London Spy Recap, Episode 3: “Fight…”
(As I go into detail about what happens in the episode, spoilers ahead).
We left off with Danny being defiant, tearing up Clarke Peters’ expensive business card. He has a cylinder Alex had hidden, a firm conviction Alex was murdered, and an overwhelming suspicion of the world around him. He’s likely on his own unless he can convince the reluctant Scottie to help. What next?
The episode opens with a slow shot of Alex’s body in the trunk. Danny is dreaming about him being caught in the trunk. He’s awakened by the police bursting in his apartment and hauling him out in his underwear. He’s processed in mugshots, fingerprints, DNA swabs–and even blood drawn. The police and techs are all faceless.The music is a constant pulsating undertone to unfolding story.
The cop from Ep 1, Detective Taylor (Samantha Spiro,) returns to question him in the highly unlikely police interrogation room. She’s asking about the trunk where Alex kept his hiking equipment. We have flashback to their day trip.
Taylor describes the physical effects of being confined in the trunk. Oxygen lessens, temperature rises, a feeling of euphoria. She asks Danny if he ever experimented with autoerotic asphyxiation. Danny admits he had tried it with a previous sexual partner (the police have all the details apparently about how many times he’s tried it. “How close did you come to death?” She asks. Then she asks if he’s ever passed out from too much “G” (GHB). A photo of a glass in attic is shown to him. Taylor is sure Danny took the G and caused him to forget to open the trunk for Alex. And then left. She assures him that the jury will hate him.
Uh-oh. She has some kind of evidence that Alex (and she harangues him again for not using his given name of Alistair) was a client of Ultra-Exclusive Discreet Escort Agency, Ltd. Not only that, she has a recording of Danny telling the story of his night that he lost his control and posted the ad to let anyone come to his flat to have sex. Now this gets even more ominous for Danny. Taylor says the recording was Danny on a phone call in Alex’s flat. As the security company owned the flat, all calls were recorded. Danny is astounded. “That conversation took place in my bedroom. We were face to face.” Taylor assures Danny that they did not find any surveillance equipment in Danny’s place.
They did find the keys that were sent to him, or left for him, in the warehouse. I use the term classic in these recaps a lot, and that is because for a fan of the thriller drama–spy or crime or noir, this is a classic set up. We’ve been with Danny through the mysterious happenings, so unless he is a total unreliable narrator we are with him all the way–he’s totally being set up by someone. The person watching him from the ground-floor apartment across from his, the security company, somebody has been following him and Alex and carefully setting up Danny to take the fall. Perhaps this was enacted because he refused to drop his contentions. As a thriller fan, we know this could well take place (it could well take place in real life). We can feel the confusion, anger, and helplessness of the actions he took in the past now making him look guilty. I have long held an idea that no matter who you are, even if you’d led a much more innocent life than Danny’s whatever you have said or done can be artfully misconstrued to make you look like a criminal, if in the right hands.
He protests helplessly about his being set up. Taylor is coldly insistent that when the sheets, stained with various bodily fluids, are returned with his DNA he’ll be charged.
Danny is a nervous wreck on his cab ride home with Scottie. Scottie tells him his lawyer says he should confess. Danny starts drawing something on a napkin he says is another lie. Falling into a fitful, sweaty sleep at Scottie’s house, he dreams of being surrounded by faceless interrogators, rising above him. Upon getting up, he tells Scottie that he’s sure the sheets will come back with his DNA as ‘they’ no doubt stole Alex’s sheets when out being cleaned. Danny works on a sketch of a logo–the logo for Ultra-Exclusive Discreet Escort Agency, Ltd, and contacts someone named Rich. Then he’s walking the streets to someone’s place and being buzzed in. On the elevator, he begins to flashback to a previous time on the elevator, young men around him, touching him, and and older man offering drugs. Hey! It’s Mark Gatiss, who is playing Rich, one Danny texted.
Danny goes into Rich’s apartment; Rich is apparently in the music industry. He calls Danny ‘the one that got away,’ and he’s smoking something illegal. Danny has another flashback to a previous occasion of being with those other young people at Rich’s place, doing the old I-smoke-crack/meth-and-erotically-blow-it-in-your-mouth thing. Rich offers Danny the smoke.
Danny abruptly turns down the offer and says he wants information. Rich is dismissive. But when he sees the logo Danny drew, his attitude changes. Danny wants to speak to the escort agency. Rich then tries to coerce Danny into sex, as Danny remembers the raunchy drug-fueled orgy of whatnot of his past encounter with Rich. At that time, Danny had become uncomfortable and left–hence he’s the one who got away. Now Rich is taking advantage of Danny’s need for information, exacting a price, and at the same time telling Danny of his place in life. “You have any idea how upset these people would be if I shared their secrets with the likes of you?” Then he insists Danny clean up and consider how badly he wants the information.
And Danny considers. While Rich chortles over the prospect of his having Danny to himself. He entertains himself talking about how he’ll die as a man who gets what he wants. But Danny finally can’t go through with it, and Rich angrily tells him to fuck off.
Then Danny’s back at his flat with his roommate, the female one [Edit: Sara]. She asks why he didn’t tell her, and says she found his medication–the pill Clarke Peters gave him. Uh-oh. We know what that means. He goes for an HIV test. Danny awaits the results in the clinic environment. Sterile and discomforting. She tells him results are reactive, although that could be a false positive. Danny is immediately terrified and shaky. She needs to run a second test to be sure. This scene is more than just the spy drama, it’s relatable to anyone who’s thought they were doing right, but not 100%, maybe have something to worry about, and learn that their luck slipped away. That is a human experience. The waiting, the guilt, the fear, the panic. Not to mention for Danny, to wonder about what was really going on with Alex. He’s overwhelmed, losing it, opening a needle and cutting his hand. The health aide returns, and asks if there’s someone they can call. Dear God.
Trying to reason it out, Danny talks to Scottie, [Edit: saying he believes he was infected when the police drew blood]. Scottie isn’t looking at him, and Danny fears his judgment. Scottie’s thinking back to the time he took Danny to the hospital after the losing-control incident. Scottie speaks at though he feels Danny broke his promise to not be that rash again. Danny needs him to believe, and Scottie does believe him. That ‘they’ deliberately infected him. To make him look even worse as a suspect, more sordid. “The story of you two has already been written,” Scott says. Danny will not be a figure for whom the public will demand justice–they’ll say he got what he deserved. Danny is torn. He loved Alex, but he can’t fight ‘them.’
Scottie has another story. An old lover, from the early eighties. An artist who fell ill when HIV/AIDS didn’t have a name or any warnings. A secret plague, Scottie says. The lover tried to use color therapy to heal him, painting himself blue. Scottie tried to convince his lover to fight, but the lover knew he was going to die, and suffer terribly, and he had to face an inevitability of defeat. Scottie could not face it then. And now, although he knows the situation is impossible, they will fight. After the terribleness of what has happened to Danny, their hug of friendship and support is a relief.
[Edit: In the flashback with Rich and the young persons at Rich’s apartment, Danny gives one a condom, and the other man chews on it and spits it out. That’s when Danny leaves. This in hindsight seems to indicate that Danny would not risk not using a condom, and supports his contention that he was acting responsibly as he told Scottie.]
Danny is then swimming in a club as therapy. He’s ready to start fighting. Scottie asks him to tell of the secret he’s been keeping. Danny admits he stole the cylinder. [Edit: Danny believes that when Alex told him he needed to go out and buy a laptop battery, he was telling Danny where to find the cylinder]. Scottie is admiring. He explains how information used to be transmitted, [Edit: That Alex would have acted on the premise Danny could figure out the code] and says that Danny needs to figure out how to decode it to open it. Scottie says they need a great mind to help them. He gets a suit for Danny, explaining that who they are going to see would assess them by the cut of their suit–not for wealth, but a set of signals. Semiotics! I love it.
They’re going to see the President and Provost Professor of the University of London that evening. The music now changes from an ominous throb to on one of careful purpose. The thrill of taking control, doing something about the situation. “The craft of a spy has always been choosing the right people to trust.” Scottie warning that the meeting will be recorded. They check into the University and are led to the Professor, Claire (Harriet Walter). They explain that a former student of the University–Alex–is why they are there in such a dramatic way. That Alex was murdered. They want to speak to his professor, Marcus Shaw. Claire said that Marcus’ relationship with Alex was intellectually intimate, and that unless they’re talking math, Marcus won’t bother with them. She feels Marcus admired, possibly envied Alex, but wouldn’t have harmed him. But it seems she’s going to help.
Now they are on their way to another nice area of the city; Scottie tells Danny to seem effortless, at ease with the surroundings. They are going in a club where those present will not want a scene. An old school gentleman’s club. They are meeting James (James Fox). Scottie and he worked together, although James distinguishes that they didn’t really work together. One can feel the putting in one’s place there, but Scottie handles this. Part of the game. He’s asking a favor of James. Apparently that’s rather a breach of protocol, but James listens. Scottie directly braces him about Alex’s death. Natch, James is all have-you-lost-your-mind. Scottie alludes that he will be discreet about whatever info James has. James, in that very upper classist way, suggests that Scottie’s hanging around on street corners (you just know he knows Scottie’s past, and won’t let him forget his disgrace) has rubbed off on him. But Scottie is steely now. He says he learned from the top. James turns all code on him them, telling a ‘joke:’: “An Englishman, a Chinaman, a Frenchman, an American, a Russian, an Israeli and a Saudi walk into a bar and they all agree.” He then says Scottie better explain it to his ‘boy’ at a later stage, and says it’s an awful shame that Scottie has chosen to get involved. So we know Scottie has chosen to ruin his erstwhile career over this. Maybe more.
Time to go. And the other members watch them leave, and a club employee braces Scottie to settle up. His club membership is canceled. Then Scottie explains the joke. MI6, the Chinese Ministry for State Security, the French DGSE, the CIA, Mossad, Saudi GIP, Russian FSB. They all agreed they don’t want what Alex found to be in the open. And that means Danny and Scottie are very alone.
Danny is later trying to walk all this off on his own when he sees a car following him. It’s Rich. He mocks Danny about not having fun. Rich tells Danny he’s grown up. He has no idea. Rich has a package for Danny, not to be opened there. Biting his nails, Rich is serious under his sleazy exterior, a touch of anger. “It’s the impossible,” he says. Why did he change his mind? He didn’t. Danny doesn’t get it, but we do, as Rich kicks him out the car, advising him to have fun. Danny pops into the restroom of a convenience store and finds a phone in the envelope. Ringing.
A note about director Jakob Verbruggen’s (he’s also directed episodes of The Fall) work here. The pacing is slow-building as mentioned in the recap of Ep 1, but it works. Thrillers like this need the tension and slow pace Verbruggen has with Tom Rob Smith’s story, and it works so long as the tension is there, as you watch Danny try to figure out his way. He has grown up, sobered from the nihilistic party kid, putting his life on the line, and inspiring his cautious friend to do so as well. Both of them, decades apart, but having the same experience of being considered as lesser, as degrading due to their sexuality.
Questions for next week and the following:
Since the cylinder needs to be decoded, the math professor is the most likely to help?
Is the escort agency the one ringing Danny, and why?
Can he get this sorted out before that DNA comes back?
Is Scottie going to get killed for his bravery?
I’m going to quote another post I have on the blog: Mark Gatiss (who is also out) is a writer (including Dr. Who) and out actor (including Sherlock and Game of Thrones) who hosted a documentary, A History of Horror, first aired on the BBC in 2010. If you can find it online, watch it. Here’s why. The documentary stands out because Gatiss chose the films the doc focuses on. As these are favorites with him, he describes them in detail, carefully, with meaning and with the deep interest of a movie lover. At one point he brings up a book he read in his youth, Alan Frank’s Horror Movies–Tales of Terror in the Cinema, and how the book added to an enhancement of his love of horror movies. His focus and care in the presentation allows for detail, history, integrity and creativity. You can see it in the quiet interviews he conducts with various film personages.
I’m enjoying Tom Rob Smith’s story for having the same story tropes I like. I’d like to suggest if I may that if you like one story involving a murder set-up with autoerotic asphyxiation faked, you may like The Hanged Man, and if you like the protagonist falsely accused of murder you may also like The Hanged Man, and The Book of Joel.
Post updated 2/6/2016
Copyright Alex Fiano 2012-2016