Families: they just make you vulnerable. That’s the not-so-subtle message of this week’s Deep State, where having a family leaves you open to manipulation, exploitation and in one case, near-decapitation. In the world of global espionage, if you have something to lose, someone else will see that as leverage – and in this world, leverage is how you stay alive.
The first illustration of this week’s theme isn’t what you’d call subtle. The episode opens with a happy wedding in Aaqbiyeh, Southern Lebanon that’s promptly interrupted by a drone strike. Is there ever a Middle Eastern wedding in a spy thriller that doesn’t end in a huge explosion?
| WATCH: The entire first season of Deep State is streaming now at SBS On Demand.
At least Deep State doesn’t skimp on the horrific aftermath, as the lone survivor – a young boy who left the wedding to get a new memory card for his camera – wanders through the corpses making sure everyone he knew and loved is dead. It’s a reminder that the threats used to manipulate most of Deep State’s cast of spies are far from idle. The people ordering around these killers are killers too.
Last week’s episode ended with Max (Mark Strong) finally coming face-to-face with his estranged son Harry (Joe Dempsie). Unfortunately this long-awaited meeting came in the middle of a running gun battle, so there’s only time for a brief icy glare between the pair before they’re back chasing after mysterious Middle Eastern-fixer Ardavan… who gets shot by someone else before they can reach him. Australian director Robert Connolly (Balibo, Paper Planes) has directed all four episodes so far of Deep State, and he gives these all-action opening scenes some real cinematic flair.
Back in France, Max’s wife Anna (Lyne Renee) and the kids have been taken by her captors to the kind of delightfully crumbling country mansion that’d be a perfect weekend getaway if she wasn’t surrounded by armed guards. “Are we being used as leverage,” she asks chief captor Lawrence (Alexandre Willaume). No answer. “What if my husband refuses to do what you want him to do?” No answer.
Leyla (Karima McAdams) is waiting for Harry and Max at the Babylonian Hotel, and no sooner does she get to share a hug with her previously presumed dead lover than he’s bickering with his dad. Harry doesn’t exactly think highly of the father who abandoned him, and Max isn’t the kind of guy to let a barbed comment pass by. Clearly these two are more alike than they’d like to admit, right down to refusing to tell each other what’s really going on: it’s up to Leyla to explain to Harry that Max has come out of retirement because his family was threatened. “So you’ve got kids?” is Harry’s reply. Harsh.
Deep State isn’t a series that likes to linger; spending two and a half minutes on this hostile get-together is the equivalent of a weekend-long family reunion. But while literally nothing is resolved, everyone agrees there’s no time to waste. Or as Max puts it, “The only way out of this is to find out what they’re covering up and use it to buy our lives back.”
At CIA HQ, Amanda Jones (Anastasia Griffith) is back from her UK trip yelling at MI5. “How was London?” “Old. And isolated”. Which seems a bit mean considering they’re currently doing all her dirty work. Well, maybe not all of it, as she doesn’t know who’s responsible for the drone strike at the start of the episode… until she’s called into a mysterious basement meeting with a sinister figure who tells her that yes, the US is responsible and yes, she’s going to be the one taking the blame. Worse, she also has to find Ardavan’s leverage intel – the exact same intel Max is trying to find.
Both sides rapidly figure out that if Ardavan didn’t have the intel with him, he probably left it in his apartment. That means both sides are heading for the same tiny apartment. Soon two people are dead and Harry is fuming that his father just saved his life.
But there are many different ways for a parent to keep their children safe. Anna’s captors need her to call Max and keep him on track. She’s not keen even after Lawrence talks about how her daughters seem to like their new accommodation, so he tries to play good cop by revealing he’s got two sons of his own. “I’m protecting my boys,” he says, “Maybe Max is protecting you.”
Whatever her co-conspirators have on Amanda, it must be good. First she tells her boss that yes, she’s responsible for the drone strike. Then she tells a high-powered commission that yes, she accidentally killed a whole bunch of foreigners. And then she stands behind a podium and says that yes, the CIA screwed up and 22 civilians were killed. But she makes it very clear that it was totally an accident – maybe a little too clear because in her line of work, being too specific is the kind of thing that gets people in trouble.
In Beirut, Max’s team has Ardavan’s intel, only it just seems to be a series of random numbers. Max realises Ardavan was a gambler and the book is a record of his wins and losses, which almost makes up for catching Harry and Leyla kissing then saying “It’s been a long time since I walked in on you with a girl”. No wonder Harry punches him out.
As is often the way with manly men, a bit of physical violence helps resolve their emotional tension. Unfortunately the gambling den is a dead end where all they learn is that one of the numbers is too long to have anything to do with Ardavan’s various roulette schemes and scams. Maybe, Max says, it could be co-ordinates? Bingo. No prizes for guessing that it’s the co-ordinates to the wedding we saw explode. And with Amanda on record saying the strike was an accident, these numbers prove she was lying.
In France, Anna thinks she’s spotted a way to escape. That night she and the kids sneak out of the mansion and head for a badly patched hole in the fence. But sneaking through isn’t as simple as it looked from across the lawn. One of the kids gets through fine, then the second complains she’s stuck. When she finally gets through the hole isn’t big enough for Anna and the kids won’t leave without her. The guards are coming, and this time they’ve brought dogs with them. Anna quickly follows the fence down a gully and gets around it… which, even with barbed wire everywhere, seems a little lax as far as security goes.
Back in the UK, we finally get some personal time with MI5 section chief George White (Alistair Petrie), who’s just returned home after what was no doubt a long day threatening people and being yelled at by the CIA. He’s all ready to sit down and relax when he notices an unlatched window. It’s Said (Zubin Varla) – and he’s got a gun. Time and again this episode Connolly has done a stand-out job with big action sequences; now he proves just as sharp when it comes to small-scale tension.
At first things look grim for George. Said has no family; no family means no leverage. But as the conversation develops, it turns out Said does have a family of sorts. “What if it was your child who had the kill order put on him,” he says when George tries to say Harry was a double agent. “I made him take the oath,” says Said, “I trained him up. I’m not just his friend, his boss – I’m practically his father”.
The days of spies working for king and country are over: both these men know they’re basically just errand boys for the CIA. The only things left to motivate them are more personal bonds – bonds like family. And for Said, Harry is family. When George ordered him to kill a man he saw as his son, it destroyed him. Now Said is here to tell George he’s done with MI5. George is fine with that; he even says they can write the report together that’ll set him free. Then a man quietly walks into the room and stabs Said in the neck.
Anna and the kids are free. All they have to do is meet up with her brother and they can get away. But when they find him, Lawrence is already waiting. It’s back to the mansion for all of them – which puts them in serious danger, because George has just called Max for an update on his hunt for Said.
Thinking fast, Max says he’s got eyes on Said right now; unfortunately, George is looking at Said’s cooling corpse slumped at his dinner table. “Let’s take the appropriate action then, shall we?”
Max hangs up. Does he know how badly he’s screwed up?
Deep State airs on Wednesday nights at 9:35pm on SBS. Or you can watch the entire season right now at SBS On Demand: