Saturday 11 August 2018

On TV, cable, streaming, Blu-ray and DVD - Luxuriating in spy games and gangster sets - THE BRIDGE, KILLING EVE, FOUR SEASONS IN HAVANA, McMAFIA, THE BUREAU and SLOW HORSES

Thure Lindhardt, Sofia Helin, The Bridge
Backstories figure heavily in series 4 of The Bridge. One of the characters, Astrid, a young teenager, has a secret life wherein she dresses up in the costumes of characters she feels are part of her personality. She has a journal with drawings of the characters and some accompanying text. She lets us, and her new friend Christopher into her secret and mentions about how the backstories work. It’s part of the life she has created in order to suppress the deep secret that it will take till episode eight to reveal

Which pretty much sums up what The Bridge is on about, peeling off layers of seemingly normal, outwardly quotidian behaviour to find the obsessions, the madness, the frustration, dark pasts and, inevitably, the person who has killed, often more than once. In series four of The Bridge, that final uncovering is quite a surprise – a seemingly minor character whose obsessions don’t quite ring out. Still, the story arc has diverged a little away from a near total focus on the autistic savant Saga (Sofia Helin) and veered towards Henrik Sabroe (Thure Lindhardt) and his troubled addicted life.  He is still trying to come to terms with the disappearance of his children some eight years before. Saga of course eventually solves that problem and in series four we have as much invested in that as in the story of who is the serial killer taking revenge via the seven methods of capital punishment. 

Police procedurals now incline towards not merely the uncovering of a crime and the day to day minutiae of police work, but digress into modern age matters of politics and the media, and media leaks. All are grist to the mill in the lives of police bureaucracies and as with politics and the media, are used to gain employment advantage at best and cover up crimes at worst. In series four, the media machinations centre on  Jonas  (Mikael Birkkjaer, last seen as the dissatisfied husband of the female Prime Minister in the beloved Borgen a another fantasy, this time about politics but one with a lot of truth embedded into its portrait of manoeuvring for power and much casual sex among the denizens who work 24 hours a day in a Parliamentary hothouse, much of that time spent in utterly mindless squabbles among factions). In series four, the media manipulator Jonas (Spoiler Alert) does get his comeuppance.

Four Seasons in Havana
The police procedural reaches one of its peaks with the Spanish/Cuban co-production Four Seasons in Havanaalready reviewed here by Rod Bishop which has one additional quality that Rod chose not to mention. It is by far the sexiest TV series that has had a go round on mainstream TV in a dog’s age. One of its best running gags is about the junior cop whose sex life with his gorgeous pneumatic wife is constantly interrupted by calls at any hour from the chief detective Mario Conte. This Spanish/Cuban co-production, a series of four separate tales based on novels by Leonardo Padura, is at its best in the ep relating to the secret and suppressed world of Havana’s gay community. Quite a revelation, especially given the dreadful oppression that took place in the Fidel Castro years.

James Norton, McMafia
But back to ‘Factions’, a word that starts to crop up probably well over half-way through McMafia, a Brit series based on a best-selling non-fiction book by Misha Glenny. Until the word starts being used, the goings on have seemingly involved drug trade rivalry between Russian drug lords, ex-drug lords and the prim and proper son of one of those drug lords. The son has lived in England for a long time, wants only to speak English to his family. The active Russian drug lord Vadim Kalyagin (Merab Ninidze) is having his business threatened and there are vague suggestions that bureaucratic masters who get a cut are not happy with the publicity Vadim’s murderous ways attract. Vadim has an offsider Ilya (Krill Pirogov), seemingly some sort of fixer/lawyer. Its only slowly revealed, later in the piece,  that Ilya’s day job is with the security services and he as things start to unravel in the usually orderly drug trade, he has to face a superior, a younger woman who expresses the hierarchy’s displeasure about things getting out of hand.  

From there on we get more than enough hints that the drug trade is Russia is managed by and on behalf of the authorities and that their cut of it is large. Vadim runs foul of them and so ‘factions’ decide that they will go elsewhere to do business. Enter the prim and proper young man mentioned before, a banker who wears only grey suits, white shirts and dark ties wherever. His merchant bank is the subject of a malicious market rumour which threatens to wipe out its value. Inevitable. Something catastrophic had to occur to get young Alex Godman (James Norton) to embark on the slippery slope into the underworld of drug trading, notwithstanding the assurances he gives to his girlfriend and his Compliance Officer that everything is, eh, kosher. His saviour is an Israeli politician with a major sideline in shipping who can assist the drug trade, Semiyon Kleiman (David Strathairn).

There’s a lot of backstory to discover/uncover and the doe-eyed soft-voiced performance by James Norton only slowly reveals the granite skull beneath the dapper skin.  

Jodie Comer, Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Regrettably there’s less backstory in Killing Eve a Brit series about an improbably skilled hit-woman Villanelle (Jodie Comer) who works for the Russian deep state and is directed in her work by Kim Bodnia, (last seen as Saga’s off-sider Martin Rhode in series 2 of The Bridge where he ended up being written out of the show after murdering a felon. Wikipedia tells us that Bodnia was unhappy with the way his role was evolving and was also concerned about the amount of anti-semitism he encountered in Malmo. Wheels within wheels and I’m reminded of another observation in this 2017 round-up about very familiar actors re-appearing out of the blue in an entirely different context. It happened again just last night when I went to see The Wife and Elizabeth McGovern from Downton Abbey showed up in a cameo. Threw me out completely until I was informed what part of my memory was kicking in.) But I digress.

Killing Eve is an exception to the run of thrillers and procedurals about the tangling of crime and the security.  It involves much spycraft but is entirely devoid of any backstory to set the Russian girl hit-woman off on her choice of career. There’s also precious little backstory about the Asian-American MI6 officer Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) who tracks her down and sets up her pursuit nicely for a series two. It’s set, like McMafia,in a dazzling array of glamorous locations which are reached by a quick cut and a drone shot. 

What would these series be without the drone shot slowly moving over the terrain at a height lower than a helicopter maintains and with a steadiness that once could only be dreamed about. Abstract patterns of rooftops being stared directly down upon are a secondary drone trope.

Sara Girardeau, The Bureau
Backstories about spies do have standard that have been set. The French TV series The Bureau is just about the peak, a rendition of the modern techno-based spying life about as accurate as you can get according to one seasoned, non-amateur, observer. Season three of The Bureau picks up minutes after where season two ended and has the spy // captured by ISIS and put through the wringer before (Spoiler Alert) he finally escapes. The actual escape, occurring in episode seven is one of the most thrilling pieces of film-making in a long time. I was literally shaking as it progressed, though I was also shaking quite a bit when the young banker Alex escaped from his captors in the penultimate episode of McMafia.  Perhaps I shake easily.

Mick Herron
Elsewhere the backstory standards are maintained in Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb stories about the disgraced denizens of Slough House, an anonymous outpost near London’s Barbican and the repository of MI6’s fuck-ups. They have backstories running out of every orifice and clearly Herron gets bored with some of them because at least one (Spoiler Alert) gets killed in each book. (That’s a trope shared with The Bureau and it comes as quite a shock when one of the central characters in the French series is killed off at the end of series three.) Still,  finding out who it will be, especially with all of Herron’s misleads, is part of the fun. Cant wait for the TV series.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.