I was so patient waiting for this show to build up on my sky box so I could watch it in big chunks, that I completely forgot about it and only just got round to watching it. Good job I had a nice run of free evenings because as usual, I just couldn’t stop watching.
The thing that makes it so completely compelling isn’t the twists and turns of the spying and investigations, but the elegant development of the characters. Frankly I lost track of half of the plots, which bits of information they were trying to get from who and for what purpose. Bah, whatever. That’s just the mechanics of getting characters to keep having to make choices, form connections and mostly, just deceive absolutely everyone, including themselves.
Season 1 of the series started out clearly focusing on the relationship between Elizabeth and Philip and the different way they felt about their ongoing mission. Many of the other characters just felt rather incidental to that, people to use and/or keep secrets from. By season 4 however, many of those characters have sneakily completely ingrained themselves into stories and lives and the web of deception has to go so much wider, with Elizabeth and Philip struggling to keep all the different lies straight, and keep themselves emotionally removed.
As each person becomes closer, the writers and actors keep everything original and fresh, it never feels quite what you’d expect it to be and it is never at all simple. Martha started out as just an unknowing asset, but somewhere along the line she became a key relationship with Philip, in turn impacting his relationship with Elizabeth. The way that story worked out over season 4 was absolutely heart-breaking and fascinating, so many different emotions being played out, so eloquent yet with so few words. Similarly the ongoing fallout of letting Paige into the secret keeps going. You never doubt Philip and Elizabeth love her and hate what the knowledge does, but they are still her parents and are disappointed and angry at some of Paige’s mistakes.
A few characters don’t land quite as well. I’m happy to see an end to Nina’s storyline and satisfied that it really was the only ending that made sense. Henry, the son, really doesn’t get much to do beyond studiously not being present for key discussions. Pastor Tim also remains tediously ‘limp’ through what could have been a more interesting storyline and Gabriel (the handler) is generically just used to move plots along without really contributing much. Most of the new characters just don’t feel like they’re worthy replacements for those that we’ve lost, with the exception of the hilarious Young Hee and her utterly charming relationship with Elizabeth.
It’s been announced that there will be two further seasons of the show before it finishes and that gives both a security in knowing it will be written to a conclusion, but also provides a ticking clock that raises the tension even more. It’s two years away, but I’m already nervous for how the story will end. These characters are so well developed that it feels like they’re absolutely real, every trauma, every stressful decision, every consideration of the consequences feels very real. It’s not exactly a relaxing show to watch, but that’s because it is one of the best shows about people that I’ve ever seen.