The Hour is struggling. The ratings are down, the reviews are terrible and Hector and Freddie are bickering like children. As events escalate in Suez, Bel knows their only hope is to pull off a brave interview with an Egyptian diplomat – but is Hector up to the challenge? Meanwhile, Freddie discovers a mysterious code which may well provide a clue to Ruth’s death.
The Hour airs every Tuesday at 9:00 on BBC TWO and stars Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, and Dominic West.
Paul: So after the first episode, we both had some reservations about just where The Hour was going to be heading. Would it be more espionage drama or did it really want to be more about the behind-the-scenes workings of the BBC in the Fifties.
After giving the pilot a mediocre, but promising 3.5 bullets, I was very impressed with what we got this week.
Kelvin: Really? I thought it was better, but it’s still rather unfocused. I still don’t know what it’s about.
On one hand, the conspiracy stuff took off, but on the other, there are comedy moments with people in ridiculous costumes running about in the background. Then there’s the historical Suez stuff, which seems to have nothing to do with anything else.
Paul: I felt like the lack of focus in the pilot episode almost became something of an intentional narrative element this week, as the floundering of the in-series show, “The Hour” is having trouble pulling everything together.
Kelvin: I suspect you may be being generous there.
Paul: Oh, probably. But, it’s not until the Suez crisis hits that the in-series show finds its footing, and the seriousness and focus that it brings to the BBC storyline brought a focus and seriousness to the show in general, and my enjoyment in particular. I really liked all the backstage stuff this week.
Kelvin: Yes, it worked well. All the elements work well — apart from one that I’ll get to later — but they still seem to be floating about without connection.
Paul: The connections are there, I think. They just haven’t been clearly defined for the viewer yet. There are hints and subtle connections – along with the not-so-subtle ones.
Kelvin: I expect that the Suez crisis will be at the heart of the conspiracy, or rather that’s what I’m hoping. Otherwise, it’s all over the place. Entertaining and interesting, but all over the place.
Paul: I have a feeling that the conspiracy may not have anything to do with that, but that the Suez crisis will provide an opportunity for something else to happen in the shadows. That it’ll provide cover for something maybe a little more personal and dirty.
Kelvin: Perhaps. The whole thing feels, structurally, like a soap opera, except it’s only six episodes, so I’m not sure what they’re playing at.
Paul: Well, my gut feeling is based on almost nothing.
Although, by calling the show The Hour and making that the name of the in-series show as well, I think they’re laying some interesting metatextual groundwork.
The show is specifically about the construction of the in-series show and the construction of the news in general. I think.
The personal elements, the soap opera elements, are playing into the way the news program works its kinks out. I think.
Kelvin: Is it? I still have no idea what it’s about. Like the stuff with Bel’s mother (Hettie Banes); what’s that got to do with anything?
I may be being dense.
Paul: I didn’t really care for that bit at first, but she really does provide a striking contrast between common expectations and behavior with what her daughter is getting up to.
It’s a pretty broad-stroke representation and a bit of narrative shorthand, but I think they’re trying to drive home just how odd and different it is to have a woman producer, or a woman who isn’t preoccupied with “womanly things”.
However, at the same time, her mother did leave her husband and is a bit of a scandal herself. The more I thought about it, the more I liked what it brought to Bel’s (Romola Garai) character.
Kelvin: That’s where I’m lost. I didn’t think it brought anything to her character; I couldn’t figure out what that whole subplot was for.
Perhaps this thing is too subtle for me.
Paul: I think there’s a comparison being set up between Bel and her mum with Freddie (Ben Whishaw) and his dad (Robert Demeger).
Kelvin: Certainly there’s a contrast; Bel wants to be shot of her mum, while Freddie is tied to his father.
Paul: Both parents are fairly dismissive of their children’s line of work as well, while both Freddie and Bel have had to work their asses off to get where they are.
Kelvin: I’m not sure Freddie’s father is dismissive as such; I get the feeling that there’s something wrong with him, perhaps dementia. I don’t think he really knows what Freddie does, while Bel’s mum doesn’t care.
Paul: He’s pretty hostile toward the TV news, though. That was pretty adamant in the first episode.
Kelvin: Again, I didn’t read that as hostility as such, but a kind of obliviousness or distance.
Paul: You’re probably right. Regardless, it sets both characters up as isolated from their families, dedicated to their work, and now in a position to shape public opinion about the stories they care about.
And the contrast with Hector (Dominic West) is really entertaining me.
Kelvin: Speaking of families, we got a look at Freddie’s other family in this episode, with more of an explanation of how he knows the Lord’s family in the first place. With Lord Elms (Tim Pigott-Smith) himself coming across as quite paternal at one point.
Paul: I loved that scene. I was expecting fireworks when/if Freddie was discovered in Lord Elms’ chambers, and was taken completely by surprise.
Kelvin: Yes, the best scene in the episode, I thought. Well that, and Freddie’s Sherlockian examination of Hector’s past.
Paul: Sherlockian. Nice.
Kelvin: “Holmesian” probably, although the BBC have been repeating Sherlock.
Paul: I really wasn’t expecting them to play Hector as quite so hopeless.
Kelvin: Yes, it is a bit of a surprise.
Paul: It helped humanize him. I wasn’t sure if I liked him or not initially.
Kelvin: I’m not sure I like it; it seems too much, too obvious a contrast, almost a bit clumsy. A bit black and white.
Kelvin: Yes, it seems like a first draft of a character: “He’s charming, but it’s all facade and he’s a bit rubbish under pressure.”
I suspect the next episode will develop it further, as it seems to be more Hector-centric. At the moment, it seems rather simplistic.
Paul: I don’t know. All of the characters are coming off like that at first glance, but I don’t think that’s a problem. The series is allowing those first impressions to be altered and deepened as it goes on.
: You could be right there.
Paul: Burn Gorman’s Thomas Kish is another example of that.
Kelvin: Explain! Elaborate! Exfoliate!
Paul: Well, he’s clearly not just some sort of hired killer, which is how he appeared in the pilot.
Kelvin: This is true.
Paul: And the revelation in the final moments made him suddenly all the more mysterious. Impressing Lix (Anna Chancellor) with his Arabic translation skills was a nice touch, too.
Kelvin: Yes, I’m not at all sure he’s a bad guy any more.
After all, we don’t know who the professor was spying for.
Paul: If he was spying at all.
Actually, I’m sure he was, but there are things happening that make me wonder if that’s a red herring.
Kelvin: Like what?
Paul: Well, Lord Elms’ reaction for one.
Meditating on rights to life and such strikes me as something that is going to be leading us in a slightly different direction. And by sending that film to Freddie, he seems to know something.
Kelvin: Yes indeed.
Paul: And the way that the murdered professor’s office-mate “knew” about the crossword messages seems less State Secrets than something more personal.
Kelvin: Yes, there is that. I did think it odd that he would get a friend to fill in for him if it were a matter of international espionage.
Paul: On the other hand, of course, we have Ruth’s (Vanessa Kirby) paranoia and Kish killing everybody.
So it could go either way.
Kelvin: Yes, it’s quite murky, and I hope that it’s deliberate.
Paul: I’m thinking (and this is off the top of my head) that Freddie’s heading toward discovering some sort of juicy personal secret that has diplomatic repercussions, and they are forced to table that for more open access for the openly political issues that will help the show.
Or that’s how I’d do it, anyway.
Kelvin: You could be right. We saw a bit of that this time, with Freddie’s story buried.
Paul: Foreshadowing, perhaps?
Kelvin: That seems to be a bit of a ticking time bomb, for sure. Freddie’s not going to take such censorship well. And his relationship with Bel will take a hit when he discovers her involvement.
Paul: So what was the one element that you thought didn’t work at all? Have we already hit on it?
Kelvin: Oh, it was Bel’s mum. Parachuted in for no reason at all, then shuffled out the door by the end of the episode.
Paul: What was your take on having Burn show up as a temp for a show?
Kelvin: It was a bit convenient, I thought, but not so much that it ruined things.
It’s a new show and they need all the help they can get.
The show within the show, I mean.
Still, it’s lucky for him that they needed a translator just as he needs to get in.
Paul: Hmmm. Yeah, I didn’t think about that. Maybe there is going to be more of a straight espionage element to this than I’m expecting.
Kelvin: I did enjoy how Freddie didn’t like him at all from the beginning.
Paul: Well, he is Sherlockian.
I was hoping they’d spin it out a bit longer, but I suppose they only have six episodes. There’s potential in an odd couple situation with the newsman and the assassin, but that’s done with given the ending of this episode.
Paul: Have you heard anything about whether or not this is intended to be an ongoing series, or if it’s set as a done-in-one story like The Shadow Line?
Kelvin: It seems to be a single series. However, it may depend on ratings. Reviews have been mixed, so if they are holding out for a second series, I’m not sure they’ll get it.
Paul: Interesting. That probably explains the hesitation to go full-on espionage or full-on BBC behind-the-scenes.
If they go too hard in the spy direction, it might be more interesting initially, but they’d be hard pressed to maintain a similar approach through more seasons.
Kelvin: Well, the perceived lack of focus seems to be the main hang-up; reviewers are struggling to figure out what the show is about. Which was not helped by the promotion, of course.
The promotion has completely stopped, which may or may not be significant.
Kelvin: Although I’ve been hard on it this time around, I have a suspicion that the whole thing will come together into a neat and clever little bow by episode six.
Paul: I liked the character touches and the way historical events forced everybody to step up their game. That’s pretty decent writing and plotting there, so I have hope, too.
How would you score this one, then?
Kelvin: I think it’s an improvement over the first episode — the character touches as you say add a lot — but I’m still not sure about it. A tentative .
Paul: I’m comfortable with a . Especially with how tepid I was with the first episode. If it hadn’t been for Burn murdering people, I wouldn’t have had much hope for this series at all, and now I’m into the news show, so there’s a win.
Kelvin: Yes, it hasn’t hooked me yet, but I can see the quality in there.
Paul: I think I was also won over by having more Lix. She’s bad-ass.
Kelvin: Yes indeed, I was pleased to see more of her.
Paul: She may end up being the Newsie Heart of the show, while the others all flit around playing Soap Opera.
Kelvin: I hope so!
Be sure to check out our review of The Hour Episode 1.01!
Kelvin Green erupted fully formed from the grey shapeless mass of Ubbo Sathla in the dark days before humans walked the earth. He grew up on Judge Dredd, Transformers, Indiana Jones #12, the Avengers and Spider-Man, and thinks comics don’t get much better than FLCL, Nextwave and Rocket Raccoon. Kelvin lives among garbage and seagulls and doesn’t hate Marvel nearly as much as you all think he does.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to What Looks Good and Shot for Shot. He currently has little spare time, but in what there is he continues to work on his first novel, tentatively titled Damaged Incorporated. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, sci-fi television, the original Deathlok, Nick Fury, and John Constantine. He can be summed up in three words: Postmodern Anarchist Misanthropy. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and
blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.