Yeah, I’m crying. Wanna make something of it? [Spooks 9.1-9.7 spoilers! pw=spooks9]
Same disclaimers as in the past. My caps. It’s half past 11 in the evening as I start writing, and I’ve got some unfinished obligations to students left to complete for tomorrow, which is also going to be a really long day, so we’ll see how much energy I ultimately have for this analysis. My point in doing this this way is to record my impressions before reading anyone else’s, so if I can’t finish saying everything I want to say I may break this up into two pieces and write some more on Wednesday before reading around to see what others have written. Mal sehen.
Wow, Mr. Armitage. As I’ve said, I’m not a crier. But I cried, briefly, tonight, when you said, “Lucas North is dead,” and my heart is still in my throat, thirty minutes after I finished watching this the first time. I hope your folks are still proud. This was a stunning performance in another really convoluted script situation, and thanks to you, I totally fell into the trap the script set up for me. Details below.
Also, in the discussion about the ongoing dilemma between making the Spooks script exciting vs providing a consistent characterization of Lucas, despite some pretty massive implausibilities in this script as regards Harry’s behavior and/or MI-5 operations, I am back over on the side of praising the scriptwriters. This script just gets some fundamental things right for me on the level of life observations that apply to how many people think about their pasts — not just spooks or criminals running away from their malfeasance, but me, too. I don’t like this Lucas, or rather, who I understand John Bateman to be, because I never would have loved John Bateman; indeed, I think I am crying because I am mourning the Lucas North I’ve now almost definitely lost, the one who John Bateman appeared to be, whom he succeeded at being for two series, despite the way that the final scene with Vaughn threw his statements in the interrogation scene with Harry into question. So maybe I don’t despise John Bateman as much as I think I do. Obviously, that is one of the many questions that remain to be resolved at the end of the series, a week from tonight.
But this script kept me on the edge of my seat for practically every minute of the show on a day when I’d reached the end of my constitutional rope in terms of work and couldn’t even start watching the episode until 9 in the evening my time and got interrupted several times after that by students and colleagues who sought me out. For me, THIS EPISODE, and my surprise when Vaughn revealed that John’s story to Harry was a lie, justified for me all of the labor involved in averting my head from every potential spoiler that came my way since mid-August, and in avoiding internet outlets where I knew spoilers were being discussed. (Mr. Armitage, shut up about episode plots in your advance interviews. I’m still annoyed with you about this!) In other words, the fact that I bought the end of the episode is a tribute both to its script, and to Armitage’s performance. I couldn’t be more moved.
I know it sounds mushy, but: Mr. Armitage and Spooks scriptwriters, thanks for a show that made it worth surviving today in order to see it.
I do want to say as a final general note that I’ll now be completely on edge next week. A reminder to all readers of “me + richard armitage”: NO SPOILERS (there can’t be many left!) or discussion of anything you already know about 9.8. Once again I didn’t watch scenes from next week or read the BBC synopsis of that episode. Finally, a reminder to the scriptwriters, though it’s too late now: don’t mess up the final episode! Pactum serva! If you make the human stories in the penultimate episode of the series this convincing and then totally flop on the end, e.g., by not answering all of the questions raised here, or by giving lame, stereotypical answers, or by concentrating on the bomb of the week at the expense of resolving all of these dilemmas, I am really going to be angry. Not that that has any impact on the scriptwriters, of course. Not that they care about my poor, abused nerves.
Lots of plot this week, but not at the total expense of characterization. See, Spooks writers, you can indeed advance both plot and characterization without having to sacrifice one for the other! On the one hand, we saw some deft comparison of and comments on both the identities and the capacities for change among the spooks (die Fähigkeit, über den eigenen Schatten zu springen — an idiom I’ve always liked, literally, “to jump over one’s own shadow”). On the other, it really was a week of Quidquid latet, apparebit, and not a moment too soon, as the information politics of earlier episodes strained credibility in terms of what we (or at least Lucas fans) were willing to believe was motivating Lucas to behave so strangely.
[Excursus: I want to note that I am still not completely reassured on that score -- I still don't buy Lucas's succumbing to Vaughn's blackmail as motivated by his suddenly remembered love for Maya or his desire to regain his past, especially because who'd want to regain this particular past? Ick. He was better off as Lucas North and he must have realized this, and he showed no inclination to fall into Vaughn's trap (as, e.g., in 9.1 and 9.2) until he was confronted with the photo of Maya, so Maya is really the only explanation the script is giving us. It's not clear as yet how that could have been triggered so suddenly, however, even by the end of his marriage to Elizaveta, the Sarah Caulfield fiasco or by PTSD after his Russian prison days. I'm not saying it's impossible as a reaction to those things or their combination -- I just need more of an explanation and more of a process, maybe a little bit more information about Lucas's inner life. I remain on record as disliking this repeated "destroyed by love" theme as a motivation for the character -- though I suppose the deprivation he felt he suffered over Maya could explain his eagerness to leap into Sarah's arms. It seems to me more likely, though, that after the end of his relationships with Elizaveta and Sarah he'd swear off women forever.]
We knew that whatever the secret was, it would have to be big to justify Lucas’s distress over Maya potentially finding out about it. And indeed: It was certainly big. Involvement in an embassy bombing — though we still don’t know why. And I suppose all that’s really required is that John believes that she would reject him over it. Lucas / John certainly has had more than enough life experiences to make him distrustful. I’m laying aside the question of whether finding this out earlier in the series would have succeeded in destroying her renewed relationship with John. To me the big question (and this is a potential script complication for next time) is how she sees herself in relationship to the events of 1995 in Dakar. When I initially saw the suitcase contents in 9.2 I noticed a place name on the stuff inside that referred to Morocco (not Senegal), and I know that Laila Rouass’s ancestry is partially Moroccan, and so I was thinking this subplot was going to turn out to be about Morocco and that Maya’s life was going to have been touched personally by whatever John had done. Like maybe that he’d been involved in an activity that caused relatives to die. That seems improbable now. But I wonder why he’d have doubted that she’d have believed or accepted the version of the story he told Harry? I’d potentially be inclined to forgive someone on that basis, assuming all the harm he had done was detached from any effect on my life or those of my loved ones, and that he had lived a life that signaled his attempt to atone since then. Of course, I would insist that he come clean and take the consequences for it. But honestly, even murderers and genocidaires find people to love them. At this point, I am relieved that at least so far, she seems to be “worth it,” in the sense that she appears to have been surprised by the information that Lucas was a spy, and thus doesn’t appear to have been in cahoots with Vaughn / Michael. Of course, there’s one more episode to go, and to some extent given the laconic quality of Laila Rouass’s performance one suspects at this point that she wouldn’t be particularly troubled by any information these men give her.
[Excursus: really, all of these plot complications as I understand them up till now could have been avoided if Lucas / John would just have killed Vaughn / Michael as soon as the blackmail attempts started. That he didn't do that, I hope, is evidence that there's still a little bit of the Lucas John became in that body than the original John. There are a few more clues: for example, the fact that he didn't return to Maya after his return to England as Lucas North, because he was afraid of hurting her, if that backstory is still applicable. There's still more than enough that we don't really understand about this story, despite all the revelations tonight. I guess we'll see.]
This is where the episode begins: with Lucas admitting to Harry that he was in Dakar during the bombing. What a bizarre opening to the episode– and one that suggests that on some level, Lucas really does want to tell Harry all about it. Testing the waters? Admittedly, this tidbit of information is necessary to make the plot work, since we have to have the spooks digging into Lucas’s past behind the scenes in order for Beth to discover what’s going on and set up the whole interrogation scene. At this point, we have the reappearance of Vaughn in order to accelerate Lucas’s pursuit of the Albany file, and then Harry’s statement that he’s going to have Beth look through the Dakar file so that Lucas won’t be “tied up.”
Keith Deery (Trevor Cooper) spies on his neighbor in attempt to catch her in the act of dog fouling in Spooks 9.7.
Then the episode inserts a subplot about a “council snooper” (I had to look this up, as presumably most non-UK viewers will have to) who is also an MI-5 wannabe. He inadvertently (as we learn through the course of the episode) stumbles upon a dead drop. We are initially annoyed and we are meant to be.
A French hitman (Dave Legeno) observes Derry observing the woman who makes the dead drop, in Spooks 9.7. I paused the playback at this point to look at the tattoo but didn’t get much from it. It IS so convenient how all of these baddies continue to use Latin and other classical references in their self-awareness, though. Makes me feel like my education was worth something.
The primary purpose of the council snooper plot at first seems to be to tell us a story about Ruth, but I think in the end it’s further-reaching than that. Dayenu — even without the extrapolations I’ll make later this would have been a nice dramatic move. At first, it’s introduced in tandem with the information that her murdered lover George’s (reference Spooks 8.1) family is trying to contact her to sell her shared home with George, and she gets a packet with papers to sign that include a picture of, and a letter from, the unbelievably adorable Niko. (Plus points for cute childish handwriting in Greek, although since my acquaintance with Greek was terminated rather abruptly in my second semester of grad school, just after I’d learned the alphabet, I have no idea what it says.)
“What’s the time limit on grief?” Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) asks Dmitri in response to his remark that Deery is an unreliable source because he seems to have been unbalanced by the death of his wife, eight years prior, in Spooks 9.7. The answer? It’s different for spooks and normal people.
We then get the info that as we have suspected for quite some time, Vaughn is trying to supply “Albany” to the Chinese, when two Chinese men come to his house and threaten both him and Maya. Then a conversation in which Ruth admits that her surveillance about Lucas was unethical, but not unfounded — “it doesn’t mean I’m wrong about Lucas,” she insists. This important line later connects this plot back to the “council snooper” problem. And another big Ruth and Harry scene ensues: Harry hypothesizes that Ruth is still angry at him for George’s death and his failure to protect her, and perhaps that her concerns about Lucas relate to a sort of jealousy that Harry is protecting Lucas in a way he was not willing to shield her. I don’t buy this explanation entirely, but I found this scene very poignant, although I am trying to stay off the HarryxRuth ship until I’ve seen series 4-6. What’s clear here is how underutilized Peter Firth is in Spooks generally — we see Firth here give Harry a capacity for much more depth than we often see in the character. He’s not just a brittle, jaded, middle-aged spook after all; he does experience loyalties and (as we will see a bit later) suffer from betrayals. Harry insists to Ruth that he would do the same for Ruth as he’s done for Lucas, but she can’t accept this level of personal interaction from him. The camera gives us one long look back at Harry, and the only muscle we see moving is the slight but tortured working of his lower lip. Impressive restraint while communicating with total clarity, Mr. Firth.
And then we get the heartbreaking scene in which Ruth is unable to speak when she calls the phone number that she finds on Niko’s letter to her. I, like her, presumably, read the inclusion of this information in the letter as a tentative willingness to reach out despite the circumstances of George’s death, and it’s a killer that she can’t speak when she calls. (I’ve been in this situation of not being able to speak with someone who offers a reconciliation, most recently on Sunday morning, and so perhaps I’m unusually susceptible to this plot line, but I felt this was finely drawn — not only her abortive attempt, but also her own reaction to her failure, the deadness that one feels inside in a situation like this, the wish for a green branch in one’s soul that is just not there.)
Lucas reveals at this point that he hasn’t given up on Albany, and Harry gives Beth the charge of figuring out what Lucas was doing in Dakar. Beth won’t believe that Lucas would betray his country, and Harry quickly backs her off of that — we’re all caring people here, he says, and we have to help Lucas. Vaughn tells Maya that Lucas is a spy and kidnaps her. Then, while Ruth is contemplating her incapacity to contact George’s family, Keith Deery happens upon her again.
Ruth suddenly finds herself hoist on her own argumentation to Harry of only a few minutes previous, and it gives her the capacity to think about the information that she’s obtained from him. Again maybe I am unusually susceptible to this kind of plot line, but I often find my students making arguments to me that I’ve made unsuccessfully elsewhere. Everything here sets us (or me, anyway) up to overidentify with Ruth.
Then the initial approach to Lucas from Vaughn over Maya. I am not thrilled with the script here, as it’s a repeat of 8.4 with Oleg implying to Lucas that he’ll torture Sarah if he doesn’t get what he wants, and I resent that Lucas is always a fool for love (see above), but I like how Armitage deals with this repetition on the gestural level (see below). At this point we get introduced, at least visually, to the “real” Lucas North, played by the visually adorable but not-near-as-dangerous-looking-as-Armitage James Daffern (worth clicking over to see his still; it is really nice, and I feel like this was a nice physiognomic choice for “flashback Lucas”).
Lucas gets called out of the office to deal with Vaughn and Maya, whose been chained to a pillar in a warehouse. Tariq starts face recognition on the object of Keith Deery’s surveillance, and coincidentally mentions that Ruth’s dead drop fragments are preserved on nitrocellulose, whereupon Ruth takes off to track Deery down. Beth, having informed Harry that there was another Lucas North in Dakar in 1995, pursues Lucas to Southwark Park to witness the end of his very violent meeting with Vaughn. I discuss the strengths of this scene from a performance standpoint below, but I will interject briefly here a note about an editing point that I really like. After Vaughn escapes and Beth tells Lucas he can expect MI-5 help, he points his gun at her, and it takes him several moments to relax completely. There’s one false move at the end, where Beth gets too close to Lucas, and he raises his handgun in threat against her, and we see on her face (as opposed to on Lucas’s) the substance of what he has become to her: unrecognizable.
I feel like the script gets the sentiment right here, but not the language. When Beth tells Lucas she can’t believe he’d shoot her, he tells her she knows nothing about him (which is in essence true), but she insists that she has seen him act altruistically in the past, and ends with, “I believe in you. We all do.” This is the right sentiment but it’s so pop psychology that it makes me twitch. No matter. She said what she needed to say, and her look of puzzlement is genuine and communicates, again, what Lucas has become via her own physiognomy. Nice mirroring here, Ms. Myles.
The end of the park scene puts us on a big arc of viewer manipulation which I did not realize while watching the first time, although signs are hidden in Armitage’s performance that suggest that could be where we are going — again a matter of what he doesn’t do vs what he does (see below). But first we have to see Ruth into Keith Deery’s flat and knocked out, and return Vaughn to Maya, who practically watches him exsanguinate (another word I have always really liked the sound of).
The episode donates well more than a sixth of its total minutes to the Lucas North / John Bateman backstory and Harry’s reaction to it, and in terms of the Spooks episodes I am familiar with this is quite a landmark scene both in length, quality of performances, and interest. (We can ask whether this is really a good script strategy — they did this in series 8, as well, giving us most of the concrete information we got about Sarah Caulfield only minutes before she was murdered. I will admit that although I again wondered whether MI-5 is outsourcing its personnel vetting to the Keystone Kops, I totally bought this version of the Lucas backstory (see below), maybe partially because Harry also seems to want to believe it — to want not to be betrayed, or at least not to be betrayed any more than he already has been. So it’s not just my own inclinations of affection for the Lucas character — it is, indeed, that Lucas enjoys the support of (many of) his colleagues. This is perhaps one of the saddest aspects of this whole script; that while Lucas believes he has nothing, that he lacks something so radical at his center that all he can think of to do in order to reclaim his identity is to go haring after Maya, indeed, as the beginning of 9.1 reminded us, echoing a statement Ros made at the end of 7.3, his “colleagues are ok.”
What we don’t realize at the beginning of this scene — and I am saying this from the perspective of what I now know, as it seems there could be at least one if not two major plot twists that immediately pop into mind as possibilities, and that’s not accounting for the dangling thread of who exactly it is that put the contract out on the Italian mafia boss that generated the dead drop that caught Deery’s attention in the first place (did I miss something there, other than that the hitman was French?) — is that we are not seeing real backstory, but backstory either as Lucas would like Harry to believe it, or as Lucas would like to remember it himself. Vaughn not only dies because he’d rather keep his claws on Maya than risk having her offer medical attention and escaping, he gets a lot of good lines in this final episode — one is his statement, as he’s bleeding to death and Maya offers to look at him, as he holds on to his own tourniquet, what resolution, that the consequences of pulling the knife out are worse than putting it in, a statement that is metaphorical as well as literal. This line echoes in our brains as turn to the final cut of the Lucas / Harry encounter. The script is way too much here, though I’d like to believe it, and it’s perhaps this unbelievable oversentiment for either John or Lucas that should clue us in to the problematic nature of the claims Lucas is making — would either of them really say that John had tried every day to do the good that Lucas had meant to have done?
OK: but that was the first time I started crying. Call me a sucker. I’ve earned it.
Thank heavens for bizarre, random coincidence and the fact that Keith Deery just happened to have a hot iron on in his apartment. Resourceful Ruth (Nicola Evershed) frees herself from her bonds, effectively preventing her own and Deery’s murder at the hands of the French hit man, all of whose remarks are pretty bland or cryptic, in Spooks 9.7. No, you don’t find out who ordered the hit if you understand spoken French.
Once the pieces of the mafia plot line fall together, Harry and Dmitri rush in to save Ruth, arriving just a little too late to be of any real assistance. It’s unclear how exactly Lucas finds Vaughn, but he does, and then another version of events in Dakar comes out — according to which it was not Vaughn who manipulated John, but in which John was cognizant of what he was doing and murdered the real Lucas North.
Just before dying, Vaughn gets to offer his second acute observation, that Lucas probably doesn’t know, any more, what the truth is — a statement that marks upon the very real way that we tell ourselves narratives our lives to fit our own needs, and forget what doesn’t fit. “You’re a killer, John,” Vaughn persists, even as he knows he must die, “who fell asleep and dreamed he was a hero. Now it’s time to wake up and remember the truth.” And then, after a montage of the embassy bombing, Vaughn continues, “the dream is over now. And the killer is awake.”
John seems stunned by this revelation — but we, of course, saw it clearly at the end of last week when Lucas burst into Malcolm’s empty house. And in the end of the episode, he concedes when Harry tries to get back in contact, that Lucas North is dead. Twice dead, I suppose he means, and I again started crying here.
It’s fascinating that the show doesn’t leave us with the John / Lucas plotline, but tags on this leftover bit about Ruth visiting Deery’s room while they are both in the hospital. I think this is quite significant, because it’s the scene immediately after Vaughn says Lucas is really a killer. Because of course Ruth herself has killed the hitman, if in self defense, nonetheless in an extreme orgy of violence. Deery can’t deal with what he saw, and I think it’s not per se about his unfitness for MI-5, but rather his horror at Ruth, which Ruth sees when she reaches out to touch his hands and he withdraws them in pain. I think the script is asking us to view a number of things on a particular continuum here. Ruth, like Vaughn, will kill without compunction, apparently — but where is Lucas? If the second version of the backstory is true, is he then indeed the killer Vaughn wishes us to see him as? Or this is a variation on the cut-rate Rashomon scheme of 9.2, in which elements of both Lucas’s and Beth’s narratives were true? If elements of John’s story to Harry were lies, does that mean everything about them was a lie? What does it mean that Lucas / John, in whose sincerity we want to believe, is lying, while Vaughn, who has lied all the way through the story, so often offers nuggets of essential truth (as in 9.4, when he points out that Lucas is betraying MI-5 for himself, not for Vaughn)?
Ruth describes herself, or “us,” as “strong, stable, and dead inside.” In the end, if we juxtapose the Ruth plotline about Niko with the Keith Deery story, and with Lucas, we see that Lucas is by far not the only one who is plagued by the need to deal with his past, and by far not the only person who has made a severe hash of it. He’s been either unlucky — or has ended up by his own volition on the side of moral and ethical error — but of all of these characters, he appears to have made the most valiant effort to actually deal with his past actively and creatively. At the end of the day he is neither lamed by circumstance, nor incapable of feeling. Is this one sense in which Lucas is “basically a hero”?
Or is this dead look on John’s face, after he announces Lucas’s death, what we should take away from the episode?
I thought two weeks ago that there was no way this script could be salvaged. Now I am burning to know — and aching not to know — how the plot resolves.
Mr. Armitage’s performance:
Obviously, a ton of stuff to comment here this week, and an astounding performance in the interrogation scene, I find. Leftover issues from previous weeks: how is Armitage handling the Lucas / John transitions, and to what extent does the continuing plausibility of the script end up being born out on his back? And of course, that one very big new issue: the interrogation scene, and how Armitage gets us there in a position to believe what he is saying.
In what I say below I have largely abandoned the Lucas / John distinction, except insofar as I feel there are a few points where Armitage is flitting between the two personae he’s established. By and large I accepted the reintegration of Lucas and John at the end of the last episode — the resulting personality problems notwithstanding — as accomplished. Eventually when I do a postmortem on this series, I’m going to have to think again about the question of emotionality vs apparent personality disintegration. We just don’t see the same level of convulsive violence in Armitage’s performance here that we were being pointed to last week. Anyway.
The episode starts off very calmly, with the meeting with Harry’s information, who turns out to be Vaughn. Lots of Lucas nervousness here, not of particular interest to us any longer, since we already know that Lucas knows that Vaughn is trying to manipulate him. But at fifteen minutes in, we see that Lucas has not left behind his attempt to obtain “Albany,” apparently being so ruthless as to continue to try to track down Malcolm via his mother’s prescription drug pickups. A really brutal look here:
Here we see the desires of John to achieve his ends operating with the coolness of Lucas. But the transformation is not entirely complete. Even now, Lucas / John is not a numbed killing machine. Witness the scene where Vaughn contacts him to let him know that he’s kidnapped Maya and threaten that he will deliver her to the Chinese:
Mr. Armitage can pack so much into a short telephone conversation. A half-second of dread on the lips with the inverted u-shaped mouth as he picks up the phone call, followed by three seconds before he actually answers the phone. These seconds hold calculation, still, at 0:11 (will Beth notice this?), fear at 0:12, moving into a deep breath at 0:13 that then allows him to answer the call from Vaughn calmly with “This isn’t convenient.” At 0:16 in the split screen, with “Listen,” continuing the calm voice, “I’m doing everything I can” even as he pushes in the nervous lip lick, and then the statement that “but I’ve run into a brick wall and we need to work together.” Note what we see only implicitly, to the point of it almost being subliminal here, which is that on the right side of his face, Lucas / John is struggling with his eyebrow. Obviously he’s working on a bluff here, and he’s putting it together with his voice, even as his expressional repertoire is confronting the need to stay calm in the office atmosphere where conceivably anyone could see or hear him.
Now, what I’m afraid of here is how Armitage is going to deal gesturally with the clear recapitulation of the plot line from 8.4 (see above), but what we see here at first is really interesting — that is, Lucas of 8.4 is completely beside himself at what’s going on and has to resort to help for Harry. In the scene in 9.7, we are dealing with a qualitatively different Lucas — not surprising, since John has been out and fully capable of doing anything on his own at the very latest since the final scene of 9.6 — and he’s not only capable of putting together a bluff and suppressing his own nervousness, we almost see a microexpression of cravenness as Vaughn rings off.
No hand-wringing, hand to face, severe emotional distress Lucas here. This is clearly John, at least as long as he’s at Lucas’s desk. Then he feels the need to flee, and we see, in sequence, these moves:
You can probably guess what I’m going to say here: that I think moves 1, 2, 3, and 5 are right on target, and I have reservations about 4 (hand to face). At 1, we’ve got the character trying to catch his breath, and then at 2 and 3, these signs of personality disintegration that I pointed out last week as particularly interesting. In the end at 5 we’ve then got the calculating, aggressive character back. The question for me is what 4 signals. This is classic Lucas distress language, and given that I’ve been reading the character as John (or John in control) ever since the phone rang, I am a little bothered by this move. Then again it’s not typical Lucas distress — the whole hand over the face is a bit more extreme. Anyway, it’s certainly evocative, I’m just not sure it isn’t sending a slightly confusing message here. (Of course, if you don’t buy my whole “Lucas vs John” dichotomy, it won’t trouble you.)
As the episode proceeds, I feel like we see more clearly both the extent to which John and Lucas are tied up with each other, but also the lines between them. As Lucas emerges from Thames House, we see him confident and in control of his bluff again:
But at the same time, almost immediately afterwards, he undermines himself in terms of body language, with the class “male under threat pose” of hands over genitals:
Perhaps he’s trying to lull Vaughn into a false calm, because his next move comes out of nowhere from my perspective and when I saw it I was so stunned I had to pause the computer for several minutes before I could continue watching.
In one of the most performatively contradictive moves I’ve ever seen Armitage produce, John calmly, almost clinically, informs Vaughn that he’s never considered the role of passion in manipulating people, and then there’s a fifth of a second, maybe only one frame, where you see Armitage’s throat move only very slightly, and then — the knife goes forcefully, but entirely dispassionately into Vaughn’s thigh.
Ooomph. Wasn’t expecting that. Nor Armitage’s cool delivery of the next lines, in which he warns Vaughn that sudden movements could be dangerous. I like the face that follows, again, not something we’re so used to seeing from Lucas:
The passion comes out in the follow up, and I like how Mr. Armitage plays this scene:
You’d think by this time, with all this blood, he’d be ramping up his intensity immediately, but the first line is still calm. You see that John feels no qualms about torturing Vaughn, but the second line reveals an extreme emotional with reference to fears of the Chinese, an instinctive reaction of both twisting the knife and exclaiming “Where?” as Vaughn refers to the possibility that the Chinese would kill Maya. We can see here the ways in which the character’s emotions are pooling with regard to the potential loss of his wish-object, as opposed to of his ethics. Interesting and really effective in terms of letting us watch what’s going on in the character’s mind without having to make big statements. You’ll note that the biggest statement (“Maya means more to me than either my job or my reputation”) is delivered with the least emotion, and this seems like a deliberate strategy, cool, pedagogical, but drawing attention to its meaning through later gestures and emotions rather than by pointing to itself.
Nice shifts in the next part of the scene between angry and desperate, as Beth enters the park and inadvertently allows Vaughn to escape.
And then just when you think Lucas has resigned, and accepted that Harry (and Beth) want to help him …
… we realize that the murderous rage is still there. Well-played. Even so, there’s still more depth in his reactions here. After Beth insists that he won’t kill her, his declaration is almost bitter, as much a lash to himself as it is a warning to her:
“You don’t know anything about me,” Lucas / John spits out to Beth. Armitage is using the very, very lowest register of his voice here, which increases the cutting quality of the statement, and also the challenging quality of his tone. As he responds to Beth’s statement that all of Section D’s members believe in him — a direct opposition to his insistence that his closest colleagues know nothing at all about him — his gaze weakens and drops.
That I read this as surrender and not as a ploy, it seems now, was a direct response to Armitage’s success in using these microexpressions and gestures of connection to me as viewer throughout. In fact, he’s not using his sincerity repertoire here at all — but because his body-language and tonal repertoire statements of pain come through so clearly, I still want to believe that there is enough integrity here that he can accept being “taken home” by MI-5, that he can accept Harry’s help out of this mess.
The subsequent scene, cut in two pieces, a longer one where John offers his version of the Vaughn & John backstory, and a shorter one, where the focus is on what can be done, is too longer for me to analyze anymore tonight. As I noted above, I fell into it completely, and I even started crying when John said that he tried to do the good that Lucas would have done. I’ve now been thinking and writing for seven hours, so I’ll just note that my major thought at this point about the performance aspect of this is that Armitage is pulling out every sincerity gesture, every register on that particular series of emotions he has in this scene. He mobilizes Armitage equilibrium repeatedly, for instance, as well as pain, and he doesn’t turn away from Harry’s accusations that he’s whinging or evading responsibility but mostly meets them head on:
This last expression in particular kills me, because it’s capped as John says that he tries to do the good that Lucas would have done, and that “that’s never been a lie.” I so want to believe this. This is really sincerity repertoire for Armitage. It’s as open as his face gets, the vulnerability of the eyes sort of up there on the level of Guy when he’s suffering in closeup.
And yet, this is all apparently a lie. Knowing that makes it even more painful to watch the second time.
There are an awful lot of microexpressions in 12 minutes, and I’ll have to look at this segment a lot more before I say anything more, but for now I have two meta-observations about the use of Armitage equilibrium here and the sincerity gesture repertoire:
First, that the sincerity language is a lot more toned down here than in 9.6. This choice is interesting. I postulated in my discussion of that episode a sort of cognitive trap in which Armitage’s acting as Lucas / John has to appear plausible to the other characters in the scenes but hint to the viewer in subtle ways that something is wrong, because the viewer in fact knows that he’s lying. I wonder how this works itself out in Armitage’s mind here. If you are Armitage, do you decide to play this scene with all of your sincerity language, even though as a character you realize you’re lying? But at the same time you’re not signaling to the audience any lack of sincerity, because you need them to fall into the trap for the sake of the script? Or is John just an especially good liar, since he’s lying for his life here and to be set free to continue to find Maya? I imagine some people will argue that the filming of a lot of this scene in silhouette has to help both actors, but actually I don’t think that’s the case. It means that Armitage is much more dependent on his posture than he usually is to get his performance across — which means he’s dependent on it to an extreme extent.
Second, it seems to me that once you perform this way as a character you’ve essentially killed the character. That is — once you take all of a character’s sincerity language and mobilize it on behalf of a colossal lie, there is no way for the viewer to ever look at that character in the same way again. I’ll never be able to look at Armitage equilibrium when it appears in Lucas and believe it, ever again — and even in my beloved 7.6, where it shows up with the scene with Dean, I’ll have to tell myself that Lucas is playing his most sincere John. I wonder if John here is thinking that he has to act as Lucas in order to convince Harry, for instance. In any case, there is no more Lucas. Armitage has completely consumed him with this performance. Whatever emerges now, in the final episode (and if this character really doesn’t get written out after this season, which I now find well nigh impossible, whether he’s killed or imprisoned or retired to a sheep farm near Manchester, in any subsequent ones) it will have to be virgin territory. This scene for me was the sort of thespian equivalent of jettisoning all of your rocket fuel and setting fire to it. It’s not the kind of thing you see an actor do very often.
I’m almost sure I’ll be writing a closer analysis of this scene, soon.
Our old friend, Belstaff jacket, is back (licks lips).
I must say that this streamlined jacket makes Lucas seem a lot more ruthless than he did last week in that odd combination of coat and short jacket underneath. Was that supposed to make us more sympathetic to him? Especially the blue / purple t-shirt that harmonized with his eyes?
I have never really liked the wing collar on Armitage. I think it has something to do with the proportions of his neck — like it somehow shortens his neck by drawing a line across the middle of it?
Suit with two rear vents. Just the thing for the man of generous rear proportions:
This is all we get of the steamy scene on the kitchen table?
Lucas North (Richard Armitage) examines Chinese surveillance photographs taken of himself and Maya Lahan (Laila Rouass) in his house in Spooks 9.7. Look at how big his feet are. Oh, and coincidentally, a thumb shot.
Like all of 9.6, this scene is too seriously reminiscent of Strike Back (in this case, John Porter’s prison dream sequence with another olive-toned woman, Danni [Shelly Conn] in 1.3), and given the acrobatics required to get that huge Armitage blody onto this table along with Maya, it seems like this is an act more reminiscent of any gymnastics Mr. Armitage might learned for his stint in the circus than for successful copulating. Seriously, how would they have ever managed to get tab A inserted in slot B in this position without Armitage falling off the table and hurting himself? My only serious prurient regret — that we didn’t get to see her kissing him with his shirt off as we did in Strike Back 1.1.
Seriously, if I am going to get slammed as a fan of Armitage from the Hobbit crowd for only esteeming his unbelievably desirable body, then I want to see more of it! (J/k).
Nice smile, and from a brunette Armitage to top it all off. This is the kind of Armitage I could see moving in next door to me and coming over for dinner occasionally. I like that slightly more round-faced, younger, almost potentially dopey happiness.
Of course, this is how Lucas / John wishes to remember the John of those years, the John he wants to have been still untainted by his participation in the Dakar bombing and all of the travail it caused him as he became Lucas North. That last layer is still waiting to be peeled off in the last episode. At this point I really do wish Lucas would die. I can’t see how John can get out of this situation in a way that won’t leave me sobbing.
Kudos, kudos. You’ve pushed me further emotionally in this episode than you ever have yet. Kudos, Mr. Armitage. I’m waiting to see what happens next and I almost don’t care, as long as I can see another performance like this one. You, at least, definitely took pactum serva to heart. Lucas may have betrayed Harry, but despite your reservations about these scripts, Armitage did not betray his audiences. Thank you for that.