15 August 2012

MI-5: Season 10

I’m Still Undecided on MI-5 Season 10
By Kristin Battestella

I confess. I was reluctant to watch last year’s final six-episode Tenth Season of the British spy series MI-5, and I’m still unsure what to make of it.  Although Series 9 was less than stellar, this finale has some fine inclusive work worthy of the franchise- a largely wonderful program I highly recommend overall.  But do these departing high notes fulfill on entire series?  Not quite.

Sir Harry Pierce (Peter Firth), new Section D chief Erin Watts (Lara Pulver), and Intelligence Officer Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) have their hands full of turmoil at Thames House after explosive evidence of Harry’s decades old relationship with Elena Gavrik (Alice Krige) threatens to derail new Russian negotiations. Elena is the wife of Harry’s rival and top Russian negotiator Ilya Gavrik (Jonathan Hyde), and Home Secretary Towers (Simon Russell Beale) can only defend Harry’s tactics for so long as pressure from CIA liaison Jim Coaver (William Hope) mounts.

With only six episodes in this MI-5 swansong, the audience might expect one long plot- a connecting vein and a tying up of loose ends to all that has gone before. However, traditional A and B action plotting and Americanized storylines take over, pushing both new and long brewing personal stories to the side.  Why did they ever turn away from character development in an erroneous quest for bomb of the week ho-hum?  Over these ten series, we’ve now seen enough terror plots, global peril, and down to the wire mayhem to last a lifetime. If these 6 episodes never left Thames House- or by contrast never even showed The Grid- there would have at least been some form of differentiation or reflection. Instead, it doesn’t feel like MI-5 is wrapping up at all. Some outlandish scenarios are a blatant clinging to big ratings thrills.  We’re not perfect either, but too much time is also spent on making American bad guys and anti-USA plots. All this effort to go out on a big scandalous bang is not only misplaced in the face of franchise resolutions, but the action isn’t as interesting as the real, individual stories that could be at hand-if those personal and intimate moments were ever given their proper attention that is.

Thankfully, Peter Firth as Harry Pierce and Nicola Walker as Ruth Evershed are simply awesome.  Though some might find her accent for MI-5 tough, Alice Krige- she’s the Borg Queen for goodness sake- can generally do no acting wrong. Together, the trio creates a smart, unusual love triangle with enough espionage to anchor the focus of these exiting six.  After all these years of pretty men, badass ladies, and international intensity, Harry and Ruth have shined brightest in their ups and downs and love lost amid Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bringing in a high-class recurring name like Krige as the conflicted wedge between them is practically gold. And yet, there is some bizarre need to place these meaty relationships, past regrets, and unrealized futures behind Russian assassination attempts and terror troubles in Trafalgar Square.  Simply put, this recent loss of priorities has put MI-5 in the grave.  If the show adhered to its original personal ‘people are spies, too’ dynamic and internal focus, why couldn’t MI-5 continue for another ten years like Law and Order? Unfortunately as it stands, we don’t even get to spend any time with Lara Pulver’s (Robin Hood, Sherlock) new section chief Erin Watts. Adding a boss who’s a single mother on top of the issues at Thames House is a nice touch, but we know precious little else. 

Fairing no better, Simon Russell Beale doesn’t get to do very much except play the expected politician, and Jonathan Hyde’s (Titanic) Gavrik is too broadly written as the stereotypical Russian villain of old- as is William Hope (Aliens) as CIA thorn Jim Coaver.  The veterans, however, are superior to the useless introduction of inept tech boy Calum Reed (Geoffrey Streatfeild, The Other Boleyn Girl), and Max Brown still hasn’t captured the contemporary cool weight of the previous male leads as Dimitri Levendis.  He’s young and pretty, but perhaps too much so, with an empty clean slate of nothing in comparison to all the crap we’ve previously put up with from prior cast. Shazad Latif’s departure as Tariq is also absolutely useless. Why bother to dismiss someone so poorly this late in the game?  MI-5 has always made a marked point that anyone can come and go at anytime, but why introduce new people on the grid this season at all?  Where are the flashbacks and recognition? The tacked on mention of all that we’ve loved and lost before is not nearly enough.  Have we no pictures, voices, or videos of the dead? Where are the people who got away from The Grid? If viewers unknowingly tuned into Series 10 of MI-5, I’m not so sure they would know it was a finale!

Though the show still looks good, the technology and tablets are a little much. Compared to the original state of the art gizmos from the first season, this stuff is just ridiculously high tech, even futuristic.  I don’t recall a lot of split screens or lighting imagination, either, but these six episodes all seem to go by too quick without MI-5’s prior attention to detail. Was this conclusion merely an obligation to fill an episode order? Not only will the damn it to hell ending upset long time fans, the tiny tributes fall flat.  Loose ends with American and Russian relations also mar the conclusion here- although that might be a piece of ob la di, ob la da spy merry go round.  Apparently, you don’t escape it unless you die! Year 10 does end on a personal emotional moment with one wonderful cameo, but it’s lost in the shuffle amid the increasing focus towards action.  I expected more from a franchise that stood apart for the better part of eight seasons.

New audiences can’t jump into MI-5 with this final Series 10.  That should go without saying, but they were clearly reaching for edgy, contemporary vibes before appreciating longtime viewers of the franchise. Vintage audiences will still watch, of course. More than anything, however, this year makes me want to start MI-5 right over again from the beginning. Perhaps that was the point?  Now that the franchise is complete, pick and choose and relive the spy glory on DVD with MI-5. 

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