Finally the show starts to resemble a spy thriller, and benefits from renewed focus and drive. Come now to leper -- sorry, I mean Roper Island!
The Night ManagerAirtime: Sundays, 9pm
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, Tom Hollander, Elizabeth Debecki
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 3
Air date: 2016-03-06
Episode two's review ended up twisting more towards the negative at times. I don't regret it, but it still felt a shame to be so negative about a show with such astonishing actors, scenery, and potential, and then be faced with the disappointment that none of these were being used properly or effectively. Breathe deep; breathe steady; all's now well.
Well, mostly; as there's much to cheer for, let's quickly cover the quibbles. After having brought it up as a highlight of the opening two episodes, it was rather saddening and confusing to not be greeted by Richard Ropers (Hugh Laurie) motivational/political/world dominating TED-lite talk. Why bother using such a device, if only to drop it before it begins to pay off? There vanishes my hopes of a gradually unfolding puzzle that would help us slowly get a picture of who our antagonist truly is -- or who he wishes to appear to be -- and we'll now have to just hope it's merely taken a week off to allow the events here a little more space to breathe.
This would be understandable as there is much to cover this week, with Roper Island becoming a hive of inter-political intrigue, and whilst I may have been well off the mark with my TED Talk predictions, I couldn’t have been more on the ball with the License to Kill parallels (yes, of course I’ve seen Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars as well, but humour the pulpy Bond fan in me). However, these comparisons are not necessarily flattering considering the pedigree and subject matter being tackled by The Night Manager: Kurosawa's playful lone samurai would be a lot less cursory fun if he had been up against a warlord pumping weapons of mass terror into a conflict all too close to reality.
Halfway into its run, the show still feels like it hasn't got a firm grasp on reality with Jonathan Pine's (Tom Hiddleston) activities on Roper Island. Why does Roper allow the highly suspect Pine to walk around his private island? Has he been discussing security policy with Dr. Evil? Why would he elect to trust him over a long-term ally (who we learn this week even shared jail-time with Roper), on the word of one business associate? Maybe these are faults inherited from Le Carré's text, but they only served to distance the series from the complex geopolitical issues it wishes to tackle and emulate.
Enough, let's discuss positives.
As predicted, Hiddleston's Jonathan Pine is benefiting greatly from the interplay with Hugh Laurie's Roper, Tom Hollander's Major Corkoran, Elizabeth Debicki's Jed Marshall, and even young Noah Jupe as Daniel Roper. All are presented in a slightly different shade by their response to Pine’s alien presence in their gilded bubble, even if they don't reveal all that much of Pine in return. He remains even harder for the audience to fully judge. as his real identity becomes ever more cloaked in new identities and split personalities. For now, we know he's the "good guy".
Roper's still firmly the bad guy (no inverted comma required), with "Corky" still stealing the best lines and presenting the direct threat, allowing Roper to linger in the back at first, before slowly shifting into the foreground as the former is shunted out of the spotlight. Crass Corky's decline from power would be somewhat tragic were he not such a detestable figure, and the magic of Hollander's performance is that he manages to reveal ever more of the human flesh hiding underneath his armour. It feels difficult to believe that such a figure would capitulate so easily, so I doubt (and dearly hope) that we have not seen the last of dear Corky.
The show isn't as reliant on him for tension any more however, with Pine’s increasingly dangerous activity firstly pulling his role out of last week’s doldrums, whilst also allowing us to come to grips with a plot that finally raises the stakes by adding meat to the broader threat. Roper may live on a deliciously opulent evil island, but his plans are shielded by simple bribery, and veiled in a third party company created to shield all involved from direct implication; by god it’s almost, well, plausible.
It also provides some logical, unique purpose for Pine’s presence, and a good reason for him to remain close to Roper from here on, which of course will also mean less freedom to actually relay his findings back to Burr (Olivia Colman). What effect could this proximity have on such a fractured and isolated figure?
Speaking of Burr, it feel appropriate that she should receive final offers this week, as her role is slightly diminished after last week's understated menace. Hers and Pines roles have now been reversed, and watching such a vibrant and impassioned character be placed in the passive role of "wait and see" is an interesting development, helped by David Harewood's Joel Steadman) remaining icy cool as she smoulders beside him.
But, it mostly pulls her away from the hushed, hidden machinery of Whitehall, which truly nailed Le Carré last week. It’s satisfying to see her and Pine effectively support each other, and ensures the audience will not spend the series permanently frustrated by protagonists miscommunication and irritating judgements that just push our sympathies towards the clever (if morally reprehensible) machinations of the dastardly villains. It helps us forgive the earlier naivety of Pine, and provides an interesting arc for both characters to rattle along.
We'll have to see how it turns next week. Jed's role still feels in flux, and the final scenes only helped to throw more questions than answers. Will Burr and Pine find mutual attraction in their shared suspicion and guilt? Both actors' undeniable beauty, and the reduced Hiddleston nudity this week, may well make it irresistible for the show to exploit.
Let's just see if it can pull it off.
Thomas Meehan is a history graduate of the University of Reading. Based outside London, he writes and directs independent short films, when not busy teaching the young.