TV REVIEW: London Spy - Strangers


Still reeling from the revelation that Alex wasn't at all who he said he was, Danny embarks on his own personal quest to prove that his boyfriend was murdered. The police still refuse to believe that Danny was completely unaware of Alex's S&M lifestyle so he turns to the press to try and tell his side of the story. After they run a double-page spread exposing all sorts of nasty things about both Danny and Alex, he is invited to stay at his former lover's parents' house, where the mystery deepens even further.

Thanks to the opening episode taking its time to establish both Danny and Alex, as well as the central mystery around which the series will now revolve, the second episode is allowed move forward with that puzzle. Strangers throws a lot of information at us during its runtime; Danny is in possession of something which needs to be cracked by a code, Alex's mother perhaps knows more than she is letting on and Danny is being watched, maybe aided, by a mysterious American who leaves him his card. The bulk of the episode is devoted to Alex's family and his unconventional upbringing with a mother (the wonderfully sinister Charlotte Rampling) who pushed him hard to realise his potential.

Whishaw is mesmerising in the central role; even simple things like staring out of a train window seem vitally important to understanding what Danny's going through at this point in time. It's a measured performance though and given that the series rides on Danny's emotions, Whishaw takes care to ensure it never strays into anything disproportionately overt. The after-dinner library scene with Rampling is beautifully taut, each character playing their cards close to their chest, Frances especially. She's a classic domineering mother, but someone who absolutely still believes she did the right thing for her son. 

There's a curious relationship developing as a result of the differences between Danny and Alex in how Danny views the rest of the world. Whilst Alex was devoted to reason and order, Danny is much more intuitive, something which proves to be a strength as he starts to move into Alex's world. He realises that two older people masquerading as Alex's parents aren't who they say they are not with reason, as Alex's actual mother points out, but with feeling. Likewise, he instantly knows which Alex's room is because "it's the loneliest room" he's ever been in. It's an intriguing idea, one which branches off from the usual dogged investigation of deduction and reason into one of feeling and irrationality. The fact that Danny is a bit haphazard and openly emotional could be what allows him to see things others can't.

That idea of sight and seeing is built into the episode, a continuation of the noirish themes that dominated the first instalment. As Danny makes his way through Alex's childhood home, everything is partially covered, hidden by dust sheets or overtaken by ivy and obscured from view. Lamps only half-light rooms, leaving vast swathes of the house in complete darkness. In Alex's room, everything is left uncovered as this is where Danny understands by simply knowing his partner well enough to see his room the way he left it. It does mean that the episode loses its subtlety in places. Danny making his way through the maze may have seemed like a clever symbolism during production, but it jars with the more intelligent sets elsewhere.

As it's only five episodes long, I'm expecting the pace to pick up more in the next few episodes, but so far London Spy has felt refreshing in its slow unfolding. It's more befitting of the emotional tragedy that lies at the heart of its mystery and Danny is a suitably unconventional hero to follow the revelations with. It may not be the most subtle, but it's certainly captivating.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of previous episode, Lullaby, here.

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