18 September 2009

MI-5: Season 6

Shake Ups Unfetter MI-5 Season 6
By Kristin Battestella

While I thoroughly enjoyed the fifth season of the British spy series MI-5, changes were in order for season six. Creator David Wolstencroft blends a season long storyline amid international and personal drama near and far, keeping the intensity at Thames House, well, intense.

After MI-5 secretly bombs a train in Tehran, junior agent Zafar Younis (Raza Jaffrey) is abducted by a vigilante organization called the Redbacks. While searching for Zaf, Ros Meyers (Hermione Norris) is recruited by a secret intelligence organization called Yalta. Despite having an awkward one-night stand with Section D Leader Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones), Ros exchanges information with Yalta. Meanwhile Adam has an affair with Iranian mole Ana (Agni Scott, House of Saddam), wife of Dariush Bakhshi, Iranian Special Consul (Simon Abkarian). Agent Jo Portman (Miranda Raison) struggles with Zaf’s disappearance, despite support from tech operative Malcolm Wynn-Jones (Hugh Simon) and newly returned to MI-5 Intelligence Officer Connie James (Gemma Jones). Chief Harry Pearce’s (Peter Firth) team looks like it’s on its last thread, and global war is merely one incident away.

Relationships and recurring motifs have passed through MI-5 before, but this season’s Iranian plots factor into all 10 episodes. Sometimes, the Middle Eastern issues are at the forefront, other shows it’s more latent and behind the scenes politics. This season starts off strong, but some of these Iranian stretches hinder earlier episodes. Of course, just when you might count MI-5 out, Episodes 5 and 6 return the series to form. If you have any doubts about this series, always stay tuned in for the final episode. This season’s cliffhanger ending reassures the viewer. Maybe MI-5 does make mistakes from time to time-but it’s still dang fine television that shouldn’t be so obscure here across the pond.

Taking over most of the angst this season is Hermione Norris as Ros. Everything starts out so well with her potential relationship with Adam. Unfortunately, nothing is ever just peachy on MI-5. Those who might not have liked Ros’ harsh style previously will like her now. Norris keeps the ice queen edge for the missions, but we know what she’s keeping bottled up inside-conflict over Yalta, guilt about betraying her friends. It is a little strange that Ros would care so much about Zaf’s disappearance-especially after she was so unfettered by Ruth’s departure at her hands last season. However, this new dedicated- and dare I say latently affectionate- side of Ros is a fine addition to her depth and the series. Of course, Norris’ maternity leave puts a dramatic wrench into things, too.

Adam, oh Adam-sometimes we love him and sometimes you just want to scream at the television because of him. Last season’s psychological issues were a bit much, so this year cool, sexy, lovey dovey Adam returns. Penry-Jones is great with Norris’ Ros. They work well together whatever may be brewing under the surface, and their devotion to each other is lovely amid all the crazy international hysteria. Likewise, however, Adam has all the charm with Anna. You could believe this affair might lead to something-but relationships at Thames House are never what they seem. Some may think Penry-Jones has run the course with Adam Carter, but the cliffhanger finale reminds us why we put up with his drama. Die-hard lady fans will also be pleased with the amount of sex and nudity this season. It’s just a bit heavy for American audiences!

Online, I’ve discovered many fans have quite the love hate relationship with junior agent Joanna Portman and her hair. I liked Miranda Raison’s hair long, I liked it shaggy last year, and her harsh pixie cut is pretty now. It is strange however, that a haircut can highlight a woman’s eyes and cheekbones so much-and yet there were times where Jo and Adam looked a little too much alike! Thankfully, the action-oriented hair represents the kick up in Jo’s character. She’s not the hesitant girl in the office anymore. Raison has taken Jo to the streets. Sure, she still makes professional and personnel mistakes, but that’s what life is all about. Jo sees now that being a spook isn’t as high life as she thought it would be. Gadget man Malcolm (Hugh Simon) is again charming as always. He serves as a comforting father figure to Jo while being humor and wit fodder for Ros. Yet Malcolm himself is put on by Connie’s motherly fun. The light-hearted camaraderie keeps the balance amid all the global angst and betrayal.

Harry Pearce-make that Sir Harry- has a lot on his plate this season. We get several delightful personal snips from Peter Firth again this year, but his conflicts add a new dimension to the Chief at Thames House. So, even Harry isn’t always the leader with the right thing to do? He won’t turn a blind eye to everything his officers do, will he? Despite some of the blows, Harry also has some humor with returning agent Connie James. I like their repertoire, but I’m not sure about Connie just yet. She’s like Juliet Shaw last year; Connie’s too good at the old game. Gemma Jones (Harry Potter, The Duchess of Duke Street), however, is wonderful at making the sassy old lady shine amid all the pretty action people.

Wasted for the past two seasons, Raza Jaffrey’s Zaf does even less as an off- screen plot device in Season six. Ros supposedly cares enough about Zaf after he’s abducted by terrorists to go vigilante looking for him. Everyone comforts Jo every time she’s upset at the mention of the missing Zaf. Unfortunately, we never saw the camaraderie before, and I could care less about this turn of events. Episodes 2 and 3 drag because of this storyline, and then it’s dropped until the final episode anyway, creating a very rare writing mistake and poor cast departure on MI-5’s part. Of course, official character exits make room for new agents! I have to confess, I wasn’t expecting journalist Ben Kaplan to become a regular member on the grid. Each season presents several recurring allies, family, or enemies. I thought Kaplan was as semi-permanent as ambiguous CIA contact Bob Hogan (Matthew Marsh, An American Haunting) or Iranian diplomat Dariush Bakhshi (Simon Abkarian, Casino Royale). Although he has some fine journalistic instincts-and we did already recruit an investigate journalist in Jo- I don’t know enough about Kaplan yet to like him. Will he merely be the obligatory minority next season? Or can Ben have the depth and dimension never afforded to Zafar Younis?

MI-5’s season long storylines, heavier emphasis on action, and bigger shootouts and explosions were no doubt directly influenced by our hyperactive American tendencies. Sometimes, the international complexities become too confusing-who’s selling out whom this episode? Yalta, the Russians, Iran is nuclear one episode, not the next. Nevertheless, MI-5 still makes you hold your breath. Each plot and intense chase comes to fruition in the end. Yes, some of it seems a little too close to real life politics; but this type of intelligent intensity is tough to find on television. I do prefer more character analysis and complex personal episodes; but by Episode 9, all the personal angst and international hijinks come together in several dynamic ways. Whether action or personal, you have to see what happens next.

MI-5, Vol. 6Outside of a few episode commentaries, there aren’t many features on MI-5’s set this year. Brief, five minute behind the scenes shorts and video diaries aren’t enough in this day and age. Where are the extensive writer conversations, chase storyboards, and action sequence analysis? We’ve been spoiled by excessive special editions sets, haven’t we? Unfortunately, this is also the last of MI-5 I’ll see for awhile. While the Brits tune in for Season 8, I have to wait for Region 1 DVDS of series 7! Never fear, you can catch the first 6 seasons via Netflix, and several PBS stations are currently airing MI-5 stateside. I don’t know what I’m going to do without MI-5. Once a spook, always a spook!

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