Bill Nighy Returns to Television in 'Worricker'

Chloe Sanders

When Worricker is on screen, paying attention is consistently rewarding.

Masterpiece Contemporary: Worricker

Airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET
Cast: Bill Nighy, Christopher Walken, Winona Ryder, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Judy Davis
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: PBS
Director: David Hare
Air date: 2014-11-09

With a slide of the frame that is just as smooth as he is, Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy) enters two new installments of the critically acclaimed series, Worricker. Premiering on PBS three years after the first episode, Page Eight, each of these well-structured plots could stand on its own, but they both benefit too from the familiarity we have with the former MI5 spy.

Streaming now on PBS' Masterpiece website, Turks & Caicos and Salting the Battlefield locate Worricker in the midst of political corruptions revolving around the Prime Minister (Ralph Fiennes), dirty business practices, not to mention Worricker's own recent disgrace and his current efforts to avoid authorities in either of those arenas. While Worricker's espionage and much respected cast are plainly appealing, viewers may find themselves more intrigued by this particular spy's intelligent handling of perplexing situations and people who are not what they seem.

As much as Worricker wants to stay out of trouble on Turks and Caicos, he is, of course, surrounded by wealthy, worried, and generally dishonest people, each with his or her own story, and all influencing his story, whether vaguely or inordinately. The complexity of these overlapping narratives is indicated by frequent cuts, sometimes abrupt, between characters and locations. It's not long before these many stories begin to resemble puzzle pieces for Worricker to sort out.

One of these pieces is Melanie Fall (Winona Ryder), a publicist who’s seen her share of scandals and cover-ups. She helps Worricker to discover some of the dishonesty among her well-heeled employers at Gladstone, at one point disclosing details about what happened the night that a Gladstone associate, Dido Parsons (Zach Grenier), was murdered. She also shares memories of her father making sketchy deals with family friends. Through her Worricker learns of some of the men’s involvement -- with the help of the US government -- in the construction of black site torture camps.

Like most other characters here, Melanie serves Worricker's plot as a source of information. Her unfortunate personal history, which includes sexual abuse, reminds us that deceit is not always a function of immorality, but sometimes, helps someone to survive. By keeping her father's secrets, Melanie has developed her own burdens, even as she's been able to exploit her good looks and charm in order to stay alive.

Curtis Pelissier (Christopher Walken) runs in her circle; or, rather, she runs in his. Pelissier makes it hard for Worricker to keep to his planned retirement on Turks and Caicos. When he takes an interest in Worricker, we're inclined to guess his bad intentions, especially because his dialogue is increasingly obvious. “Look, this is Turks and Caicos," says Pelissier, "Nobody is who they claim to be. It’s a home for dirty money.” This includes Pelissier, who turns out to be a CIA agent who knows something about his new neighbor's past life. As he speaks, the frame shows a view of the island, as if Pelissier, disillusioned in his own way, is accusing its entire population.

Former MI5 analyst Margot Tyrell (Helena Bonham Carter) isn't precisely part of that population, but she's involved in her own set of deceits and betrayals. Now working in London, she's not entirely honest with her boss, Stirling Rogers (Rupert Graves), in order to help Worricker (her ex, as we know) obtain information, and her decision to do so is central to the plot of Salting the Battlefield, focused on their travels through Europe using false identities.

Their adventures allow for an extended mix of tension and wit, shifts in tone helped along by shifts in location. Speedy cutting from place to place not only reminds us of the ease with which rich people and spies tend to traverse the globe (in life and on TV), and also insists on the intersections of storylines, how Worricker's past and present intertwine. If the edits sometimes seem inconsistent or even distract from what seem to be dramatic revelations or departures, they also insist that we pay attention.

When Worricker is on screen, paying attention is consistently rewarding. Both the new episodes, Turks & Caicos and Salting the Battlefield, invite us to consider our own participation in the storytelling, to look past surfaces and think about how and why lies might be told, how identities might be changed or left behind or revisited. While we may not be surrounded by the corrupt individuals on a scale comparable to Worricker's experience, we might share in his sense of wonder and weariness.

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