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From Across the Pond: "MI-5" (a.k.a. "Spooks")

No one ever said that the spy trade was a particularly easy or, um, long-lived profession to go into. The pay isn't great, the hours are long (particularly if you're Jack Bauer, there isn't even time for a bathroom break), the conditions are downright dangerous, and the survival rate is pretty bleak.

Especially, that is, for the operatives on the smart and sleek British import MI-5 (or as it's know on the other side of the pond, Spooks). Their life expectancy is somewhere around 1 or 2 seasons of the show, if they're lucky. Their lives are nasty, brutish (and British), and short and it goes without saying that on a show like MI-5, no one is safe. Part of the excitement of the show is the danger that accompanies it. Any one of the characters can be killed off at any time, without warning and without sentiment from the series' producers. I realized this quite early on in the series' second episode when a female spy (Lisa Faulkner) whom I believed to be a series regular was dispatched when a villain stuck her face in a scalding deep fat fryer as fellow spy Tom Quinn (Matthew MacFadyen) looked on in horror. It was brutal and necessary to set the stakes for this show: it's not a cozy drama about relationships between spies. It's a gritty exploration of the intelligence industry's post-9/11 attempts to defuse any terrorist attacks and the weight it puts on its agents.

To look at the series' cast in MI-5's fourth season, which premiered two weeks ago on A&E (BBC recently launched the Season Five in the UK), it's hard to see a familiar face from the original days. (Only Peter Firth's intel boss Harry Pearce remains.) In a show that has gone through so many cast permutations (we miss you Keely Hawes!), it's amazing that it's remained so successful at finding new actors and characters to take up the reins and keep the audience invested in their situations, without the hook of an ongoing central character like 24's Jack Bauer. The closest thing MI-5 had to Jack was Tom Quinn, the leader of this MI-5 team, played by MacFadyen, who departed the show in 2004. Likewise, Keely Hawes' Zoe and David Oyelowo's Danny, easily two of my favorite television characters, are no longer on the series, either.

Danny's death provided the Season Three finale and his funeral takes place during the two-part opener of the fourth season, which finds the team attempting to process their grief while also investigating a series of bombings in London (filmed, sadly, just before the actual London subway and bus bombings). And while there might have been a lag of nearly two years between seasons for us here in the US, it hasn't made me miss Danny any less.

So who's actually still on the show? Well, for a start there's Rupert Penry-Jones's dashing spy Adam Carter, who's taken over Tom Quinn's place in MI-5, the steely head of counter-terrorism branch Harry Pearce (Firth), Tom's wife Fiona Carter (Olga Sosnovska), an MI-6 agent, cuckoo researcher Ruth Evershed (Touching Evil's Nicola Walker), Adam's latest sidekick Zafar Younis (Raza Jaffrey), ruthless colleague Juliet Shaw (Anna Chancellor, though she'll always be "Duckface" to me), and techies Malcolm (Hugh Simon) and Colin (Rory Macgregor).

Regardless of rotating cast (whom I love all the same), I tune in for the intelligent and gripping plots which, while though lacking the gimmick of real-time like 24, feel just as real and thought-provoking (not to mention adrenaline-rushing). The three-dimensional characters, their quick witted dialogue, and the ominous and tense atmosphere created by everything from the Thames House HQ set design to the music to that eerie fade to black and white image at the end of every episode makes MI-5 much more than just a Brit version of 24.

And, while the world is certainly a scary enough place as it is, it's a comforting thought to know that the Adam Carters of the world are putting themselves on the line to protect it.

"MI-5" airs Friday evenings on A&E at 11 pm ET/PT.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); Celebrity Duets (FOX; 8-10 pm); Desire (MyNet)

9 pm: Close to Home (CBS);
Dateline (NBC); Men in Trees (ABC); Fashion House (MyNet)

10 pm: NUMB3RS
(CBS); Law & Order (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8-10:30 pm: Doctor Who on Sci Fi.

It's the second season premiere of Doctor Who, complete with the latest incarnation of the Doctor played by the talented David Tennant. First up is the Christmas Special ("Christmas Invasion"), in which we (and Rose Tyler) are introduced to the newly regenerated Doctor. Then it's a second episode ("New Earth"), in which the Doctor and Rose use the TARDIS to visit mankind's new, um, Earth, but instead discover some gruesome secrets in a luxury hospital. It's the food, isn't it?

11:00 pm: MI-5 on A&E.

The fourth season of this superb Brit espionage drama continues tonight. On tonight's episode ("Divided They Fall"), the team tries to subvert a racist MP who has joined a far-right wing political party.


Anonymous said…
Except that MI-5 is not listed on my schedule for tonight. A&E is running a CSI-Miami marathon. I hope that this is not a sign of things to come.
Usually when a show loses a main character the whole thing crumbles. MI-5 has lost (or killed off) several main characters but has still managed to keep their audience invested in the show. It definitely speaks to the talent of the writers and cast. I'll take the MI-5 team over Jack Bauer any day!
Anonymous said…
According to Matt Roush at TV Guide, MI-5 has been pulled until Saturday, October 21, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. ET/PT That's when they will burn off the rest of the episodes.

The way A&E has treated this incredible show is shameful. I hope they don't air the next season and allow BBC America to pick it up.

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