I am walking down a street. It looks innocent enough. I’m not fooled, though. It’s quiet. Too quiet.
For example, do you see that young woman coming along, pushing the baby stroller? Well, how do you know it’s a baby in that stroller? How do you know it’s not an Uzi she’s going to be whipping out any second now? How do you know she’s not a suicide bomber?
All of which may sound a little hysterical and over-the-top paranoid. But if you say something like that, you have obviously not been spending your spare time as my husband and I have, watching the incredible BBC spy series, MI-5. We’ve gotten hooked, badly and irreparably, and have since been making our way through nine seasons of 8-10 hour-long shows apiece.
Nine seasons! Imagine the commitment. It’s no wonder I don’t have the time to read Proust.
Every night, for the past few weeks, we’ve eaten dinner, checked our email and dived in. Who knew there was so much intrigue and danger going on in England? Every night, there’s a new threat from the IRA, Christian fundamentalists, militant Islamists, financial predators, loner nutjobs. You name the group or individual, they are out to get you in a very ugly and personal way.
Fortunately, the small and select cadre of Brits, the MI-5, is on the case and usually prevails. They sacrifice their personal lives, they spy, they eavesdrop, they lie up a storm, they have to run and dodge explosives quite a bit. They remind me of one of my favorite lines from Godfather II, where Hyman Roth shakes his head sadly and tells Michael, “This is the business we have chosen.”
The business we have chosen! Exactly! So, when you’re all mobbed up, bad things happen, and when you’re in charge of national security in a world gone ape-shit, you can’t trust the young woman with the stroller or the innocuous-looking fellow idling a few feet away, since they both probably want to kill you.
I watch devotedly, realizing I could never be a spy in a zillion years. I’m not talking about my extreme physical cowardice, although that’s a start. I’m talking about being secretive about everything. I’m also talking about being abrupt and rude. Spies never even say hello when somebody calls them and they hang up without saying good-bye or “take care.” Why talk on the phone if you’re not going to take the time to chitchat and exchange personal information?
Anyway, this brings me to another point about being a slavish fan of MI-5: You’ll get your heart broken on a routine basis. Since everything seems to remind me of something else, I offer this anecdote. You may or may not remember the late Jim Valvano, the funny, high-spirited basketball coach at North Carolina State. Although eventually worshiped by most fans, Valvano got off to a bad start. After a bad loss, an amateur critic wrote that he wanted to kill both Valvano and his dog. Valvano wrote back that, unfortunately, he didn’t have a dog. The next day, a puppy was sitting at his front door, with a message pinned to his collar: “Don’t get attached.”
Similarly, you shouldn’t get too attached to the main characters on MI-5. They have a way of dying on you. Also, if you’re a hypersensitive American, you might get your feelings hurt. Americans, by and large, come across as arrogant louts and blowhards on the show.
But those are minor quibbles. What really worries me is this: I can’t quite recall our lives before MI-5 took over — even though I’m sure they were contented and full and all that. We’re now past halfway in season 8, with only 10 or so shows to go. What on earth are we going to do when we reach the end?
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read a post about my two favorite movies