It is Freddie’s birthday and the effects of Tom’s death are still being felt around the newsroom. Two huge news stories are breaking but Freddie has disappeared and it’s a newly confident Hector who’s leading the charge. Meanwhile, Bel and Hector’s affair gathers steam and Isaac’s got his eye on Sissy.
The Hour airs every Tuesday at 9:00 on BBC TWO and stars Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, and Dominic West.
Paul Brian McCoy: I liked it. It started a little slow, but as with last week, it picked up the more it focused on the espionage plot.
Kelvin: They really pushed the romance angle this week too.
Paul: They certainly did!
Kelvin: The whole thing had a bit more vitality to it.
It’s like they flipped a switch last week and the whole thing has come alive.
Paul: Vitality is the right word, I think.
Kelvin: I can’t say I’m any more interested in the soap operatic side, but at least it’s got a bit more energy to it now.
Kelvin: Yes, agreed. I get the feeling that they’re trying to appeal to all sorts by backing the spy stuff up with office romances. It seems a bit cheap.
As if people won’t be interested enough in the conspiracies.
Paul: Or vice versa.
Paul: I think it does a good job at humanizing the characters and keeping us from shifting completely into an unrelatable escapist scenario. Almost as though it’s attempting to use the mundane to provide an entry point to the adventure and historical aspects.
I’m not sure if it works, though.
Kelvin: I suppose, but The Shadow Line had no problems holding attention without resorting to who’s-sleeping-with-whom.
To pick a recent example.
Paul: But then, The Shadow Line was all from the inside of the Game.
Kelvin: That is true.
Paul: The office romance bits do keep the characters who aren’t actively involved in the espionage plot grounded and contrasted with Freddie (Ben Whishaw), who’s losing it.
Paul: No, I agree. I could do without it, but I think I see why it’s there.
Kelvin: Yes, perhaps.
Paul: I don’t know that the show would be particularly stronger without it. It would be a different type of show if that were the case. Than whatever type of show it’s trying to be now, that is.
Kelvin: No, I think you’re right, it wouldn’t be stronger. However, I tend to wander off during those bits, which I suspect may come back to bite me, as it will all become relevant and intertwined at some point, I’m sure.
For example, when Hector (Dominic West) turns out to be a Soviet mole.
Paul: Ha! Hector is becoming an interesting character, although not as interesting as they seem to think he is. I thought the comments this week about his ambition were a little out of the blue.
He hasn’t seemed all that ambitious to me at all.
Kelvin: No, it hasn’t been established well.
Paul: If anything, he’s been more established as someone who just lucks into things and happens to rise.
I wonder if that’s intentional. That his blundering into success is seen as ambition by others?
Paul: I’m so used to shows telling me what it is I should know about the characters, that I’m now wondering if it’s meant to distract us, as it might in a stage drama.
Kelvin: Yes, I think you may be right. That may tie in to the recurrent idea of the show-within-a-show
Paul: I could just as easily be reading that into the writing since I now know who Abi Morgan is.
Kelvin: Possibly. It’s hard to tell with the surprises this programme throws at us, but I do also wonder if some of the surprises are due to choppy writing. I find it difficult to pin this one down.
Paul: I guess that’s one of the hazards of reviewing it episode by episode. Especially when it’s structured so tightly for the six-episode format.
Kelvin: Yes indeed.
I did find the conspiracy plot very exciting this time around. I think perhaps because there’s a sense of danger as Freddie gets closer to it.
Paul: There’s definitely that.
Kelvin: I had quite the sinking feeling when he talked to his boss, Fendley (Anton Lesser) about it, and then a key bit of the evidence was destroyed.
Paul: Agreed. I’m just glad he wasn’t the Russian mole, which is where I thought they were heading with that.
Of course, I guess they still could.
Kelvin: Yes, there’s still a chance of him turning Red, but I suspect that if there is a mole, it’s either Hector or Bel (Romola Garai).
It might be Freddie, but I doubt it.
Paul: I can’t really see any of them in that role. Again, it goes back to that mundane world bumping up against the escapist espionage stuff.
Kelvin: True, but they wouldn’t be very good moles if they were obvious!
Paul: I suppose! Everyone’s just so earnest about their jobs.
Kelvin: Lix! Lix is the spy!
Paul: Once again, Lix (Anna Chancellor) is the baddest of bad asses on this show. Freddie likes to pretend to be Bond, but Lix walks the walk.
Paul: So Freddie had intimate (both physically and emotionally) moments with three women this week. Mrs. Kish (Jessica Hynes), Lix, and Lady Elms (Juliet Stevenson). Interesting stuff developing in all three relationships.
Kelvin: Yes, lots of female contact, although not in the Bond sense.
Paul: After saying last week that I expected her to pull off the role, I found myself kind of disappointed in Jessica Hynes’s performance.
Kelvin: I’m sorry to say that I agree. It seemed a bit of a caricature.
Paul: Exactly. Moving from one emotional beat to a very different one with no real transition. It was almost like one of Daisy’s fantasies (from Spaced) come to life.
Kelvin: It’s at this point one of us would say “but perhaps that’s deliberate” but I’m not sure how much leeway we can give.
Paul: Ha! Unfortunately no, I think it was just a poor performance.
Kelvin: I am inclined to agree. It’s a shame, as I thought she’d do well, but it was a weird scene.
Paul: That does underline, though, how our uncertainties about the show are almost entirely on a structural and thematic level. The players are all doing solid work.
Until this scene, anyway.
Kelvin: Yes, quite right.
Kelvin: I had some reservations about Jason Watkins in the first episode — and will we ever come back to that mysterious phone call about Freddie? — but yes, this was more overt.
Paul: I’d forgotten all about both him and the phone call, to be quite honest.
Kelvin: These are the kind of things which stick in my mind and annoy me.
Paul: I suppose he could be the mole.
Kelvin: Possibly, although it would be an odd structural choice to give a character who hasn’t appeared since the first episode so prominent a role.
Assuming there is a mole, of course, as it’s only just been mentioned.
Paul: True, true. Could just be a RED herring.
HA! See what I did there?
Kelvin: That was appalling.
You should be ashamed of yourself, sir!
Paul: True, true.
Kelvin: We’re never going to get through a set of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy reviews with that kind of punnery.
Paul: I think my favorite scene this week was the one in the car between Fendley and McCain (Julian Rhind-Tutt). I loved that it broke with my expectations.
Paul: At that point, I really thought they were going to have Fendley be the mole but instead we get a very nicely stern confrontation. Although, both of Freddie’s confrontations with Lady Elms were similarly tense and impressive.
Kelvin: Yes, lots of tension in there. Freddie seems to be quite close to whatever It is.
Paul: Hmmm. I think I may have fallen victim to what I mentioned earlier about Hector. We were told there was a mole and so I just assumed that was what Kish (Burn Gorman) was doing, even though it was extremely obvious that he was there for Freddie.
Yeah. The mole story can’t be true.
Kelvin: I forget, was there mention of a mole before the end of this episode?
Paul: Not that I recall.
Kelvin: I don’t recall it either.
Paul: So that’s the official line from MI6 then. But we know better.
Kelvin: Fendley seems to think there’s one, but I wonder if that’s just the excuse McCain is giving to keep Freddie under tabs.
Paul: Well, he does say there “may” be a mole at the BBC, but not on his team. And he now knows what Freddie knows.
Hell, maybe he is a mole. I just don’t know anymore.
Paul: But I tend to think the newsroom is separate from the spyjinks.
Paul: I just want to know what Lady Elms is up to, hosting MI6 agent weekends and whatnot.
Kelvin: Yes, and is Freddie involved from way back, or is it just a coincidence?
Paul: I’m starting to wonder that same thing. Given Freddie’s childhood ties, is there something more going on there? Or is it just dramatic tension provided by Lady Elms never wanting to have him around.
Lord Elms (Tim Pigott-Smith) seemed to like him well enough.
Kelvin: Yes, Lord Elms seemed fond, but there’s a definite feel that Lady Elms is cold to him, but is that just because she’s trying to hide something?
Paul: I think I’m going to stop trying to guess. I know I said that last week, but this week I mean it.
Kelvin: Yes, it’s probably for the best.
This is from the Radio Times: “It’s the penultimate episode […] and there’s still no real picture emerging as to what it’s about.”
So we’re not the only ones lost.
Paul: This is really reminding me of AMC’s Rubicon. I need to watch that again.
Kelvin: I wish I’d watched more of that. I only saw the one episode, and it may not have been the most indicative. Although it was good.
Paul: It was very good, but it taunted you with its deliberate pacing. It dared you to turn the channel to something with more action.
That would be a good Shot for Shot Presents column: Shows cancelled prematurely.
Kelvin: Yes, lots of options there. American Gothic, perhaps.
Certainly The Hour has me coming back every week, so it’s doing something right.
Paul: Yes, this does keep your attention, even if you don’t quite know where it’s all leading. I guess that makes it good television?
Kelvin: Yes, it’s not a fair cause of complaint!
Paul: So, how do you rate Episode 1.04?
Kelvin: Well, the series as a whole has pepped up in the last couple of episodes, but I’m not sure it’s quite as good as last week’s, if only because of Jessica Hynes’ wobbly performance and the romancey bits.
So still , but not as strong as last week’s four.
Paul: I agree, it wasn’t up to last week’s standard for exactly the same bits you mention. I think it’s from me.
But those closing moments were all pretty strong and almost pull it back up to a four.
Kelvin: Yes, it’s a tentative four for me again.
Paul: If only there were a 3.75!
Kelvin: Ha! Yes. Or a 3.8. Perhaps we should go to percentage scoring. Sod the bullet metaphor!
Paul: Or go all Olympics and grade on a number of categories, combined into a points total.
Kelvin: If we go Olympics, we’ll have to start taking bribes.
Paul: Well, it’s not like we’re getting paid…
Are you listening, BBC?
Kelvin: That’s it then. Bribes can be sent to…
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Do NOT send bribes.]
Kelvin: This place is no fun anymore. I bet they take bribes at [REDACTED].
Be sure to check out our previous reviews of The Hour:
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 Shot for Shot. He currently has little spare time, but in what there is he continues to work on his first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.