Spooks Finale: What makes a good spy?… (S.10, ep. 6)

           Fabulous performances from the two leads, plenty of twists and turns, and yet I can’t help but feel like the finale fell completely flat for a series that’s been an important part of the British dramatic landscape for nearly a decade. Elaboration later…

Bringing the threads together…
The episode opened with Elena informing her real handler (the Russian in the glass house) that the signing of the Anglo-Russian deal had been moved forward to that day, forcing them to deploy the contingency plan: a man with a suitcase boarding a plane to London. *Duh! Duh! Duh!* Apparently though guilt had gotten the better of her and she decided to inform Ruth she had intel about an imminent terrorist attack, but would only divulge the details to Harry. Tricky seen as Harry is currently in the custody of the CIA and about to fly to the States, but hey guys this is Spooks and so anything is possible no matter how unfeasible. Cue Erin and Dimitri breaking out the balaclavas and planning an extraction, which involved planting ‘power out’ devices for an unsuspecting US convoy and preying on the evident stupidity of fictionalized American agents. (The CIA really haven’t come out too well from this have they?) Classic though was the line to Dimitri about it being just before ‘a pay review’ as he was in throws of retrieving his boss from the boot of the car. By the way, why was Harry in the boot? The glass was tinted and his hands were tied together, besides the British government had handed him over of their own volition. Was it another attempt to get back at him like the punch to the face at the end of ep. 5? They didn’t have enough room in the cars? Or simply that over the years, when he’s not driving, Harry has become so accustomed to travelling in the boot that it’s now second nature and he hops in without giving it a second thought? (I genuinely hope it’s the last one. In my mind it’s that one.)

Back with his colleagues Harry is taken to an old military bunker which ‘no longer exists’ and pumps Elena for information on the attack, which ‘allegedly’ consists of a Russian nationalist protecting the interests of his country by attempting to bring down a passenger plane with both Russian and British citizens aboard over London; essentially an act of war that would derail the Anglo-Russian partnership. In the process Harry also discovers that Elena was a double agent all along, well aware of the fact that he’d falsified the details of her parents’ death to make it seem like they’d been murdered by the KGB when in fact they’d died in an accident: in reality he’d been the one who’d been recruited, fed false information AND wrongly believed himself to be Sasha’s father. Mrs Gavrik also takes the opportunity to try and drive a wedge between Harry and Ruth asking her if it changes her perception of him, knowing that he’d willfully tried to prey on a young woman and recruit her as an asset. There’s a pause but Ms Evershed’s answer makes it abundantly clear that her faith and love for him is unshakeable. At this point my shippy heart leapt, but it was pretty clear that things wouldn’t end well. Loyalty hasn’t exactly been rewarded this series. 

Acting on the intel, Sir Pearce rang the ever discombobulated Home Secretary, who reluctantly agreed to convene COBRA to help decide what the frig to do regarding the imminent attack. The natural decision seemed to be to deploy the fighter jets and blow the plane to smithereens, sacrificing the lives of those on board for the greater good, and Harry was actively on board with this until Ruth pointed out that Elena had a track record of being a massive liar, and probably had more to gain for her nationalist cause by instigating a British attack by lying about the presence of a bomb on the plane, which was in fact a signal jammer that interfered with communications with the passenger plane. Utilizing Sasha’s presence in the bunker, Harry pulls him into the room where they’ve been holding his mother and puts a gun to his head insisting that she tell the truth or lose her son. She doesn’t falter though and it becomes abundantly clear that she’d willingly sacrifice everything for her love of her country, including her family. Harry doesn’t pull the trigger, but realizes she is indeed protecting the real details of the mission telling his former lover that she’s ‘a better spy than he ever was’.  Straight away he tries to convince Towers to abort the mission, but the politician is reluctant to do so. At this point they are forced to turn to Illya Gavrik who’d also found his way to the bunker and had discovered his wife’s betrayal. In return for him asking Towers to abort the mission to expunge the plane with the full backing of the Kremlin, the Russian ambassador asks Ruth for the key to the room where his wife is being held, which she duly gives him. He confronts his wife about her apparent loyalty to her country, successfully gets Towers to call the fighter jets off (how the hell did he get a signal?), and then proceeds to give Elena a cuddle which quickly turns into more of a lethal bear hug, as Dimitri and Sasha attempt to get through some exceedingly tough one way glass. They are of course unsuccessful and  when angsty Sasha grabs a shard of broken glass looking like a poor man’s Hamlet, unbeknownst to the evidently rather dim Dimitri and Erin, you just knew this wasn’t going to end well.

Meanwhile outside by the river Harry and Ruth, elated that it all appears to be over, start to make plans about their future, the latter urging the former to leave the Service so they can forge some sort of life together in the aforementioned house in Suffolk, and thus sounded the ‘Klaxons of Doom’ in my head. It was all going too well wasn’t it? Enter stage left Captain Angsty with his make-shift dagger intent on avenging his mother’s death, and after Harry tries to take the blame, Ruth literally falls on the sword (well piece of glass) in yet another selfless act. Alas there’s nothing that can be done aside from waiting for a helicopter and they both ruminate on the life they could have had together, but that ultimately wasn’t to be as she gradually slips away to a distraught Harry’s utter dismay.

Cue a time leap and they next thing we see is Harry driving whilst listening to a message from Towers, who agrees to support him in whatever direction he decides to take his life next, as well as informing him that an outside contractor had been engaged to take care of Elena’s handler, the Russian in the glass house who shouldn’t have thrown stones in Britiain’s direction. Who was the outside contractor? None other than Tom or the delectable Mr Matthew Macfadyen, now of Darcy and Musketeer fame, of course. (I admit I squeed a little. Just a little mind.) Harry goes to view the property that Ruth had put an offer in for, evidently with some intention of perhaps buying it himself, but it quickly becomes apparent to him that a civilian future without Ruth is inconceivable, and so the series ends with Sir Pearce marching back to his desk as everybody else at The Grid looks on agog, and their boss hesitating to answer the phone, but eventually summoning up the courage to do so. Another day, another threat to national security.

My issues with the ending… 

I have on the whole enjoyed this final series, despite the inevitable moments where the events depicted sometimes might have occurred in Narnia. To be honest it wouldn’t be Spooks without them. Even this final episode was exceptional in places, from the consistently brilliant performances from Peter Firth and Nicola Walker and the unveiling of Elena Gavrik as a double agent, to some of the excellent dialogue which ranged from hilarious to moving. I did however take issue with the tone of the ending. Evidently it was meant to be bittersweet. Sir Harry may have lost the love of his life, but Britain was once again safe from the bad guys. Except I didn’t get that. The man who we’d seen at the helm for the past 9 years looked like a shadow of his former self, and seemed destined to die during the course of duty perhaps in a matter of months, or a couple of years. Rather than a stoical ending, it seemed like the writers were privileging a sentimentalized view of duty over the logic of what had gone before. By Harry’s own admission what defines a good spy is someone who has everything to lose and yet does what they have to do for the greater good. As I’ve already discussed he told Elena she was a better spy than him because she was prepared to even sacrifice her own child, and urged Erin to stay an agent because of her love for her own child. Harry now has nothing. No grounding in the ‘real world’. No personal link to humanity that doesn’t involve viewing people in terms of potential casualties etc and because of this, by his own admission, he’s a a weaker spy for it.

Did I want Ruth and Harry to skip off into the sunset to a life of jam making and church fetes? Not really, but as much as I’ve loved the character right from the beginning I think Sir Pearce returning to his office in that final scene offered a stagnant ending to what has been, on the whole, an excellent and thought-provoking show. I’d much rather have had Ruth finally reaching her potential and taking over, even if it meant Harry had to be on the receiving end of angsty Sasha’s stabbiness. In comparison with her boss/love interest, from the Gavrik incident alone, she appeared to be a much better judge of character and was evidently an asset that Towers couldn’t ignore. Hell I’d even have settled for a Romeo & Juliet style ending where they both died, if it meant Dimitri the Beautiful and SpyMum™ had to step up to the mark, and the denouement was forward-looking rather than reveling in sentimentality.  After discussing this with a few friends we all noticed the similarities with another Kudos-produced drama, Ashes to Ashes, which similarly ends with the protagonist, Gene Hunt, on his own and defending the streets from the bad guys. Evidently the winds of change sweeping across the globe at the moment seem to have passed some people by.

I musn’t grumble too much though. Ever since I plonked my 17 year old self down to watch Spooks for the first time nine years ago, I’ve been made to laugh, cry and shout at the TV screen, and on the whole been thoroughly entertained by what I’ve watched, no matter how often it went from the sublime to the ridiculous. I gather millions of others have too so all in all well done to everybody who’s been involved with the show for nearly a decade. We’ll all send you thank you notes in invisible ink. 🙂  

Final things to note…

  • Calum the Tosser nicely summed up the basic plot for the whole of Spooks in that final sequence when Erin asked him to give her a synopsis: ‘Bad people want to kill us’. It made me laugh and almost like him. Almost. *squinty evil eyes*
  • I hold my hand up say I completely called the whole Erin thing all wrong. I’m disappointed that there wasn’t more to her character other than the whole spy/mother dichotomy. I guess they didn’t want to go there again after the whole silly Lucas debacle.
  • Although Tom appearing was nice, it was also fairly pointless fan service. We didn’t even get to see him blow the Russian in the glass house’s brains out. Crumbs! 😦 
  • That poor women on the plane eh? Evidently curiosity killed the cat and the flight attendant. Bad times.
  • S&M watch: I’ve already discussed Harry tied up in the boot, and the Gavrik cuddle that went wrong.  Just say ‘No’ kids! 
  • I have to admit the bit with the memorial was a nice touch. Makes me wonder if there is something similar in the bowels of one of the Secret Service buildings.


Anyway thanks everybody who’s read over the past few weeks. 😀

Link to the Guardian Spooks Blog    


About Optimistindisguise

I blog therefore I am. I think.
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9 Responses to Spooks Finale: What makes a good spy?… (S.10, ep. 6)

  1. Miss Spook says:

    Great review. I couldn’t agree with you more about the ending,although that seems a minority viewpoint amongst most of the other tv reviewers. Seems a bit Emperor’s New Clothes to me. Flat is exactly how the last episode was to me. I had expected so much from the previous episodes, I think the writers resolved the plot very poorly. I have seen from the spooks forums that some fans are so incensed at the ending they have made a petition asking for an alternative ending on dvd:

    • Thanks for reading and it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who found it a little lack-lustre. Actually a few of my friends felt the same way. The ‘can’t go on, must go on’ ending seems to be a bit of a trend for Kudos programmes.

      Thanks also for letting me know about the petition. 🙂

  2. Beatrice Kimmel says:

    Thank you for your great review. I could not have said it better. Your remarks about the death of Ruth and the return of Harry to the grid are spot on. Kudos wants us to believe that Britain is safe again under Harry’s guidance after tarnishing his character in series 9 and 10. You are right; Harry had become a shadow of his former self. It was Ruth who was clear-headed and the better spy. Her death was unnecessary and Harry, who remained an honorable man, did deserve some happiness after giving his all to the country. Are we meant to believe that the cost of being a spy is hopelessness and bleakness?

    It is a pity that Kudos chose to use their tired shock and awe formula for the last episode of Spooks. It was not fair to the loyal fans of Harry and Ruth who, after 9 series, expected to see some happiness between their two favorite characters. Why was it so difficult for Kudos to give it to them? It would not have damaged the “image” of the show. I hope one day I will be able to enjoy the reruns of the terrific Spooks show on the PBS channel and watch again my own DVDs.

    After Spooks and Ashes to Ashes, I wonder whether Morton will be same old same old. By the way, I signed the petition for a more optimistic ending of Spooks and really enjoyed the thrilling episode 6 up to the last 10 minutes.

    • Thanks for reading and I’m glad my thoughts seem to be resonating with a few people.

      In the reviews I’ve read the general consensus seems to be that an ending where Ruth and Harry made some sort of life together either in or out of the Service would have been too twee. Of course that could have possibly been true if the writers weren’t creative enough to emphasise what they’ve already sacrificed by living the life they have. To me it’s endlessly ironic that the Spooks writers managed to create a far bleaker ending for Harry, and of course Ruth, than Le Carre did for Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Like you said shock and awe tactics over any sort of substance.

      Thanks once again for reading. 🙂

  3. Rosemary says:

    Sorry to be a dissenting voice, Optimistindisguise. The only thing I found flat about the episode was the acting of Lara Pulver and Max Brown. The other actors were outstanding, I thought the writing was excellent, and the last scenes seemed to me entirely appropriate. And I have to say that while I think Nicola Walker has always done a brilliant job as Ruth Evershed, I find the quasi-deification of both the actress and the character by some ‘Spooks’ viewers (not you, I hasten to add) really quite disturbing, as are the conspiracy theories that Kudos ended the show like this in order to ‘punish’ fans and even the two leads in some way. Perhaps too many years of being an ardent ‘Spooks’ fan blurs the divide between real life and the TV screen a little.

    By the way, surely Harry does have some ‘grounding in the real world’, some ‘personal link to humanity’? Unless someone has quietly bumped off his son and daughter unbeknownst to me since the last series. They were certainly alive then; he phoned them on the way to meet Lucas North.

    • All views are welcome Rosemary. It’d be a dull world if we all agreed. 🙂

      I don’t think Kudos were trying to punish fans at all, but I did however take issue with the fact that for two of their recent huge dramas they’ve basically rolled out the same ending. To me, this shows a lack of creativity and/or a will to push a certain ethos which I think doesn’t reflect the sense of ‘change’ that seems to be upon us at the moment. I guess I have a problem with a character who appears to be so world weary once again at the helm. As for his children, I would guess that he sees them about as much we do. In my opinion, he’s had such little contact with them over the years that they might as well be estranged because he’s lived and breathed the Service for so long, therefore I don’t see this as a real ‘grounding’ in humanity.

      I don’t see this ‘deification’ of Ruth either, but the fact remains that if she wasn’t a better judge of character than he was, then Harry would have urged Towers to blow that plane up and essentially Cold War 2 would have started. In ep. 5 Harry admitted that he was pretty much burnt out, so I don’t really take comfort in the fact that he’s only back at The Grid because there’s nothing else for him. Who’s to say he won’t make a similar judgement call in the future which, without Ruth to rely on, might result in a serious loss of life?

      In short, I think the denouement both lacked logic and meandered down a well-trodden path, rather than making strides to do something different.

      Anyway thanks for reading and sharing a different viewpoint. 🙂

  4. Rosemary says:

    Youi’re very welcome! Thank you for your reply. 🙂 Vive la difference!

    If you were to pop over to the latest Spooks Information Central forum thread on this episode you may see what I was trying to say about the ‘deification’ (possibly wrong word, ‘worship’ may have been better) of Ruth. I fnd it quite alarming. Frankly, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    • No problem! 🙂

      I guess most people have fictional characters who they identify with and therefore who become important to them, be it in books, theatre or television. I know I do. Of course, like anything, some people do take things to the extreme, but I can see why someone might be upset if they feel like a character they’ve spent years getting to know didn’t get a fitting ending.

      These things are always subjective though eh?…

  5. Rosemary says:

    Yes indeed! One man’s ‘upset’ is another’s ‘childishly hysterical’.

    I’ll leave it at that.

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