Remember the days of ABC’s Alias, when all Jennifer Garner needed to spy was a great wig, the latest technology, and a hereditary gift for defeating any opponent mentally or physically? It’s been almost ten years since the series ended (and creator, J.J. Abrams, has had a few other projects since) but that tradition isn’t completely lost. FX’s The Americans, which returns this March, takes a more grounded in reality (if not personal reality) approach to this very scenario.
Yet in the latest crop of TV spy dramas, spying is anything but the natural career path of the protagonists featured. Rather, it is a career path that gets thrust upon them when their lives take an unexpected turn… towards espionage and secrets. These characters don’t want to be spies and, once upon a time, TV would’ve agreed with their unfitness. Instead, today they stand as beacons for the everyman and woman who’s always dreamt of becoming the next James Bond. A job in spying has never seemed more tangible. The question is: will you still want to be one after watching these two entertaining, mortal shows?
One Woman’s Journey from Seamstress to Spy: Hulu’s The Time in Between [El Tiempo Entre Costuras]
Young, naive girl drops nice guy fiancé for the love of a debonair, overly handsy typewriter salesman. Wonder how that story ends?
Where their relationship is concerned, it’s not a trick question. He leaves her, of course, with the extent of the fallout running much deeper than romantic abandonment.
Where the series is concerned, The Time in Between is a show that never settles for what it seems, and that includes never pigeonholing its lead character, Sira. The naïve girl in question, the evolution she goes on over seventeen episodes leaves her in a very different place from where she started.
That might sound a bit vague, but that’s sort of the point. The less you know about what happens in The Time in Between going in, the better its twists and turns catch you by surprise. Cited by an Indiewire article to be the Spanish “Downton Abbey”, you’re prepared for a spy drama, because that’s what the article says it will be. That’s the tag that pulls you in. Once you start watching the first few episodes, though, you have no idea what the show will become. Sira is an amazing seamstress, but early precursors of her spy potential aren’t exactly obvious, if they’re even there at all.
What catches you instead is the setting. Drawing attention to a huge gap in the general historical memory, numerous period pieces have been made around the events of World War II. What they haven’t shown is what it was like to live in Spain, or Morocco, or Portugal during the time, or how the Spanish Civil War, which took place right beforehand, left so many traumatized and unprepared to be directly involved in another major conflict (this time on a global scale). It’s a desire to help her home country, Spain, stay out of this fighting that later sparks Sira’s involvement.
Sira’s transition into spy craft doesn’t happen overnight, and even when she displays her skills, the show never goes for the theatrics of having her suddenly know how to throw a punch, or scale a building. Rather, The Time In Between shows how the skills she already has can be employed for the purpose of gaining information. People trust their seamstress, especially one of the skill level, affability and attractiveness of Sira. The bigger issue becomes whether Sira can keep up the deception, or whether her loyalty to personal friendships, old and new, will ultimately compromise her cover.
Never too proud to invoke the occasional telenovela style stare into the distance, The Time In Between is addicting television and with everything that happens over the course of its single season, it’s also the perfect binge watch for over spring break.
Love Doesn’t Lie (But Everything Else Will) On BBC America’s London Spy
Regardless of the genre’s popularity, BBC America’s latest spy drama, London Spy, wouldn’t appear to be doing itself any favors with a title that’s the antithesis of the subtle spy craft it details, blunt and unromantic.
Don’t overlook this show because of its title. The only clear-cut aspect in a plot that otherwise deals with conspiracy and cover-ups, London Spy takes even the biggest London clichés—rain—and turns them into beautiful visuals (see: the shadows of the drops streaking over faces during an important conversation in episode three).
Featuring Ben Whishaw as Danny, and Jim Broadbent as his best friend, Scotty, what makes London Spy feel unfamiliar and new is that it’s a multi-layered love story. Danny Holt isn’t a spy. His genius boyfriend, Alex, was but he didn’t know that. If the many people he encounters after Alex’s death are to be believed, there’re lots of things he didn’t know about his partner of eight months, including his name. Yet, what doesn’t sit right with Danny is that no one is saying Alex was murdered. Danny knows he was, and his refusal to be convinced otherwise places him directly in the sights of powerful organizations who want to stop him from continuing looking. Just as prepared to stand by their staged narrative account as Danny is to unravel the truth, it’s a battle of who will hold out longest that the show is patient to play out in gripping fashion.
Employing tactic after tactic to break his resolve, these shapeless forces of power will never break. What’s moving is neither will Danny. Persisting, despite their repeated warnings that he’s out of his depth, Danny has no evidence to back up his claims. All of the evidence supports their version of events. Still, after everything they’ve dredged up, faked and tried to discredit, there’s one thing Danny’s certain about. His and Alex’s love was real and his belief in that fact makes him impervious to the doubt they try to insert. It’s a constancy that shines through the show’s most sinister, cynical elements, making for a heartening watch, even as it’s likely to get him killed.
While the final explanation for what happened to Alex may be a little incredible for those who place a precedence on plot over viewing experience, as a character study, London Spy is palpable. Whishaw dominates as the increasingly battered Danny. It is a testament to his performance that the role is both so devastatingly bleak and engagingly intimate. Complemented by the show’s inspired use of imagery and dramatic monologues, his is a portrayal that will stick with you long after the five episodes are over, with an ambiguous closing scene.
There’s always going to be a place in entertainment for the seasoned professional spy—Daniel Craig’s days as James Bond may be numbered but the franchise is far from through. However that lack of professionalism is exactly what makes amateur spies so appealing.
Sira drops her mirror during an early attempt at listening in on a conversation.
Danny’s endeavor to share his story with the press backfires in an exposé.
These spy newbies may make beginner mistakes but that only makes their adventures more engrossing. For if there’s one thing any viewer can relate to (from the safety of couches, where no lives are at stake), it’s the occasional misstep or error.