Harry’s Game: Sic Transit Spooks


My tribute from the vaults to the late lamented [Spooks]

“Global terrorism, Islamic extremists, all phone-tap resources plus Echelon pointed at the Middle East, and now the old enemy looks like it’s rearing its ugly head…and it’s such a beautiful morning…”

So opined Sir Harry Pearce, KBE, head of MI5’s Section D (counter-terrorism), in the very first line of the first episode of Spooks, Kudos and the BBC’s answer to 24.  Although in classic chicken and egg syndrome, which show came up with the multiple narrative pictures on screen first? Rather like Martin Sheen as President Bartlett in The West Wing, Harry and actor Peter Firth gradually came to the fore. Early series writer Howard Brenton stated “We would always over-write Harry: give him tired witticisms and sub Oscar Wilde dialogue; weary back handed comments. Peter began to really inhabit the character. He looks cuddly, but he’s got a heart of stone.”

Harry was the constant in Spooks’s hard fought war of attrition against “the multiplying villainies of nature.” He felt it keenly beneath his teflon facade when he lost an operative. Be it protege Tom Quinn (Matthew MacFadyen) to burn out and decommission; Lucas North (Richard Armitage) to a short walk off a tall roof, driven mad by betrayal and torture; or rookie Helen (Lisa Faulkner) to an audition as a deep fried MI5 Bar. For revenge for that gruesome, series stall setter, Harry sent in the Increment, 5’s special forces fixers, to arrange an “accident” for her murderer. That was before the revolving pod door of The Grid delivered ever changing agents who gradually wielded their own weapons with impunity, slightly undermining the semi-realistic premise of the show’s early years. In the penultimate episode, Harry’s nominal boss Erin (Lara Pulver) (Harry was brought back under supervision from gardening leave after the ALBANY debacle) hangs out of a car doorway Tom Cruise  style, blasting away at the enemy in the middle of London.

Harry rarely got his hands dirty directly, although he did fake a heart attack for the treacherous Home Secretary (Robert Glenister) with his “special” whisky. No need for a scandal, Harry always sees the bigger picture. He half-jokingly kept the next incumbent on his toes. “You know,” the next Home Secretary says, “back in my days as a student radical, our dreams were all about the glorious proletariat.” “We’ve still got those dreams on file somewhere,” Harry sardonically replies.

Ah, dreams. For Harry, happiness with Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker) , his trusty analyst with a brain the size of Belgium, can never be. Theirs was a slow-burning awakening of kinship and fraught feelings, hooded glances and bad timing, like Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester: the mad woman in the attic of their relationship being the job: MI5, not 9 to 5. Harry could probably drive a tuned-up motor lights-off, using night vision goggles across an East German army base in the Cold War, but he couldn’t find the words to let Ruth into his heart. Not until it was too late. There could be no cottage by the seaside for them. “Harry. We were never meant to have those things,” she tells him at the end. Harry’s complicated Spook past conspired to block his path to a life with her outside his lonely citadel.

spooks harry and ruth

After an unspecified period of mourning, a face from the past doing some “Incremental” work to tidy loose ends, and a poignant stop off at Section D’s memorial wall, Harry returns to The Grid. Callum’s threat level assessment is simply “Bad people want to kill us.“: a subtle nod to the same line uttered in the first episode.  As Harry’s telephone rings, fittingly he has the final word, and stamp of authority: “Harry Pearce.” 


Originally posted 2013-03-13 22:56:49. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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