05 February 2011

MI-5: Season 8

A Few Faults, but MI-5 Season 8 Packs a Punch
By Kristin Battestella

Can you imagine my surprise when Netflix shipped Disc 1 of MI-5 Season 8 on its release date?  Seriously? No year of impatience with ‘very long wait’ delays and agonizing on the fates of the spies at Thames House? Not this time!

Section D members Ros Meyers (Hermione Norris) and Lucas North (Richard Armitage) race against the clock to rescue their Chief Sir Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) from the clutches of corrupt Russian agents- and exiled Intelligence Officer Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) is a critical piece of the mission.  Junior officer Jo Portman (Miranda Raison) and Tech guru Malcolm Wynn-Jones (Hugh Simon) struggle with the ups and downs of MI-5, while House Secretary Nicholas Blake (Robert Glenister) defends against dangerous political games at home and abroad.  Lucas perhaps finds romance with CIA Liaison Sara Caulfield (Genevieve O’Reilly), but the suspicious Nightingale operation may undue everyone at Thames House.  

Mi-5: Volume 8It’s taken eight seasons, but I finally have some quibbles about MI-5 this series. Though tighter and more intense again in only eight episodes and kept crisp by the somber performances and edge of your seat politics, some of the opening storylines come across as a little bit of a rehash from earlier seasons. Too many similar relationships and Yalta shadow organizations seem uncharacteristically lazy from showrunner David Wolstencroft. However, I’m again impressed with plenty of juicy, ambiguous villainy- that type of villain who doesn’t think he is wrong and presents a grain of truth. Nay, this is the slick enemy who might actually be the one who’s right, for that’s the scariest kind, after all. This creates very intelligent drama and serious reflection, a refreshing turn since these recent seasons have been overtly leaning towards the action. In some ways, Season 8 returns to the heavy hitting personal dilemmas and gut wrenching stuff. Despite the usual ten episodes from MI-5’s height, these solid 57 minute, relatively bottled shows and reduced number of episodes seem to keep the heavy better. Yes, MI-5 has always been a political, statement making series.  However, Season 8 gets a little too political, perhaps even making some more anti-American bits than usual, too.  Then again, maybe it seems this way because now everyone has an opinion on every issue high and low and all around and we can read every single piece of it through every media source available. Whew!

A lot of slow motion and somber reflective scenes also add a much more heavy-handed design to the opening episodes this series.  Unfortunately, this direct focus on master global villain and political sentiment is at the expense of the main cast at Thames House. While the stories and action are still incredibly relevant and all is intelligent and good stuff, the regulars weren’t that big a part of it.  Somehow, it’s MI-5’s most critical piece that gets shortchanged amid all this excess being packed in. Instead of personal insights balancing the outside intrigue the main cast is overshadowed in relation to screen time with guest players, making an uneven rarity here.  It seems as if someone at MI-5 forgot that their story and players speak for themselves.  No other global statements or downplayed visuals are needed- these supports are meant to uplift the main stars, not detract. Seriously fine personal drama isn’t fully realized until the final episode, which spends more time on nuclear war anyway.  That ‘people who happen to be spies’ aspect of MI-5 is what kept the show so good for so long.  Why mess with the formula?

Thankfully, Hermione Norris is still pimpin’ as Ros Meyers. I would have liked a little more from her upon Jo’s exit, but what’s so disturbingly fun about Ros is that she always keeps it so cool and seems so unbothered. While the audience may know she is a ticking bomb, enemies who cross her path learn she’s the best in the biz- and usually they learn the hard way.  Her loyalty to Section D is without doubt, and yet Ros toes the line between lies, trust, and promises-wonderfully balancing the spy game rules for either good or ill.  Likewise, Richard Armitage matches Norris with edgy banter and heavy tasking. Even if MI-5 is  repeating on the CIA romance in Episodes 4 and 5, it’s nice to have that personal building with the season’s overall storyline. Again, this show is far superior when it’s about the blurred line between a seriously risky day job and an equally deadly personal lifestyle.  I like Lucas, even if I was yelling at the television at some of his mistaken actions.  Super Armitage fans will also enjoy some bits of nudity, too.

Nicola Walker, however, ups the class with her resurrected Ruth.  Despite some tragic circumstances in her return to Thames House, Ruth continues to be the moral fulcrum of the group.  I feel bad that most of her scenes are merely- if critical- intelligence exposition without field time and big action sequences, but in some ways, I enjoy the scenes between Ruth and Sir Harry the most.  Peter Firth is again delightful- perhaps more so when he can’t see the big picture and runs with his gut.  Hello, his position is not an easy one, and it’s so lovely to see a man sit back and realize he can’t handle the weight of the world on his shoulders without the fine colleagues about him. The unspoken tenderness between him and Ruth is again, a mature frankness we don’t often see among all the young and pretty people on American TV.

I’m sorry to see Hugh Simon’s tech old soul Malcolm Wynn-Jones exit, but his and Miranda Raison’s departure as Jo Portman are well done all around. Although in hindsight, both players were far under utilized and their exits were more about getting some angst at their losses rather than the characters themselves. The jury, however, is still out on new tech guru Tariq Masood.  Newcomer Shazad Motif receives no introduction at all- he’s actually just tossed in to MI-5, literally.  And I’m sorry, but what’s with the token minority anyway?  Why not have a lead minority and some more non-blondes for goodness sake. Why couldn’t we have had a black woman for our juicy CIA liaison? By no means is Genevieve O’Reilly bad, but I’m really unsure what to make of her, even though her credits include the likes of The Matrix Reloaded, Revenge of the Sith, and Avatar.  Again, it’s just that we’ve seen the sexy American intrigue before- give us something to spice it up, make us really care, and force us to pay attention beyond a touch and go Southern accent.  Robert Glenister (Hustle) is also caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place as MP Nicolas Blake, but his difficult road is a delight to watch.  

Despite my complaints about MI-5 this season, it’s still damn ass intense and interesting and addictive.  Let me tell you, I’ve never turned around 3 discs so fast! The herky jerky handheld camerawork is kind of aggressive, and the color palette is muted and not as creative as previous years- making me feel a little woozy and addicted to something else.  However, I imagine this design is meant to be more realistic and bleak then some of the fancy, stylized, probably more expensive shots from prior seasons. Truly, though, I don’t know why they started changing things up since Season 6. Naturally, things like smart phones, Facebook, and internet tech talk have to be considered- but it’s all a little weird and a bit much, however necessary it may be. And I have to ask: if Lucas is a damn spy, why is he always on speakerphone?!

There are two commentaries to open and close Series 8, but less than 20 minutes of behind the scenes- and that’s all about stunts.  Maybe that’s just how they feel Region 1 releases role, but the lack of features sucks compared to earlier video diaries and production interviews. I suppose I can’t complain now thanks to my no wait graces this viewing, but I’m still behind for Season 9 and the upcoming Series 10.  If after 8 years, MI-5 is starting to show some flaws, for now I can take it.  The good still far outweighs the bad.  Fans of the cast and quality action and intelligent thrillers can also still enjoy.  Once again, I don’t know what to do with myself now that I’ve caught up with MI-5 Season 8.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched all my discs so fast?  Nah.

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