The fabulous cast, ambitious stories and dry humour all return in Series 2 of this hit UK show.
The arc of the quality here seems to be the complete reverse of Series 1. While I enjoyed both series, Series 1 had been marred by a pilot that made precious little sense and carried almost no sense of danger. Series 2 starts off on a roll and retains its momentum all the way until the final episode, when a somewhat contrived plot, too much exposition and a forced ending (which the writer admits was necessitated by a question about whether a cast member would return for Series 3) mar the enjoyment.
But it remains a strong 10 episodes. All the talent involved -- directors, writers, actors -- appear to be more comfortable since the template of the show was already so clear from the first series. Matthew MacFadyen is given more of a chance to chomp scenery, and he excels at it -- his marvellous way with confrontational dialogue is made more enjoyable by the fact that he still has that boyish face which sometimes can sneak into '80s Tom Cruise territory, but when he turns on the heat, MacFadyen's intensity is electrifying. Keeley Hawes still has the ability to light up the screen with her English-rose beauty, but she's also given a mix of a heartbreaking subplot as well as some deadpan jokes, both of which she delivers with aplomb. Megan Dodds is superb as CIA agent Christine Dale, an oddball cross of mischievous schoolgirl and vicious ice goddess. The fact that she never completely slides into either role makes her endlessly interesting to watch, and Dodds makes for a much stronger romantic interest for MacFadyen than Series 1's Esther Hall (Ellie).
David Oyelowo is sadly given less emphasis in this series, but Peter Firth remains great as head spook Harry Pearce, and the loss of Jenny Agutter was really no big deal, the role of Tessa being too one-dimensional to be interesting anyway. The "older woman" role is filled by new addition Nicola Walker, whose energy fits the cast much better. Also new to the cast is Shauna Macdonald, a vibrant young Scottish actress who walks off with some of the funniest moments in the show. This sense of humour continues to carve MI-5 an identity distinct from that of the American spy show, 24, despite the similarities. In Series 2, MI-5 further indulges in its unique strengths: Since this show doesn't shy away from using real names, real countries and real causes (nothing like 24 Season 2's "these three Arab countries" device here), this lends MI-5 a huge degree of verisimilitude which serves to make us even more on edge. Let's face it, it's much more engaging, and liberating, to be able to hear "Libya" or "President Bush and Tony Blair" on the show than vague references to "Arab countries" and "the Prime Minister and the Ambassador". I suppose American TV doesn't trust the audience to be willing to accept the idea of using real names in fiction, so when MI-5 throws you an episode where the Prime Minister and the royal family of Britain are all presumed dead, it's exhilarating to watch.
My only grudge is with the final episode. Again, it's the classic TV dilemma -- how do you deal with the potential departure of a central actor? The episode is bogged down by the need to have an open-ended ending which allows them the freedom to bring the actor back (or otherwise). But it's still moving in many places, especially the Romeo and Juliet trials and tribulations between Tom Quinn and Christine Dale, compounded by the fracture of the Harry-Tom-Zoe-Danny axis.
A great show, and I can't wait for Series 3 to arrive.