At the Top, Not Over It
Not too long ago, I was addicted to 24, the suspense-on-steroids series about counter-terrorism now finishing its fifth season on Fox. Everything about 24 is over the top, including the futuristic surveillance technology and the Odyssean resourcefulness of the hero, Jack Bauer (played with frightening dedication by Kiefer Sutherland).
But while recovering from this addiction, I did occasionally wonder what counter-terrorism operations are really like -- when the threat is small to medium-sized, and the technology (and derring-do) is of human proportions. Perhaps that's why I tried MI-5, the British series known as Spooks in the UK, where it has run on BBC Channel One for three seasons starting in 2002. This one took longer to get its clutches into me, but when it did, the grip was tighter.
It's not a cartoon, for one thing. Unlike Fox's fictional Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU), MI-5 is a real agency with a tangible connection to the society it aims to protect. And the plots (in both senses of the word) do not spiral upward in ever more stratospheric loops of improbable conspiracy. They seem concocted by terrorists not scriptwriters.
Or maybe I just admire British actors, especially when they are pretending to be spies pretending to be people other than themselves. This does not work well during the first season, when Tom (Matthew Mcfadyen) moons unconvincingly over his inability to live a normal life with a whiney non-spy girlfriend. But then it takes off, thanks to the brilliant acting of Keeley Hawes as Zoe, Rupert Penry-Jones as Adam, and (my three favorites) David Oleyowo as Danny, Nicola Walker as Ruth, and the one and only Peter Firth as the agency director, Harry.
Hoping that you will follow the full course of treatment prescribed here, I will not give away what happens at the end of the third season, except to say that it shocked me more than almost anything I have ever seen in a film or TV show. And it did so without whiz-bang special effects. All that happened was an unexpected, deliberate violation of my rights as a viewer -- in particular, my right to see my favorite characters prevail.