Lucas North, teenagers, and Richard Armitage’s performance of anger fatigue — Destination Spooks 9.1

[Note to self: I wanted to get back to Richard Armitage’s roles, acting, and emotions. The only way to start is to start. Put one finger on the keyboard after another.]

My original review of Spooks 9.1 was published here on the night of the premiere, but in rereading what was obviously a cursory attempt in comparison to the analyses I was writing later, I see there’s plenty of room for more comment on my part. What a relief. I was proposing a question about Armitage’s performance of emotionality in relationship to character arc back then, so this might fit into filling that bill. Can’t believe that was broadcast two-and-a-half years ago already — makes me feel very old.

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MI-5 Saison 9 - Spooks Season 9 - Episode 4Sophia Myles as Beth Bailey, Richard Armitage as Lucas North, and Max Brown as Dimitri Levendis in a promotional still for series 9 of Spooks.

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I. Preface: Baseline for Lucas’ commitment to his job

cap101[Left: Lucas North (Richard Armitage) protests his exclusion from the Grid to Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) in Spooks 7.2. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

One of the fundamental aspects of the Lucas North character was his absolute commitment to his work, a feature that made him, like Mr. Thornton, automatically resonate with me. Even after eight 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 rejoin Section D, he won’t be home — “only back in England.” Like Mr. Thornton, without his work, on some level Lucas lacks an identity — an appropriate status for a spy, whose job it is to be other people in order to extract information for exploitative advantage or the protection of the (often thankless or unaware) nation.

I can’t resist pointing out — lacking identity without work is also a suggestive status for an actor to embrace. When does a practical career choice turn into a de facto state of mind? Four major roles in a row — Mr. Thornton, Guy of Gisborne, Lucas North, John Porter — who incorporate different ways of overidentification with their work? To some extent, as Max Weber would have realized, this is the modern condition, so it’s not surprising that our dramas are preoccupied with it. But role choices like this made Richard Armitage a match made me for in heaven as a mirror of self. And they cause me to wonder if there wasn’t something else at work in the fact of Armitage’s constant engagements from 2006 to 2012 besides not wanting to turn down work.

series9-16[Right: Richard Armitage in the main publicity head shot of Lucas North for series 9, which made him look the most cruel he ever had. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

But back to the argument. Lucas, like his comrades in spying, like all the spooks who’d been incinerated, blown up, shot, garrotted, died as human shields, or otherwise fantastically offed before him, something Armitage noted repeatedly that he relished about the series, over-identifies with the tasks he accomplishes on behalf of an always very vaguely articulated notion of protecting the public weal and the general public. Commitment to this task is not unlike Weber’s iron cage, and so in so many ways, as alyssabethancourt wrote, “[Lucas] himself is the prison from which he cannot escape” (something else he shares with Thornton). And if Lucas can’t escape it, he can’t live in it, either. Spooks 9 thus tells us, among many other stories, the tale of the increasing untenability of work as ultima ratio via the erosion of Lucas’ capacity to keep on being Lucas. This decline is not only a passive tragedy — it’s something that Lucas does to himself in line with his need to control situations for his own benefit. Demonstrating this facet of the character is one great strength and convincing moment of alyssabethancourt’s analysis — her awareness, rare among commentators on this series in the Armitage fandom, which has toward defensiveness in its discussion of series 9, that Lucas also acts consistently in his own self-interest. One of the closing scenes of Spooks 9.1 sets up the problem alyssabethancourt outlines — and the demise of Lucas North as hero — quite effectively: how Lucas resolves his relationships with some of the most vulnerable people affected by his mission to protect his country — teenagers.

II. Spooks 7.6 and Lucas North’s grief

6_154[Left: Lucas North (Richard Armitage) and Dean Mitchell (Jacob Anderson) start their recon of the breaker’s yard playing spies, before the bad guys get there, in Spooks 7.6. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

It was quite noticeable as an element of Spooks series plotting that Lucas North was senior case officer for problems involving troublesome kids. This story line emerged in Spooks 7.6, and recurred in 8.7, only to be given an abrupt — and telling — denouement in 9.1. In 7.6 (incidentally, one of my favorite episodes) Lucas dealt with Dean, the young man who happened upon a stolen hi-tech weapon and had to be convinced to sell it, to hide, to help find the additional information that would allow his mother to come out of hiding — and was killed, nonetheless, after he refused to get on the train for Spain with the dispatch Ros and Lucas insisted on. The rhetorical pitch of Lucas’ loyalties is low in this episode, perhaps because while Dean’s a bit of a hood, the teen’s also fallen upon this situation accidentally.

Even so, the end of the episode is clearly a failure of calculation for both Lucas and Ros, who can’t get Dean and his mum away fast enough to protect him from the revenge of Michael Sands. As a response to Dean’s death, Lucas’ sense of first shock and then failure is evident on his face.

6_240Lucas North (Richard Armitage) witnesses the execution of Dean Mitchell in Spooks 7.6. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Because of the weight that he’s lost in prison, Lucas’ face for most of series 7 always looked a little peaked (even if he was gaining weight toward the end of the series as Armitage added weight and muscle in preparation for the constant video-game fight scenes of series 3 of Robin Hood, which he filmed immediately afterwards). This mood of physiognomy always added to the childlike mood of the series 7 character, who sported a bit with his spy activities in 7.3 and 7.4, and who frequently seemed to be grieving openly for the past, as Lucas’ scenes with his ex-wife, Elizaveta Starkova, underlined. Because of the occasionally almost naive cast of certain of his facial features in this series, Lucas’ grief took on a tinge of something that’s hard to describe.

6_252A few moments later, Lucas North’s grief as he sees that Dean’s dead, in Spooks 7.6. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

It’s the look a child has on his when he drops a dish and it shatters on the floor (and contains seeds of the expression of displeasure we will see again in Lucas / John Bateman’s encounters with Vaughn on the Thames Embankment in series 9). I’m not sure what adjective to assign to that — and I’m not ready to assign a moral status to it, because as his behavior in all of series 7 reveals shows, Lucas is first and foremost a spook and only second a hero — except to note that Lucas’ grief in response to Dean’s execution is vivid and never shielded from view. However he feels about this failure specifically, we can see here that Lucas knows he has failed and that it is causing him difficulties.

III. Spooks 8.7 and Lucas North’s resignation

ep7_052[Right: Ashok (Ashley Kumar) reacts negatively to Lucas North’s (Richard Armitage) insistence that he infiltrate the cell, in Spooks 8.7. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

Spooks always made it difficult to assess time elapsed between episodes, but the series implied that at the opening of its eighth season, Lucas was fully re-integrated into his job — having had the major success of being first to realize that Connie was the mole in 7.7, and then playing an important role in rescuing Harry from his kidnappers in 8.1. He had regained enough control of his career to co-instigate a manipulative love affair with Sarah Caulfield when it suited him, even if troubling memories and people from his past (Oleg Darshavin) continued to plague him. His actions throughout 8.4 showed that he viewed himself as once again an independent operator. If Spooks 7 was about Lucas regaining his sea legs, then Spooks 8 showed Lucas as a fully functioning spy, making him into a competent fellow player under Ros’ supervision as chief of Section D. Richard Armitage’s claims in publicity interviews preceding series 9 that Harry and Ros had never trusted Lucas after his return notwithstanding, they certainly gave him important responsibilities and entrusted him with their lives. And in Spooks 8.7, another favorite episode of mine, they put the entire responsibility for running a vital asset in his hands.

ep7_083[Left: Lucas North (Richard Armitage) talks Ashok (Ashley Kumar) into cooperation in Spooks 8.7. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

Again, it’s a teenager, Ashok Veerkal, a Muslim youth with a Hindu surname whose sporting activities have catapulted him in a cell of would-be terrorists. Having reported the disturbing conversations like a good citizen, Ashok now finds himself pushed to take on all the responsibilities of the professional spook — wearing a wire, conducting potentially entrapping conversations, and acting at Lucas’ behest to cause the death of another youth in the group in order to save himself. A tall order for a grown-up spook, let alone for a teenager who’s tried to absent himself from Lucas’ grip at least once and been threatened with his parents’ harassment. Ashok obtains the necessary information for Lucas — but a series of snafus in the process let Lucas lose track of Ashok. In one of the most harrowing scenes of series 7-9, Lucas enters a school on his own, against Harry’s orders, to take down all the “terrorists” and save Ashok, ostensibly because he promised Ashok he would.

This part of 8.7 will get its own motion and gestural analysis one day, as Armitage imbues several moments of it with a transfixingly beautiful dancer’s grace. For the purposes of this post, however, I’m once again interested in the expression on Lucas’ face once the action is completed. How does he process what’s just happened, once all the remaining teenagers have been pushed to the side, the female hostages have been freed (especially the white pregnant English woman Muslim — talk about a freighted victim), Ashok’s been dislocated from Harish Dhillon’s grip, and Dhillon’s been separated from the lighter he was planning to use to burn himself up.

As crime-scene cleanup proceeds, Lucas approaches Ashok to thank him, starting from apparent confidence that Ashok will share his own perception that they’ve just done something valuable and that his thanks will be accepted in the spirit it’s given. We’re all Englishmen and heroes here.

ep7_249Lucas North (Richard Armitage) starts to thank Ashok Veerkal in Spooks 8.7. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

But Ashok, perhaps not having bought into all of Lucas’ assumptions (or at least not having been asked whether he would), is more skeptical, and we can see that very slight smile of reassurance erode as Ashok responds negatively to the thanks.

As Ashok tells Lucas that he and Dhillon are the same, Lucas is at first the neutral observer:

ep7_250The same, subsequent frame. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Then quite a bit hurt:

ep7_251The same, later frame. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Moving, upon Ashok’s charge that he’s a liar, into one of Armitage’s decisive gestural moves for both Lucas — the restrained eye blink that signals an acknowledgement of inner annihilation …

ep7_252The same, still later frame. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

And finally, into a sort of accepting hurt that will open up toward a silent, introspective bitterness.

ep7_253The same, final frame. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

If in series 7, Lucas responds to the failure of his plans with shock and grief, the end of his contact with one of society’s most vulnerable and least responsible, in series 8 he’s moved to pushing a teenager to participate in plans following his own (vaguely articulated) principles, and then doesn’t even get the reward of sharing his feelings about the success of their impromptu operation afterwards.

Ashok pushes Lucas away, resentfully, dramatically. Lucas, once again having saved England, has no choice but to take it. He closes his face and the scene ends.

IV. Spooks 9.1. and Lucas North’s exhaustion

ep1_214[Right: Lucas North (Richard Armitage) on the Grid just before the operation against “Talwar,” in Spooks 9.1. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

If we’re looking for a visible character arc for Lucas North (soon to be John Bateman) that follows the lines of Armitage’s developing portrayal of emotionality in the role, the “teenager” matter is a good one, because it’s brought to an abrupt end in 9.1, when an operation involving the seizure of (Somali?) hijackers lets Section D discover an operation to destroy the Houses of Parliament with a submersible bomb channeled by remote up the Thames estuary. Investigations reveal that the Thames barrier system is down, at the behest of a hacker known only as “Talwar.” In the climactic scene of the episode, Lucas and his soon-to-be colleague Beth Bailey (Sophia Miles) break into a house to learn that Talwar is: a teenage girl.

This is the scene I’m thinking of — mostly in its entirety, with some cuts of dialogue between Harry and Ruth (who’s trying to convince Harry not to resign from MI-5, as he has done at an earlier point in the episode).

By the beginning of series 9, Richard Armitage had compressed Lucas’ emotions down to a very limited gestural and expressional repertoire. To some extent, one suspects, this happened under pressure from having filmed Strike Back 1.1-6 in the preceding months and finishing it only shortly before. In especially the physical sense, the effect of having played Porter on Armitage’s power and physical confidence was easily apparent in some of Armitage’s performances of Lucas. But in comparison to the wounded Lucas of series 7 and the potentially recovering but still scarred and often (in alyssabethancourt’s terms) angry because so often betrayed and outmaneuvered Lucas of series 8, the Lucas North who comes out to board the ship to begin the operation is mean, scabbed over, and bitter. Even his concern for the prostitute who turns out to be an independent agent — Beth — is expressed with a brutality and lack of subtlety that would have been entirely foreign to Lucas in series 7. This is a Lucas North who has seen it all and hopes for nothing more, even as he continues to spout the rhetoric of protecting his country as a contrast to his scorn for Beth when he abandons her to make her own way back to London.

So in series 9 Armitage supplies us with a harder Lucas than before, and we can adduce both practical / logistical and script narrative reasons to explain that turn. But I think this is quite a remarkable performance in terms of exactly how Armitage chooses to play out the changes in Lucas, who, at the end of the episode, will be revealed by Vaughn as “John.” Because his hardness is not always harder, louder, more violent, more frightening. It’s often less of all of those things.

It starts with more of them, though, as the scene opens with Lucas’ entry into the house of “Talwar.” Here he’s a decisively more physical Lucas than he has been in previous seasons.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-02h57m46s245Lucas North (Richard Armitage) enters the house of “Talwar,” behind Beth, in Spooks 9.1. My cap.

He’s also decisively louder — as if he can frighten the terrorist into submission. But the house isn’t quite what he expects, I can’t help but think — a pleasant suburban dwelling with a homey kitchen. But this is a Lucas who takes no prisoners, who plays his advantage as violently as possible, for effect. Lucas screams at a level that I remember surprised me a little at the time.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h01m42s50“Are you Talwar?” Lucas North (Richard Armitage) screams. “Who is Talwar?” in Spooks 9.1. My cap.

But the yelling doesn’t provide the necessary results, and Beth moves the investigation upstairs, where we learn that “Talwar” is the daughter of the family as we watch her douse herself in some flammable substance. As Lucas peruses the computer screen, he’s not yelling yet, but he’s got his cruelest possible voice and expressions on.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h03m27s84Lucas North (Richard Armitage) orders “Talwar” to get the system back on line in Spooks 9.1. My cap.

Something fascinating here is what we see Armitage not doing. I capped my way through this scene, and normally in the time that we see Armitage’s face here (from the girl’s perspective; against the computer) we’d see four or five microexpressions. Guy of Gisborne certainly would have managed many fleeting shades of emotion, as would series 7 or 8 Lucas. I was able to manually extract (without slowing playback at all) six caps in this scene. But in all those caps, there are only two expressions. Armitage has simply made Lucas’ face a great deal harder by obliterating or flattening his typical microexpressions and thus turning the character into someone a great deal more monolithic.

We can question how we like that as a strategy. I personally love the microexpressions and they are part of what moves to keep watching Armitage again and again. But in a way, it’s like he’s figured out something here — because by slowing down the performance of his emotions, he manages to make them seem both more incisive and penetrating — and also more …

exhausted.

In his dealings with the girl in this case, there’s a quick escalation in the next minutes of the scene.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h04m38s29“Do it!” Lucas North (Richard Armitage) yells — and gets his nose into it, in Spooks 9.1. My cap.

But as he listens to Tariq explaining to him what will happen if the barrier system doesn’t go back up, he’s pulled back into rationality, and his decision to pull out his sidearm and threaten the girl with appears motivated by calculation rather than adrenaline or emotion.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h06m18s6Lucas (Richard Armitage) listens to Tariq …

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h06m57s114… and then pulls out his weapon, in Spooks 9.1. My caps.

And then — he backs off again. His voice is quiet. He tells the girl to restore the system.

Boom.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h07m20s105expression 1 — force with regret?

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h07m33s238expression 2 — psyching himself up?

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h08m08s77expression 3 — nervous but quiet command?

And utters one of the most interesting lines ever: “Don’t think I won’t kill you,” pause, “because you’re a teenage girl.”

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h08m34s84expression 4 — calm collection behind his threat, and then —

Old Style Lucas, Old Style Armitage? A quick flash of regret.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h08m55s42

But it’s gone again just as quickly, because Lucas is asking for advice, and now his main expressions are hard, as he decides to have the parents brought upstairs:

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h09m08s165And his microexpressions move toward frustration and exasperation, in line with his next escalation of the scene, which is to threaten the girl’s mother, even as he says, “Please don’t make me do this.”

This is not the Lucas we knew, know, despite the hardness we’re seeing. It’s almost as if the way Armitage’s microexpressions disappear (are edited down?) are a secret signal to us that we shouldn’t believe either him or what he’s doing.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h11m37s124And he gets in one micro-snarl, almost as if he’s trying to talk himself into it, even as she won’t comply, and he acknowledges that she’s won their standoff.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h11m50s3He escalates again: “Don’t make me do this!”

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h12m25s88… with the classic Armitage articulation of “Don’t” as distinct from the rest of the sentence (we see that from both Guy of Gisborne and Thorin Oakenshield, at least, perhaps from others as well).

And Lucas realizes it’s over — for him, anyway.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h13m38s45As the scene ends, the electromagnetic advice gets the bombs, and England is saved, Lucas informs her that she’s failed — but in exhaustion, as if he has nothing left anymore.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h14m43s188Interestingly, in display his exhaustion, Lucas’ microexpressions become more voluble again — as if he’s telling us, here I am again, the real Lucas North, the one who’d never threaten a teenager.

And the scene ends with Lucas’ head down, and Armitage’s voice as quiet as it’s been in the entire episode.

vlcsnap-2013-05-17-03h15m50s83

The line is uttered really quietly, even for Armitage — and of course, as we know by the end of the scene, he won’t — or can’t — make himself do it. Again, above, we’re seeing a more edited version of Lucas’ facial expressions repertoire than we’ve ever seen — but it works to make Lucas seem a great deal more tired than he has ever seemed in a stress situation before.

V. Conclusion

Because at key moments, Armitage’s performance of Lucas in 9.1 is less of all the things we expect, it gives us an important prerequisite to accepting the plausibility of the John Bateman storyline. If we’re to believe that plot strand, not only must we accept that the man we know as Lucas North really was someone else a long time ago — but also that regaining that other identity could be an attractive possibility. The second, I would argue, is harder. Lucas is a hero; he’s a professional; one assumes he’s well remunerated and has the respect of his peers. (He lacks love, and so we’re fed the somewhat implausible and undeveloped Maya as bait.) But I would argue that, given Lucas’ general focus on his work as constitutive of his identity, something decisive has to happen to make him weary of the work, and thus of his identity — and so willing to abandon the Lucas North identity to become John Bateman again. The decisive difference here is that toward the end of Spooks 9.1, Lucas becomes someone who no longer enjoys his work — and that’s the theme signaled by the way the teenager plots end here.

If we compare the climactic scene in Spooks 8.7 with this scene in Spooks 9.1 in particular, we can see that Lucas’ willingness to identify with the least of these in 7.6, his sustained intensity, the mood that brings him through all the changes of power in 8.7, are all simply missing here. 9.1 gives us a herky-jerky Lucas who escalates and then backs off, and who, in the end, perhaps earns our love by not being able to kill the girl or her mother, but indicates through this failure that he no longer has the necessary sustained power to get himself through this kind of standoff. Armitage signals this problem — this sudden deficiency — by making Lucas harder and by making him “less” microexpressive and thus less apparently energetic.

Alyssabethancourt writes of Lucas, “At Lucas’s core is the knowledge that he’s not one of the innocent.  That it is no one’s job to protect him, that he has no right to even ask for help.  That he’s all alone and he deserves whatever he gets.” I would add to that: At Lucas’ core is a growing weariness with this solitude and lack of support. An inability to continue.

In consequence of Armitage’s performance, 9.1 Lucas, it appears, is tired — hard and tired. Tired of dealing with the unpredictable among the most vulnerable whom he’s pledge to protect, aware that all the principles have been turned on their backs and in his face, tired of being a spook, tired of screaming — tired of being Lucas North. When Vaughn comes on at the end, to ask him, “How was it? Being Lucas North?” Lucas is only too ready to rethink that question, and become John.

~ by Servetus on June 7, 2013.

41 Responses to “Lucas North, teenagers, and Richard Armitage’s performance of anger fatigue — Destination Spooks 9.1”

  1. Hmmm…something to chew on. I am a coward where Lucas is concerned – never made myself watch all of S9!

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    • I still have to finish S9… I haven’t the nerves to do it… unconfortable and sad. Can’t accept what writers do to him and still believe plot has holes big as an house.

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    • I’ll join you because I haven’t finished season 9. I just can’t bring myself to do it. But when I watched that first ep of season 9 I did find this Lucas North different from previous seasons and thought it a bit confusing. Loved reading this analysis 😀

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  2. I find it very intimidating to leave a contrary opinion because you are an expert and all things Armitage, Spooks included. But I think you appreciate a robust back and forth, so here it goes. I’m scared but take a deep breath. I thought the level of anger Lucas showed against Talwar reflected the fact that she was malevolent. She wanted to kill innocent people. The other two teenagers you mentioned did not. I saw them as victims of circumstance. So I didn’t think his treatment of her was foreshadowing Lucas’ transformation into John. Full disclosure, I have only seen these episodes once, so I might be under analyzing. On the other hand, I might bring a fresh outlook to them, putting a positive spin on my comparative ignorance. As for Dean, he died because he refused to leave, giving the assassin time to catch up. Granted ,the glass elevator was probably not a good choice when you are trying to avoid a sniper, Your post also made me realize, my “OMG Lucas is a bad guy” moment happened when he allowed the American computer expert to bleed to death. She dressed and acted like a teenager., and she died almost like a child. It was heartbreaking. Coincidence? As for the debate on the Lucas/John plot twist, that requires at least an additional paragraph. In my opinion, it was a “jumping the shark” move by the writers.

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    • Yup, discussion is great. This isn’t a post about the plausibility of the plot twist in general, though; we’ve talked about that a lot in the past and this is more a post about the question of how Armitage creates an emotional character arc across these seasons. (That it works toward the plausibility of the plot element is a secondary issue. I’m responding to some extent to Alyssa’s analysis which forwards the argument that the plot made sense, a point with which I tend to agree upon a second watching of S9.)

      My issue with saying, “Talwar is malevolent” and that differentiates this scene from the other two is that that fact doesn’t explain the enervated energy Lucas brings to bear at the end of the scene. Assuming that Lucas really believes she’s malevolent, he should get *more* energetic toward the end of the scene, not less. The big physical Lucas energy is located at the beginning of the scene, when he thinks Talwar is the man whom the soldiers have forced to the floor.

      The statement “Don’t think I won’t kill you just because you’re a teenage girl” is a so-called performative contradiction. Lucas doesn’t have the energy to kill her. Admittedly, it’s hard to see S7 doing that either, but S8 Lucas probably could have managed it.

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    • Reading Servetus’ post, I also thought of the computer programmer and how like a teen she was. Her death was chilling, particularly given her childlike nature and how Lucas had interacted in the past with “innocents”.

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      • it’s also a kind of classic teen behavior — to get really identified with something and refuse to budge. In that sense “Talwar” was more of a typical teen than was Ashok in 8.7.

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  3. The notions that Lucas North could not find a way to prevent his own destruction, even after John Bateman was revealed, and/or that he chose not to in order to be with Maya,never sat right with most fans, including me. Your analysis rings so true, and I suspect with more “chewing over” or “marinating” we will find additional examples in series 9 demonstrating that Lucas’s loss of identity was tied more directly to disenchantment to and lack of connection with his job than with the re-emergence of John Bateman. Tracking his awareness of this through the three teenage relationships is really impressive. Every point you make,as usual, is supported by what we see and hear on camera- Nothing extraneous- no speculation -no “what ifs”, The argument is compelling even though there are only a handful of spoken lines that directly evidence that Lucas’s personal identity is inextricably intertwined with his job as a spy, including the line from 7.1 quoted above that means in substance, he is not home if he is not working for MI5, his statement to Elizaveta in series 7 that he is MI5, he was always MI5, and in 9.8 when he is on the roof and his MI5 life is lost to him, ” I am nothing.”
    I just wonder whether the writers intended the teenage arc motif,and if so, what the justification was for making Lucas the operative to dealing with teenage boys. ( No one knew ahead of timeTarwa was teenaged or a girl).

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    • Thanks and thanks for getting the main point here about the whole question of calling to a career. (re: evidence We could also add the strange question of Lucas’ apartments, which get more and more minimalist, to the point that at the end the apartment has no distinguishing features or items other than the Blake edition).

      I’m to some extent giving this the sort of sloppy postmodern read, which means “there’s nothing outside of the text” — i.e., we take the series as it appears and lay questions of intentionality on the part of its creators on the side. I’m sure the writers did *not* set up this arc in advance. It would be interesting to know if it occurred to Armitage in specific re: the teenagers or in general re: Lucas’ attitude toward work — although that again is “outside the text” and so doesn’t fairly fit into the explanation above but could fit into a different sort of explanation. The things Armitage said about leaving it have suggested that he was tired of doing it, i.e., too comfortable in the role, ostensibly ready to leave it “for nothing” or “to sit on the sofa.”

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  4. I watched S9 and then bought the DVD still haven’t watched it. It’s so sad what they did to his character that being said Richard was brilliant and played him to his usual intensity and vigour never understood how he didn’t win an award for that.

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  5. Interesting link to Richard Armitage coming off of filming the Strike Back series 1 and how that might have affected his portrayal of Lucas North in Spooks series 9.

    And just a thought, a teenager–the boy bomber–begins the crisis that John Porter faces in Strike Back series 1 episode one 1. And in the end of series 1 episode 2, it is a teenager–Porter’s daughter Lexi–whom Porter becomes reconciled to, even though he was not able to save the now grown up bomber teen because his friend didn’t want his betrayal of Porter revealed.

    I see the symbol of children being portrayed as vulnerability and lost innocence that neither Porter nor Lucas can get back–they have seen too much and been through too much. Because, you can never go back, you can only move forward.

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    • In Strike Back, Porter is a more active harmer of teenagers than is Lucas in Spooks, I think.

      On some level, I want to think that the symbol “teenager” is the representation of the values that Lucas is supposed to espouse. It’s interesting in Spooks 8.7 how Tariq is wounded by what Lucas is doing — although Tariq isn’t strictly speaking a teenager, he is *very* young (early to mid-twenties?). Lucas gets Tariq to cooperate in the ruse that leads to Ashok saying something that gets the other teen killed — leaving Tariq obviously upset — and Lucas says only “they were going to hurt innocent people.” One of my big beefs with the writing in Spooks was that it didn’t ever articulate the consequentialist position (“ends justify the means”) so that we were just expected to accept that this personal / individual destruction in the name of the public interest was the higher good. To some extent the recurrence of teenagers sort of highlights that problem.

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  6. As an entertainment consumer, I tend to look beyond what is front of me on the screen. I am always asking myself “Why did they do it that way?” or question the writers’ or director’s choice. I realize this affects my critical judgement of a project. For me, if I get involved in the action to the point of suspending my critical eye, the production is good. In series nine, I was practically yelling at the screen. However, Richard managed to make delicious lemonade out of moldy lemons. And I can’t help but think the writers might of said, “We are losing a key demographic and our ratings are down, let’s put in some teenagers to juice up the numbers.” I am very cynical about show business, and I think many choices are made more for monetary reasons that artistic ones, in general. But that’s just me. I know we should judge a show on its merits, not on its back story, but when we pick Spooks apart, or any other show, that’s what happens. I love your in depth looks at the episodes and you always give me lots to think about. Thank you again for sharing your brain.

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    • Hmmm. I’m going to lay aside the beginning of that quote, because either I don’t understand what you meant, or else we agree. I don’t think I as a critic, or anyone who reads this blog *isn’t* looking beyond the screen when we watch the show, or we wouldn’t spend so much time consuming all the meta-information about the Spooks production. The point of this type of analysis isn’t that no one should think about those things or consider them as interpretive factors or influences on the appearance series. If I were writing a whole history of the production of Spooks, I would certainly mention them (and many others besides, including trying to find sources on stuff that I don’t consider here, such as internal production memos and script drafts).

      The question that spawns this analysis, however, is a different one — it concerns a method of performing a character as an attempt to make Lucas / John into a whole character, and thus the “text as presented.” I think it’s important to take this approach, because (aside from all the other logistical factors that influenced what happened in the series over the decade it appeared) that is what Armitage is doing as an actor — creating a whole character. I’m fairly confident in concluding, based on how hard he tries to sell these characters that he doesn’t go into work thinking about logistical matters as determining considerations for *what he does.* I don’t think he thinks that it doesn’t matter how Lucas behaves in a particular situation because it’s obvious to everyone that Armitage’s leaving the series or they’re trying to get a different audience segment. On the contrary — it’s just the opposite. As an artist Armitage is asking, who is this person I am playing and how can I reveal him to the audience. So aside from whatever other things influence what happens in a script, what we feel and how we react is a response to a particular series of choices that Armitage is making — which is what the analysis here ties to bring forward. Saying that the series looks this way because of (x logistical factor), essentially lessens the meaning of what Armitage spends most of his time doing as an artist. That’s fine — no viewer has to be invested in his performance, it’s his responsibility for making us invest — but it’s not the approach of this analysis.

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    • Maybe a simpler way to put this is that I’m asking:

      1. What does Armitage want us to see?

      2. What does what Armitage wants us to see mean in terms of the development of the character of Lucas North / John Bateman?

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  7. The first time I watched 9.1, I thought that Lucas’ interaction with Talwar showed an unusual loss of control for him. The second time, after watching through most of S9 (turned 9.8 off once I realized what was going to happen), I wondered if his reaction to her might have been a reaction to John, if he was feeling John even before Vaughn caught up to him. Vaughn’s version of John was also a terrorist, also willing to kill the innocent (John’s version of himself was a patsy) – but not for a cause nor to die for it, as the girl was. I wonder if he saw . . . something. I can’t seem to articulate what I mean here =P

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    • yeah. It is a *really* weird scene. I was thinking again this morning when I rewatched it — the energy is all over the place, from zero to 120 in 0.02 seconds. To the point that I might almost be tempted to ask questions about the director (although now Armitage has said that he never let himself really be led by a director until Peter Jackson — and I’ve been turning over the possible implications of that statement in my head quite a bit ever since. Detour. Sorry).

      It’s interesting — there were some atypically uncontrolled gestural moments in 9.1. In particular I’m thinking of the scene in the car where Lucas is being driven back to London, the twitchiness of his hands. I wrote about it at the time because it bothered me so much. (I can’t find the post just now.) My conclusion was that Armitage wasn’t fully back into the character, because that punctuating points thing in a nervous, repetitive way is something Armitage does — and which we didn’t see Lucas doing all that often. I.e., I thought it was just a poor take. But now I’m wondering if it was purposeful.

      I think what I don’t want to be saying in this post is, oh, it was just a bad day at work that caused him to go off. Lucas has always had bad days at work. His immediate turn to emotionality the second he meets and recognizes Vaughn is really a bit surprising as well — so maybe you’re right. Lucas had a clairvoyant moment in 8.4 before reencountering Oleg Darshavin and so perhaps your reading reflects that possibility. He also might have been triggered by being back “around” Africa.

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      • You’re right – the twitchiness is weird. Maybe it’s meant to telegraph “something is very wrong with Lucas” or make the audience feel off-kilter before the final scene.

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        • I don’t know how far separated in time the events in S9 Ep 1 were from those at the end of S 8 but I would imagine the betrayal and death of “my girlfriend the duplicitous murderer who is working for a group seeking world domination” may have also been part of the tense and more explosive energy.

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          • Not to mention Roz of course.

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            • No question. I was in a hurry and I didn’t write a “who is Lucas at the beginning of 9.1” paragraph like I did for the other sections, but I don’t disagree.

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      • Re: “Richard Armitage has said that he never let himself really be led by a director before[ PJ].”- Is this the same thing as never allowing himself to be directed? Somehow his statement doesn’t square with the positive comments his colleagues, including some directors, have said about him over time – unless he was not in need of direction- which seems unlikely. I would like to read/watch this statement and will hunt for it. .”The possible implications of this statement” could keep could keep one busy for months.

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        • I have seen a quote that said if he had it to all over again, he would prefer to be behind the camera. I was a little surprised by his statement because it is so close to what American stars say … what I really want to do is direct. And there are a few that do. But I think the implications of a working actor saying :he never really let himself be led by a director before PJ is huge. He must have meant something else because it sounds like he is saying he knows best and he won’t take direction because he doesn’t need it. Wouldn’t that be career suicide?

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          • Yes. I think he must have had something specific in mind when he said that that wasn’t entirely encompassed by the literal sense of what he said. Unfortunately, until he says more, it’s going to be hard to figure that out.

            One issue that’s come up a few times is PJ’s extended take method — the camera just rolls and rolls and rolls (or whatever a digital camera does) as opposed to television, where he’s said you have three or takes or only a few. Possibly the extended take style means that PJ can ask for more and different takes — we saw this a bit in the web teaser event, which captured MF saying the same line about twelve different ways. Armitage has said that he admires MF’s willingness to do that and says it’s risky because you let people see into your process. So perhaps he meant something to do with all of this — but I would only be guessing.

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            • Well, it’s as good as guess as any. I am clueless.

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            • PJ’s ‘extended take’ style is extremely reminiscent of how Marlon Brando preferred to work and drove multitudes of directors to distraction and defeat (Brando basically refused to be directed by anyone he didn’t respect as a director – and he respected very few). Brando also insisted that dressed rehearsals be filmed, knowing that if the camera was rolling, it would often catch his winning delivery during a rehearsal.

              It’s just interesting to note how one actor’s vulnerability can be another actor’s strength.

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              • I think anyone who performs for a living knows that sometimes the best performance comes in the rehearsal — you don’t want to peak too soon. It’s interesting when someone has the courage to insist on finding a way to capture that.

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                • I’m not sure it was courage in Brando’s case (he was a bit l’enfant terrible) as he often held the power on set. Brando also had a very complicated hate-hate relationship to acting – he knew he could do it well, but he just wasn’t interested in it. It was too easy, it bored him.

                  He was interested in so many other aspects of the human condition, yet the only thing the world craved from him and would pay him for – was his acting. So he hated working (and acted this out at times on different sets) and considered it his own version of ‘selling out’.

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          • I think a few American actors have successfully made the leap from ‘actor’ to ‘director’ and also ‘producer’ – I suppose I’m thinking of former heartthrobs George Clooney and Ben Affleck (whose ‘Argo’ was directed by Affleck and produced by Clooney/Affleck last year).

            When you work in one role (actor) and are exposed to other roles, it seems natural to consider whether you might have a talent for / better fit for other roles in the process.

            I see actors as ‘sub-contractors’ on films – hired in for very specific jobs – whereas a director is the ‘general contractor’ pulling all the parts together. After enough years performing your specialty sub-contract role, it seems quite natural to wonder whether you couldn’t do the general contractor’s job, pulling the vision together from beginning to end. 🙂

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    • here’s the post — it’s toward the end:

      https://meandrichard.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/speaking-with-his-hands-spooks-9-spoilers/

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  8. On the question of Lucas and teenagers, we don’t have a back story to know if there was something that made him a better choice to work with teenagers. In RL there are the police that work well with teens and those who don’t. Teens think about different than adults do as in they think it is a bid deal and adults don’t and what adults fine as a big deal, teens don’t. It takes a special person to work with teens and maybe something in Lucas background helps him with that.

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    • he also has that potential “cool big brother” vibe 🙂 You can’t imagine Ros having such a high relatability factor — but it also could have something to do, I think, with the fact that he’s not the section head in the first two incidents — he gets assigned those tasks b/c someone else doesn’t want to do it.

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  9. I’ve been wanting to comment on this since you posted it, but I’ve been struggling to language for the past few days. Just wanted to let you know that I saw it and many thoughts were stirred by it. And thank you, as always, for sharing.

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  10. […] https://meandrichard.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/lucas-north-teenagers-and-richard-armitages-performance… […]

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  11. […] moments together in scenes of amazing depth: I think of Guy’s response to the Sheriff or Lucas’ fatigue over his job. These are things I can watch over and over again and they give me a similar energy each time, […]

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