After an ambivalent opener, Episode 2 of The Game snaps into place straight away and holds its shape: that of a taut and character-driven piece of spy-work.
It feels like the show that the trailer promised.
‘We endanger the few to protect the many,’ Daddy said last week, which unfortunately this week means letting women – from a prostitute to the Prime Minister’s secretary – get slapped around
Allowing a villain to knock seven bells out of a woman feels like a cheap way to force home the notion of the greater good being a difficult and morally distressing path, as well as show us just how despicable said villain is, but it’s a shamefully effective dramatic shorthand.
MoD man turned KGB operative Tom Mallory and his backhand are on the loose on the cigs n’ pints soil of Blighty, and Steven Mackintosh makes excellent work of playing an utter bastard with a public school approach to villainy; all ‘old chap’ and smirks. He’s a swaggeringly confident son of a bitch in contrast to Joe Lambe, who divides his time into adequate portions of being haunted by his past and being good at his job.
Mallory has possession of the information contained within the letter of last resort, the Prime Minister’s decision whether or not to launch retaliatory nuclear attacks. (Fun fact: the letter of last resort still happens to this day and is the PM’s first major decision on entering office. I hope you voted carefully!). Turns out Ted Heath’s scribbled ‘No’ on his bit of paper – meaning the UK would keep its nukes in its pockets. It’s a race to stop Mallory before he can deliver the information to his Russian contact and Operation Glass unleashes atomic inconvenience on Blighty.
Britain on the brink of nuclear Armageddon makes things as tense as you’d expect, with a stiff-upper-lip approach to annihilation. ‘I just want to tell you how I felt,’ Bobby Waterhouse tells his Oedipal nightmare of a mother, knowing full well it may be the last time.
‘Well don’t, were not Spanish!’ she snaps back. Ha! It seems Bobby comes off worse in every interaction this week – whether attempting power-play with Daddy or clumsily initiating intimacy with assistant secretary Wendy (‘I’m going to give your knee a jolly good squeeze now’) – but in each situation actor Paul Ritter comes off best by giving a top-rank performance.
‘The whole Cold War, it’s nothing…it’s bluff?’ DC Jim Fenchurch, our representative in this complex world of counter-intelligence, growls incredulously as the world around him spins on a widening gyre of nuclear angst. Well, yes. That’s what it comes down to: bluff and counter-bluff, trust and mistrust, both on an international and interpersonal scale. Joe thinks he can get Tom to work for MI5, Tom double-crosses him. No surprise there.
And when Tom tells Joe that he can lead him straight to Odin, that’s probably a bluff too. Joe knows it, which is why he shoots him in the head. You can’t bluff a bullet. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a pacey hour.
If The Game can keep that kind of quality up for the rest of its run, then viewers should be happy to play along.
Aired at 9pm on Thursday 7 May 2015 on BBC Two.
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