BBC Video // 2011 // 348 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // March 12th, 2012
"You can't expect complete trust from a man like Harry."
In the final moments of MI-5, as Harry Pearce looks over the memorial to deceased agents, you might think that would be a depressing thing to have around the office. The British spy series has lost a lot of characters, most of them in rather permanent fashion, over ten series -- and will lose more in its final run. MI-5: Volume 10 features the last six episodes -- although there are a few survivors, which could mean a TV movie or two down the road.
As the final run of MI-5 begins, spymaster Harry Pearce (Peter Firth, The Hunt for Red October) is on probation for a questionable maneuver from last season. Naturally, it's business as usual -- which means more questionable maneuvers for MI-5. The trouble starts when Harry heads to Battersea to do some investigation himself -- and discovers that a dead contact's overdose was no accident. Soon, Elena Gavrik (Alice Krige, Star Trek: First Contact), Harry's Cold War-era lover/asset/regret, arrives in London with her husband Ilya (Jonathan Hyde, Titanic), who's involved in talks to forge a cozier relationship between Britain and Russia. Her Russian agent son, Sasha, knows about the lover/asset/regret part and wants to knock off Harry. Worse yet, someone's trying to stop the talks.
That story twists and turns through the six episodes, but there are some episodic plots as well:
* An MI-5 computer is stolen, and the names of its assets are popping up on the Web. Still, acting chief Erin Watts (Lara Pulver, Sherlock) asks a woman inside Ilya Gavrik's business interests for one last risky peek at the files.
* Dimitri (Max Brown, The Tudors) romances a woman to get at her brother, an anarchist who carried radioactive material for a possible dirty bomb into the country.
* A reluctant asset becomes involved in a suicide bomb plot. Too bad MI-5 didn't do enough to protect the man's daughter.
In the opening moment of this last series of MI-5, you see a man walking down a quiet street and just know, from his small, nervous gestures, that he's about to die. Dread fills the scene, and it's not going to go away for the rest of the show's run.
These six episodes deliver lots of action; the first episode alone includes two murders, an exploding laptop, and an assassination attempt at a high-stakes reception. All this happens while the show establishes an elaborate plot, with a lot of backstory. There's also a sense of the grimness of the spies' work: the way they use assets, the toll on their personal lives, and the unfortunate endings that await a third of the core cast.
There's an underlying theme running through this last series: the spies just want to live normal lives. Erin Watts, the acting chief, rushes home to her daughter every night -- and, in one episode, has to rescue the girl from villains. Ruth (Nicola Walker, Thunderbirds), Harry's longtime lover and right-hand woman, looks at a cozy little house for settling down. When Ilya, once a Cold Warrior, visits Harry at his home, he tells the British agent how happy he is with his choice to give up the secret agent life for a wife and son; he even boasts about "a tortoise in the garden." Interestingly, that theme turns up once in one of the "Top Ten MI-5 Moments" in one of the extras, but it's a steady drumbeat in this last adventure. Of course, when Harry bonds with the man he believes to be his long-lost son, it involves hiding a dead body; that alone put the picture of domesticity for Harry out of my mind.
I don't want to give away the ending, but rest assured, it's a chilling one. Somehow, I suspect it would be more of a shock if everything turned out okay and nobody died, but anyone expecting a happy ending isn't MI-5's viewer.
Viewers who miss 24 will get a few split screens, but MI-5 wisely avoids overusing the technique this season. Locations, inside or out, have a sense of coldness about them, and it's captured well in this standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo quality is good, whether it's ominous music, dialogue, or ambient noise.
I suspect the "Top Ten MI-5 Moments," several of which involve the deaths of regulars, will be of interest mainly to people who've seen the whole series; I've seen a little less than half of MI-5. "Harry's Game," which recaps the last season, is just a bunch of spoilers -- and it's on the first disc.
While MI-5 is exciting, the agents make a lot of questionable decisions, some of which would make Jack Bauer stop to scratch his head in puzzlement. The show's gritty, but -- I hope -- not realistic.
I recommend MI-5 highly to anyone who's a fan of 24. However, this volume obviously isn't the best place to start.
If you've been following MI-5 through its previous seasons, you'll have to see the final series. Even with the thoughtful, end-of-the-run reflections, it's still a series that's made for powerwatching on DVD.
Not guilty, even if there are no happy endings involving tortoises.
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 348 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated