The sadness of Lucas reborn

This characterization arc has frequently touched me when watching Spooks 7.1. I add it as a belated contribution to the Spooks 7 Rewatch, which I’d have liked to have been active in. 

When Lucas North returns from his imprisonment, one of the first things we see (recognized by Adam and discussed with Harry) is his eagerness to be included — immediately and unreasonably — in the activities of Section D. (His incorporation is one of the most implausible plot points in Spooks 7. If it turns out that Lucas is a double agent and that Harry already knew that before exchanging for him, my perspective might change.)

So when Lucas offers his help, and is kindly discouraged by Adam, when Lucas pleads his case and explains his sympathies for the kidnapped solder, and when Adam agrees to talk to Harry on his behalf, it is not surprising that we see a brief burst of joy. The filming and editing here hide it — this has to be one of those cases where they alter the number of frames per second in order to increase the fleeting quality of an impression, and then they cut away almost immediately — one thinks on purpose, to aid in the characterization of Lucas — but it’s also a clear case of Mr. Armitage’s convincing deployment of microexpressions.

Armitage is at the absolute top of his game in all of 7.1; he really believes he’s Lucas. Even when one slows down the sequence to watch frame by frame, all of these expressions appear in a space equivalent to about a third of a second. (All these caps appear courtesy of Richard Armitage Central Gallery with my deepest appreciation; this sequence and Mr. Armitage’s microexpressions pass so quickly on screen that they are a real challenge to capture with the equipment at my disposal. The RAC cappers were capping almost frame by frame here.)

As a general interpretive principle for Armitage watching, it can be helpful to note that facial signals of emotion almost always (something like 80 percent of the time) come from the left side of Mr. Armitage’s face. This looks to be true for all of his characters. There are some notable exceptions, of course, but it’s certainly true in this scene. Watch the left side of his face (the right side of the shots below).

Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones) agrees to push Harry to let the newly returned Lucas North (Richard Armitage) help out with Section D’s current problem in Spooks 7.1. At this point, Adam has just asked Lucas how long he’s been in those clothes. Lucas dips his head to look at the clothes, but there’s also shame here; Lucas doesn’t believe that his offer will be accepted, and is perhaps embarrassed for having so quickly betrayed his eagerness. Grerp notes how well Armitage plays humiliation, and if you watch this entire scene very slowly, you see it lurking in the background of his performance, a constant companion.

Lucas now raises his head (“bloody but unbowed“) to continue his argument.

Adam tells Lucas that he should clean up and change clothes and that he’ll talk to Harry about letting him help out. Note Lucas’s surprise, indicated especially with the lips; although the jaw is still tense, it is starting to unclench, and the lips are opening in surprise.

A second later, we now see the left eye opening wider.

The look of pleased disbelief continues, with the left side of the mouth rising.

At this point the eyes are narrowing slightly in emotion; here Lucas is slapping Adam on the arm.

Now the lips are closing; Lucas is joyful but afraid he’s moved beyond the emotional boundaries of what’s acceptable in this setting.

Here full on gratitude and emotion in the eyes, and the left side of the jaw reclenching in order to keep control of the facial expression. Masterful, Mr. Armitage, and amazing that you can get all this in in under a second.

So Lucas is happy to be playing the game again, as when Adam tells him he’ll need a coat. Then there’s a deleted scene (right at the beginning) in which Lucas is energetic, and that might shed some light on his attitude, if I could understand what he says, though the point of the scene seems to be setting up backstory for the dropped plotline about Adam Carter’s falsified past. There’s the spy triumph of the breakin of Munzir Hatem’s house and bedroom, with the macho phone-tossing, from the beginning of which the photo in the header is drawn. And yet. That scene seems thrown in primarily to demonstrate to us that Lucas is still a top field officer, that he hasn’t lost his skills or his nerve.

Because Lucas’s affect never again reaches the point of pleasure it did earlier in the episode. At the debrief afterwards, the camera always shows him as detached, leaning back, not part of the group, not really trying.

Section D discussing how to proceed against the kidnappers in Spooks 7.1. Note the extreme negativity of Lucas’s body language. Fatigue, yes, but also intentional self-separation. Is reincorporation into the team going to take more than proving his skills?

And then, as Adam and Lucas go out to the house where the hostage is being held in order to liberate him, mostly concentration on Lucas’s part, which is not surprising. We do see a hint of verve and inspiration in the left eye … Lucas comes up with the idea of using a phone call in Russian in order to get them to move out of their boobytrapped house — a way for Lucas to say, “See, I do have something unique to contribute.” But the confidence here when discussing a plan with Adam fades after the call is executed …

fades when Lucas displays some atypically visible lip-biting over at least six frames, followed immediately by …

… extremely open lip-licking. Armitage’s frequent liplicking to indicate nervousness or resolution is typically a flip of the tongue — not this ostentatious showing. Lucas is thus extremely nervous. There’s a bit of calculation in this scene, as he wonders whether it will work, but tension overtakes cognition and it’s written all over Lucas’s face. Does he still have it?

The ruse works. But it brings Lucas no joy. Here I switch to my caps, though the RAC caps, which begin here, are more detailed:


Once Lucas has taken out the terrorist, there’s no happiness on his face, no self-recognition, no glancing at Adam in triumph or even in calmness. He looks down in sadness, for a rather long moment.

And then they’re on to the next problem. Armitage’s stare reflects concern about the phone call Adam is receiving, but perhaps also the need for recognition from him — look at the left side of the face, which seems to be signaling uncertainty –, and perhaps as well the realization that the renewed display of his skills –which were, after all, never in question from his own point of view — has not made him happy: has not reinserted him at home, has not generated a feeling of belonging. The feeling he sought has evaded him. His fantasy of a return has been revealed as a fantasy.

By the end of Spooks 7.1, with the death of Adam Carter, as Armitage’s microexpressions seem to suggest, Lucas realizes that he’s reintegrated himself into a career for which he has unquestioned talent, but in which, in the end, there can be no real joy. Winning means at best restoring equilibrium, sometimes with the sacrifice of one’s one own life. Success — rescuing the kidnapped soldier, diverting the car bomb — is only one more piece of evidence of the rottenness of the world. Adam’s parting question to Lucas in the scene above: “When is it not bad?” means that the return home has not changed the problem of evil that underlies Lucas’s engagement with the world: only the venue for its expression.

~ by Servetus on July 20, 2010.

23 Responses to “The sadness of Lucas reborn”

  1. I’m amazed as always at how close an analysis you are able to make of his microexpressions! I really enjoyed following your dissection of Lucas’ minute expressions here as Richard deserves the attention to detail that you bestow on his unique talent!

    The reason for his capture and imprisonment is obscure. Has he been betrayed or did he make a mistake? That would also affect his reception. Adam is Alpha male on the Grid in Lucas’ absence, and Lucas realises that he can’t just waltz in and resume his old position, which could be why he defers to Adam in the vital decisions as well as seeking his approval.

    Re. the previous discussion on lean Lucas. His physical appearance here pains me. I don’t feel motherly, but I see the physical evidence of his suffering through the leanness and the angularity of face and body. I’m glad he started eating macaroons, doughnuts and croissants and added weight!


    • Super point about the former Alpha having to come back and negotiate with the new one.

      A few extra pastries never hurt any spy who’s just come in from the cold.


  2. I have found a new love for Lucas. Of course excellent fanfic (The Gruinard Project by Khandy) has helped. With all the frenzic speculation going one I was shocked he doesn’t do to well in the character poll over at []!
    I mean the script might leave a lot to be desired but the performance is a strong one. I love the mighty punch that comes with this cap, the twisting of his body, the swinging of his overcoat an excellent composition. Wauw for pointing out the expressions of the left side of his face.


    • The beginning is really intense. Thanks for the tip.

      Yes, a great demonstration of physicality from an exhausted body immediately preceding the caps toward the end of the post.


  3. The image of Lucas as the outsider on the grid is a poignant one. It harkens back to Gisborne, especially in RH3, when he remained the quintessential outsider within the Hood band.

    Haven’t yet seen SB; but it appears that it is yet another role with that element in it? (No wonder VoD was such a break! And at least as Monet, the group stood together against the Establishment…)


    • outsider=absolutely. The presence of that element in so many roles is part of what for me makes Impressionists so worth watching. It’s like he’s allowed to join the human race.


  4. Lucas’s past is still an enigma for us as viewers and for the team at MI-5 . . . can he be trusted? There is an almost boyish eagerness, that light that comes into his eyes when he hopes to get the chance to get in on the operation. And the grin he gives Adam in the car (such nice chemistry between Richard and Rupert, I think. It’s a shame they had to kill off Adam in the first eo).
    After those years of hell in that prison,Lucas must be desperate to be accepted, whether as the loyal agent he is or, possibly, as the double agent who quickly wants to gain their trust.

    Yes, it was ludicrous they let him in on the mission right after being returned to them in a car boot, but it made for a suspenseful episode and a great introduction to this character. And a great showcase for the microexpressions you so eloquently pointed out here, Dr. S.

    I totally believed that the man who gave us swaggering, smouldering medieval henchman Sir Guy had morphed into a spook with a murky past and plenty of demons to haunt him. The fact his success brought him no joy is such a sad thing; given what he does for a living, it’s to be expected, but he must have dreamed of something different as he rotted in that cell.


    • he does show more enjoyment later on, as in 7.3, during the surveillance operation, but I do think his reintroduction to the job weighs heavy on his heart.


  5. Isolation also seems to be a running theme in the charaters he plays. If you look at Thornton, Guy of G, Lucas, John Porter — they all hav emade sacrifices for their “work” and as such live on the outside of society.


    • Really nice point. To what extent does one’s “call” to a particular role because it is the thing one wants or the thing one is interfere with normal relationships? This definitely seems like a theme in his work that perhaps parallels a theme in Mr. Armitage’s life.


      • I believe Richard said in an interview in the past he thought of himself as something of a loner . . . so perhaps these particular sorts of roles do speak to him on a very personal level, the “outsider looking in.”


  6. Forgot to mention that I finally got my LOTN a whole week after you got yours considering it had to cross the ocean not bad, I guess. And weirdly enough it had a German postal sticker (in french no less!!) As you can imagine after your post I’ve been checking my mailbox EVERY day. Sorry for being off topic. And yes I lost the spunk to know what i mean 🙂 One of these I’ll tell the story…


    • Probably they were trying to hide where it actually came from for fear they’d be stormed by fans eager for more … 🙂


  7. Great analysis, love the screen caps.


  8. Actually, I think a significant part of why I don’t find Lucas wildly attractive is that he’s not been allowed to be a Type A character very much, and I was expecting otherwise. He’s not exactly the decisive, commanding John Thornton. There are times when Lucas turns Type A, but much of the time he has had to shut up and defer to Harry or, because Ros has been the head of the section, be second in command. That sometimes leaves me feeling that he’s a lot less of a driving force than I’d like to see in an adventure hero / spy, and his mystifying relationship with Sarah didn’t help–she seemed far from passive (tossing her boss off a balcony, say), but Lucas, Lucas . . . sitting around in her flat after she’s decided not to shoot you made no sense and made you look passive when you should have been calling Harry and asking for her to be intercepted quickly, not mulling things over. Unless you wanted her to get away, of course–which might be understandable in human terms, but not in terms of being an MI-5 agent and wanting to save the world from Nightingale.


    • Interesting point. I think the way that Spooks uses gender politics is intriguing; sometimes gender egalitarianism is seen as positive and other times as negative. That is, it seems like Laurie Werner is a sign of disorder, but then the CIA guy in Spooks 8 who is a Nightingale guy and wants to sleep with Sarah is also a clear anti-American symbol and he’s always dissing Ros. As for Lucas being more Alpha — actually, I love his buddy-buddy relationship with Ros.


      • I loved the camaraderie we saw between Ros and Lucas growing in S8 . . . I think they had developed a healthy respect for one another as agents, a genuine concern for one another and a determination to complete any mission even if meant not playing exactly by the rules.
        Together, they were like the Wonder Woman and Superman of MI-5. And I am really going to miss my Ros.

        The big problem I had with Lucas in S8 was in the form of a frosty blonde with a horrendous so-called Boston accent and absolutely zero chemistry with Lucas, who was supposedly completely captivated by her.

        I never bought they had an intense love affair that would cause him to make the foolish choices as mentioned above by @aaa.
        As far as I am concerned, Sarah Caulfield, as played by GOR, sucked the life and soul out of way too much of the series. I still can’t fathom why she was cast, I really can’t. Every time she opened her mouth, I felt my ears starting to bleed.

        If any of you are big fans of this actress, my apologies; it’s the only thing I have seen her in and I just was not impressed. Not sure if it’s the director’s fault in part.


  9. […] a unnerving challenge. You don’t smile right away. And even then, perhaps only ironically. Perhaps you’ve stopped believing in joy, or realized what you experienced as joy was itself a […]


  10. […] years in a Russian prison, the first thing Lucas wants to do upon returning is get back to it. He does it at a level of fatigue that makes it look wearily joyless, but he still can’t leave it alone. In Spooks 7.2, Lucas tells Harry that if he can’t […]


  11. […] I watched the first time, it it hurt me to watch how Lucas dealt with it. Reintegration, joyless exhaustion, enervated witnessing of death, competence, insecurity, bravado. This was the home he sought? To […]


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