Episode Five: “Ambassadors”
Or as I like to call it, “Jack Turner hangs out at the pub all day”, which turned out to be a far more interesting and well-acted set of scenes than anything else that was going on. Here’s what BBC One thinks happened:
A mysterious assassin tells Sam that he is trying to protect her from Hourglass, a conspiracy orchestrated by five multinational corporations. Sam’s investigation of the conspirators takes her to a country estate where she had been years before – it was where she was taken as a child after her mother was murdered and she was kidnapped.
Making a Killing
Well, that’s partially it. We start off with the immediate aftermath of the blast at Goncourt & Co., and Turner is simultaneously watching the news and his stocks’ performance. As things have turned out, he has conveniently made £32 million from the explosion thanks to Kismet, and his bid for the Khyber dam can proceed. When Stephen offers to call the Pakistanis to explain that they don’t have the funds, Turner demurs, saying (with a satisfied smirk), “No, no, there’s no need for that.” Stephen is understandably perplexed, since as far as he knows, there hasn’t been a windfall; he asks, “We have the 30 million?” to which Turner replies, with an even bigger smirk, ” ‘Course.” No explanation is offered; nor, it should be noted, is one asked for. (Stevie, aren’t you the slightest bit curious??) Turner goes on to ask Stephen if he’s heard from Alex Kent, about whom Turner’s suspicions have been steadily growing; she’s been out all night and hasn’t been heard from, but Turner is interrupted by a well-timed phone call for Stephen from the hospital.
Meanwhile, Aidan (Adam Rayner), who didn’t seem to know that the smell of gas might portend some danger, has managed to survive the Goncourt & Co. blast without so much as a scratch, let alone shrapnel wounds or the bleeding nose or ears one might expect from being so close to an explosion that killed another person only feet away. He’s packed off to the hospital, doing some of his best acting to date as he lies unconscious on the gurney. One would think he’d be an urgent case, but one would be wrong as he’s inexplicably(!) pretty much abandoned by the ambulance attendants alone in a room, without a doctor even bothering to see him. This proves to be massively convenient, as he removes his own IV (not anywhere near as easy to do as he makes it look), hops off the gurney, removes his jacket and throws it away, and swaggers out of the hospital. Aside from having no visible wounds, Aidan does not seem to have sustained the concussion one might expect from being near such a forceful blast! But off he goes. He even passes the Blank-Faced Man (Scott Handy) on his way out; the latter seems to recognize Aidan, but it’s not mutual.
Blankie to the Rescue(?)
In another part of the same hospital, Sam awakens snuggling in a bed (what, she didn’t wake up in order to prop herself against the wall?) to discover that she was found unconscious on the sidewalk. Her first visitor is none other than Blankie (can I call him Blankie? I think I will), carrying a bouquet of white lilies for some heavy-handed, underlined-twice symbolism. He tells Sam that… he had to sedate her so he could talk to her later. Umm… dude. Really?? You couldn’t have thought of a way to talk to her without that? Or perhaps a way to sedate her that didn’t involve sticking a needle in her eye? By the way, it’s worth noting that Sam’s eye shows no signs of something having been stuck into it, contrary to what one might expect. I guess she and Aidan are both just that tough.
It seems that Blankie is actually trying to protect Sam from Hourglass, and has been tracking her for quite some time. He was too late to prevent her from taking the assignment in Turner’s house, but now he wants to spirit her off to safety. Seems credible for a syringe-wielding loon, right? Once again, Sam asks for no explanations of who he works for, why he so badly wants to save her, or how he knows what he knows, though she does, surprisingly sensibly, say that she’s not going anywhere with him. Blankie also informs Sam that Aidan was behind the attempt on her life in Tangier, which we already knew.
Spies Having Tea
Meanwhile, Stannis Keel meets for tea with George Smiley Ballard (Dermot Crowley) to exchange some of the worst dialogue ever. Keel describes Ballard as “an excellent analyst – the best MI6 ever had,” while Ballard replies that Keel was “a brilliant strategist – always two steps ahead”. Oh, really? Would this be the same “brilliant strategist” whose method of finding out what his “best agent” was doing for a year is to ask all of her teammates (and an aging MI6 analyst) if she’s mentioned it to them? And whose method of finding a mole is to ask everyone, “Are you the mole?” Anyway, the whole point of the conversation, I assume, is to establish that Keel and Ballard were previously acquainted, so that Ballard can drop an anvil-type hint about “blank face” and Keel can guess it has something to do with Hourglass. Brilliant!
An Attempted Rebellion
Back at chez Turner, Jack is disturbed in his study by Lewis Conroy (Richard Dormer), who’s there to discuss serious matters. He first has to put up with some ribaldry from Turner: “What’d you do to her, Lewis? Alex Kent – she’s in hospital.” When Conroy appears bewildered, Turner adds, “She fainted on the pavement. You must’ve been too much for her,” which actually elicits what passes for a guffaw from Bingham – namely, a silent, barely visible smirk. Lewis does, however, manage to screw his courage to the sticking post and say he’s done working for Turner. “Done!” replies Turner, in tones that already suggest danger, “What d’ye mean, done?” Apparently this isn’t enough of a hint, because Lewis goes on to say he’s made enough money and so has Turner, to which Turner replies (predictably and pragmatically), “Since when has anyone ever made enough money?”
Lewis is having pangs of conscience over the death due to the explosion – he certainly appears desperate, looking unshaven and generally unkempt – and he wants to stop everything they’re doing with Kismet. Turner doesn’t, and he explains it even more plainly: “You don’t seem to understand, Lewis. You don’t stop until I tell you to stop.” Lewis is also worried about what could possibly happen if he supplies Bingham with the names of his female associates, and that the police could break down his door at any moment. Turner brushes his concerns aside with a reassuring, friendly(!! danger!! danger!!) smile, saying “Go home. You’ve done well for us today.” Lewis leaves under a cloud of gloom and even Bingham notes, “He’s become a problem, hasn’t he?”, which is pretty much Lewis’ death warrant. In response, Turner sets Bingham to find out all he can about the break-in at Lewis’ company (one might wonder why Bingham hasn’t already started on this), while Turner himself dons trilby and overcoat to go for “a drink down at [his] local”.
There’s a brief interlude where the improbably non-concussed, non-injured Aidan breaks out of Byzantium custody single-handedly, because he’s just that good (more on how good he is later). Thus far, Aidan’s cunning strategy to escape being fingered as the mole by Deacon Crane (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) has been to: 1. deny it, and 2. accuse Crane of being the mole in turn! Astounding! Sort of a version of, “I know you are, but what am I?” Aidan must have learned this amazing tactic from Keel! Speaking of Keel, after seeing Aidan beat up ten or fifteen guards and jump through a window to escape (landing some twenty feet down on hard floor and getting up unhurt, natch – but he did have to do a breakfall), he tells Crane that he’s not yet convinced of Aidan’s guilt because he could’ve shot Keel and Crane while escaping, but didn’t. Perhaps Aidan’s “I didn’t betray you!” declaration before he jumped through the window is what did it. Keel seems to take these things at face value.
Tracking a Mole
Sam returns to her secret spy-lair in time to use her clone of Aidan’s phone to GPS-track him to a meeting with Natalie Thorpe (Indira Varma). (Pity Stannis never thought of doing that.) She uses those balcony-spying skills she’s been working on to discover 1. Aidan’s the mole (yeah, yeah), 2. he provided the information that led to her nearly getting killed in Tangier, and 3. he also had an affair with Natalie. She confronts Aidan, once again idiotically holding a gun at point-blank range on an opponent’s throat and thereby placing herself within his arms’ reach (does she not realize guns can shoot over distances?), leading to a fight. Good thing the explosion, previous fights, and jump out the window didn’t hurt Aidan! They fight for a bit (it’s a bad sign when fight scenes become boring) and Sam eventually gets the better of him. However, Aidan manages to talk her out of shooting him by helpfully declaring that he’s not lying to her now; he’s on Sam’s side and has arranged for her to meet Ballard, because he “needs answers, just like [her]”. Needless to say, Sam falls for this.
Having a Drink at His Local
We next have the one of the very best scenes in the entire show. Turner arrives in style at his old stomping grounds, a grotty, ancient pub run by Dave Ryder (David Sterne) which serves as the informal headquarters and clearing house for all of the more unsavoury tasks incurred by Turner’s enterprises. He seems to be waxing nostalgic as he strides in (a very nice piece of wordless acting by Malahide), recalling memories even as he’s stared at by young toughs across the way. I had to speculate for a moment if this is what it would’ve looked like if Albert “Cheerful Charlie” Chisholm had turned mobster. 😉
An on-stakeout Fowkes is invited into the pub by Ryder to meet “an old friend”. In fact, Fowkes is personally introduced and gets to shake hands with Turner, leading to another nice wordless bit as the handshake turns into a hand-squeezing battle for dominance – which an unblinking Turner wins. I’m normally very unhappy with “Hunted’s” murky cinematography, but I do have to say that Patrick Malahide’s eyes were lit up in these scenes in striking and quite fascinating ways, giving him an almost unworldly or even slightly demonic quality at times. This almost, but not quite, makes up for a return to coloured filters in this scene.
While Turner’s there, he checks on his Mysterious Briefcase™, which Dave has “concealed” in an unused, dumpy back room filled with discarded furniture. It’s true that few would think to look for it there (apparently it’s quite safe from Byzantium agent Fowkes), but Turner seems a bit put out that the briefcase he’s described as being “worth a few million quid” and containing “[his] future” is being looked after in such a lackadaisical fashion. He demands that Dave “put it somewhere else”, reinforcing it with a growled “Just do it,” when Dave temporizes.
The Hidden Meaning of “The Ambassadors”?
Unfortunately, we’re dragged away from Turner at the pub for more antics from the Byzantium Spy Kids (thanks for that one, fearless Admin! 😉 ). Sam meets Ballard at the National Gallery in front of a painting called “The Ambassadors“. We stray off into Da Vinci Code territory as Ballard tells Sam that he believes a group of merchants, who felt constrained by their governments’ levies and taxes, commissioned the painting and formed a “secret pact” called Hourglass. The painting itself, explains Ballard, is filled with obscure, distorted clues (Question: Why would a secret group commission a painting filled with clues? Seems counter-productive…) concerning “their plot… to concentrate the world’s wealth, power, and influence into private hands” and “undermine the power of their governments without arousing the ire of the people”. Yaaaay!! International cabal time!! And Ballard’s not even wearing a tinfoil hat! He goes on to say that over five centuries, Hourglass concentrated itself into five multi-national corporations… and three members of Byzantium’s board of directors are Hourglass members. Dum dum duuuummm!!!
Ballard hopes that Sam has a clue (hah!) as to why Hourglass wants her dead; he’d been thinking she might be The One to help him bring them all down. (Hey, that explains why he has all that juicy info in a cruddy paper file in a not-terribly-secure file cabinet, now doesn’t it?) Sam replies with what we already know; she doesn’t know anything about Hourglass, though she does seem a bit startled to learn that Keel is aware of Hourglass’ interest in her. The exposition dump is interrupted when Sam spots episode two’s Grizzled Baddie (Hourglass’ designated hitman) as he’s scoping out her and Ballard. She hustles Ballard out a side entrance “to safety”; they meet up with Aidan, with the Grizzled Baddie supposedly right behind them. Apparently, it does not occur to either of Byzantium’s “best agents” (remember what I said about Aidan being “that good”?) to check both ends of an alley, because the Grizzled Baddie sneaks right up behind them, quite undetected, and shoots a poisoned dart into Ballard’s neck. Ballard does have time to gasp the requisite (and clichéd) “Stop them… You must stop them…” at Sam before he expires.
Finally, we get back to Turner at the grotty pub, and the best scene of the episode. (What a relief!) He’s eyeing Fowkes from across the room and psyching him out badly, before he beckons him over to his table with a casual gesture. Turner opens with, “Dave tells me you were in the army,” adding, “What were you then, SAS?” which is a very interesting guess for him to make, given that Fowkes is ex-SAS, and it’s unlikely for Dave to have known or mentioned it. Turner’s manner is quiet, but still has a distinct air of menace as he questions Fowkes; he’s shaking him down to see what falls loose. He even remains silent at times, encouraging Fowkes to talk more to fill the silence, which Fowkes does, giving details of his assumed identity. By contrast, Dave is an entirely uncritical supporter of “Gary” (Fowkes’ alias), even going so far as to say that Fowkes reminds him of “Jack Junior”. Dave realizes almost instantly that he’s hit a very dangerous nerve, but it’s already too late. The name alone is enough to tell us that son John was Jack’s favourite. In an instant, Turner’s demeanour changes almost imperceptibly from antagonistic to deadly serious as he discusses something highly personal in a way we’ve never seen before – and Malahide plays it to perfection.
“Dave is referring to my eldest, John,” he says in surprisingly subdued tones, intense gaze fixed on Fowkes. “Perhaps you do look alike. Can’t see it myself. Are you brave, Gary? Are you loyal? Are you the sort of son to make your father proud? I hope so, for your sake… well, for your dad’s sake. I’ll tell you what, Gary. I hope you don’t end up dead, cut to pieces with your dick stuffed in your mouth.” He keeps steady eye contact with Fowkes the entire time and we can see that Fowkes is thoroughly rattled and uncomfortable; he even gulps nervously. Turner conveys both a father’s deep sorrow and anger and an unmistakable, rock-hard warning in terms that cannot be mistaken. It’s a masterful job of acting by both Lex Shrapnel and Patrick Malahide, but it’s entirely Malahide’s scene.
“Turn Up the Telly, Dave”
Making a great scene even better, Turner then adds, without missing a beat, altering his tone, or breaking eye contact with Fowkes, “Turn up the telly, Dave.” Dave is confused at first because he’s been absorbed by the drama, but he finally reacts when Turner reiterates with a growl, “I said, turn up the sodding telly.” Even in the midst of his intense discussion with Fowkes, Turner is still completely aware of his surroundings, to the point of noticing an interview with the Pakistani presidential candidate on the news, where she’s discussing the Khyber dam purchase. She describes the dam’s privatization as a “scandal” which she will “expose and stop” if she’s elected. She has Turner’s full attention and, judging by his expression, his enmity as well.
A Frame-Up and Another Improbable Escape
Meanwhile, Crane plants Sam’s torn jacket (how did he get it from her if we last saw her leaving it at her spy-lair?) in the house of one of Conroy’s secretaries, whom Keel has decreed should be framed, along with her husband, as the person who saw Turner murder Cage at the university. Bingham later discovers the jacket and uncritically accepts it as a Clue™, never mind that it seems to be awfully conveniently hanging out in plain sight. (Perhaps Bingham trained at Byzantium?) Sam and Aidan go off to check out Hector Stokes’ estate; he’s one of Byzantium’s Hourglass members and C.E.O. of a company called Polyhedrus (is everything named this way??) that built Turner’s dam (ooo, everything’s connected!). While there, Sam has another flashback and remembers that as a young girl, she was held at Stokes’ estate after her mother was killed. However, she and Aidan were seen sneaking onto the estate (Byzantium Spy Kids again) and are ambushed by Stokes’ men, giving us yet another fight scene where Aidan and Sam fight off multitudes. There’s one guard left and Sam is just about to be shot when a bullet conveniently zips through her attacker’s skull. She doesn’t know where it came from, but we see that her guardian angel is Blankie, who’s apparently as good with a sniper rifle as he is with a syringe… aaaannnnd he somehow followed Sam and Aidan undetected out to the estate. Not hard to do, I guess; they don’t even see people behind them in an alley!
Meanwhile, Back at the Pub…
Back at the pub, Turner tells Dave he has a “job” for Tyrone (Ben Bailey-Smith) that Everett will have to “clean up” afterwards. Dave suggests that Jack give the job to “Gary”, but Turner “doesn’t like the smell of your friend Gary,” proving that Turner’s instincts are canny and sound. “Give him a chance,” protests Dave and Turner replies, “You telling me what to do now, Dave?” in the quiet tones of a veiled threat, following it up with a knowing glance when Dave, abashed, says Turner knows him better than that. Turner doesn’t say he’ll give Fowkes the job.
After a busy day of spying, Sam returns to the Turner household to a suspicious look from Turner and a “welcome home” card from Eddie depicting her, Stephen, and Eddie as a perfect family (note: no Grandad). The poor kid is destined to have his expectations ruined. Stephen also asks where she was when he went to pick her up at the hospital. She evades the question by saying she needed to walk and think, and then starts to cry, which ignites Stephen’s protective instinct and leads to them kissing, which likely leads to… Let’s just say poor Stephen is destined to have his expectations ruined, too.
Oh, and That Whole Mole Business…
I should also mention that Aidan is able to duck the mole accusations when Natalie conveniently casts blame onto Hasan. This leads to Aidan suddenly remembering that he heard Hasan mention Hourglass one time! (Lame.) Crane, Keel, and the rest immediately seem reassured by this and decide there’s no way Aidan could’ve been the mole. (Lamer.) Seriously, these people are agents? Aidan gets one person to vouch for him and the main suspect is dead so it must be true? (Lamest!) At least the blurb for next week looks intriguing, with Stephen seemingly threatened by Bingham, and Turner and Stephen having an argument about respect.
The best parts of this episode were, far and away, Turner’s scenes at home where he’s terrifying Lewis, and at the pub. We were once again reminded that his friendly smile is never good; Lewis ends up dead by the end. Even better, we get a glimpse of Turner as a grieving but very, very angry father, discussing an incredibly personal situation in tones we’ve never heard him use before, not even when speaking of his dead wife. It was a completely different side to the utterly ruthless mobster we’ve gotten to know (and, um… like… if we’re allowed to say that). It’s a wonderful scene, played with quiet intensity with an edge of menace by Patrick Malahide.
At times, it really seems “Hunted” is a combination of two not-so-well-matched shows: a serious crime drama with great characters and an intriguing storyline, and a somewhat half-witted, badly plotted spy drama with characters who are either ultra-competent or idiots, or sometimes both at the same time. Given my druthers, I’d keep the Turner crime drama and ditch the Byzantium Spy Kids.
You can view “Ambassadors” online for a limited time on BBC One’s Web site.