but the internal politics, trust issues, and double crosses of the spy game hurt the members of Section D day in and day out nonetheless.

Well, after all the angst we put up with from Adam Carter, Rupert Penry-Jones’ departure from the series is almost too brief an exit.  Why did we spend all those cliffhangers with him when it could have been this simple? I knew his exit was forthcoming, but that didn’t make watching any easier.  And of course, it’s also fascinating to see how everyone else at MI-5 deals-or doesn’t deal-with the loss. So then, what is one to make of new leading man Richard Armitage as Lucas North?  I’m not really sure just yet.  We like him, sure- the man has just spent eight years in a Russian prison, how can we not feel for the guy? Armitage (Robin Hood, North and South) wonderfully balances the cool exterior against the prison and release trauma.  Paloma Baeza (The Way We Live Now) as his informant and former wife Elisaveta matches perfectly with her mix of past longing and a new future to protect. Lucas’ introduction takes several episodes to completely develop, and it is initially more personal like the earlier seasons of MI-5. There’s some screwed up people in Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and it makes for dang fine television! 

Cool as cucumber Hermione Norris is once again on form as new Section D Leader Ros Meyers. Her return to the series after a maternity leave has all the angst one could take-and things only get heavier for Ros.  Episode 5 adds some scary places for her and Miranda Raison’s Junior Officer Jo Portman, but it’s lovely to see the ladies share a special bond over the particular trials they face as the female spies at Thames House.  Jo is understandably wacky this season after the cliffhanger ending of Series 6, but such serious drama is mostly erroneously held in the background against the big missions of the episodes at hand.  Perhaps if we had those other two precious episodes, we could have had more of Jo’s tragedy. It’s not that we want her to be in pain, or that it’s really good for us to see it, but such heavy subjects are usually handled better on MI-5.  

There aren’t usually a lot of mistakes on MI-5, but Alex Lanipekun’s  junior officer Ben Kaplan is wasted for Series 7.  Once again, the young and hip token black guy really only factors into two critical episodes.  In some ways, I’d rather Ben have stayed a journalistic ally and appeared sporadically as needed. We still don’t know that much about him, and his departure from the series only serves to strengthen the drama of Section D.  Of course as always, there doesn’t seem to be enough of Hugh Simon and his witty tech guru Malcolm. Simon makes the most of all he’s given again, but I do hope we get to the root of this lovely old soul next season.  Richard Johnson (The Robinsons) is also juicy as ambiguous guest spy Bernard Qualtrough.

Somehow, amid the current politics and global intensity, we still have time for Sir Harry to dive into an old school KGB spy subplot.  Peter Firth is excellent as the boss who can’t tell everything to his staff, either privately or professionally.  What’s classified or compromised?  What isn’t?  Whom can he trust from the past or present, both at home and abroad? Firth is excellent and award worthy here. In this era of everyone being botoxed, thin, young, and beautiful, it’s simply delightful-but no less nail biting- to see the elder statesmen of the cast have their day.  I love Gemma Jones, but I don’t like Connie James-does that make sense?  Jones is equally on form as the seemingly maternal member of Section D with a penchant for blaming everything on the Russians.  At some point after a lengthy scene between Jones and Firth, I realized we had an entire sequence with two senior actors- and it was heavy stuff!  In America, we just don’t get this type of veteran respect and material to wallop an audience! 

MI-5, Vol. 7Things do seem a little rushed this season due to episode crunch.  I feel rushed in my viewing and reviewing- I couldn’t believe how close to the finale things really were at the end of Episode 6! However, great London locations, Moscow escapades, fast paced filming, and urban action add to the split screen intensity.  Smart use of media clips and askew newsreels not only look visually cool; but the way Section D, the British government, and the onscreen enemies play on public relations is also a statement about the abuses of media politicking, too.  We spend a lot of the speed in Season 7 on the missions of the hour or the ongoing storylines before the personal lives and immediacy of Thames House, but the multi-layered drama and intelligent complexities are all still part of MI-5.  Someone has to save Britain from the daily brink of destruction, and it’s a thinking viewer’s delight to watch. With the short order and fresh start of Lucas North, this season can actually be a late introductory spot for new audiences to MI-5. I suppose that is what the producers had in mind, after all.  So what are you waiting for?

Unfortunately, there still isn’t enough behind the scenes treats on the MI-5, Vol. 7 Region 1 sets, but after waiting so long to see Season 7, I can’t really complain.  Sadly, I can also only speculate what the concluded eighth series and currently-in-production ninth year will bring, but I must do something while I wait for more MI-5.  I miss it again already!

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