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Five Stars Out of Five ... Premier Dramatic Storytelling with Few Equals
on December 22, 2011
Let's just say it and get it out the way: MI-5 is simply one of the greatest dramatic television series ever made. I know that's a ridiculously grandiose statement that is an easy target of criticism, but if you'll just browse down the titles of the 100+ reviews of MI-5 Season One here on Amazon, you'll be able to get some independent verification of that statement. It's quite true: once you get into this series, it is hard to think otherwise. It might take up through to the beginning of Season Two to be fully convinced, but after that, chances are you'll agree, and you'll want to watch the series all the way through.
MI-5 is smart, dramatic, intelligent, exciting, thought provoking, well written and directed, beautifully filmed, and wonderfully acted. It's a crown jewel in the BBC's tiara, and will remain difficult to surpass for a very long time indeed.
"MI-5" (Military Intelligence, Section 5) is that part of the British security service that focuses on internal security and threats (as opposed to MI-6, which deals with extra- and international threats to the UK). This means that the service deals with any potential internal threat, including crime, terrorism, domestic economic threats, and counter-espionage. Its headquarters is in Thames House in London. The show MI-5 focuses on a variety of domestic threats arising from both domestic and international sources, and is based on the Section D Team within MI-5, which focuses on counter-terrorism, and is led by Harry Pearce (Peter Firth, in the role of his career). Although different issues and challenges arise in each show, and it is certainly possible to watch shows at random, the series is best enjoyed and appreciated when viewed in episode order due to the manner in which dramatic themes are built and extended across episodes. This is a show that rewards the viewer for effort put into watching the series in order.
Season One does not get off to the best of starts. Most shows, particularly those as complicated and as wide reaching as MI-5, experience similar issues with the pilot episode, and MI-5 does not fully escape that fate. That's too bad, because some might see that first episode and decide the show is not quite their cup of tea. In my own mind, the first episode of Season One suffers from a contrived script on a too-obvious story (and, unfortunately, contains some needless violence that is thankfully not seen elsewhere in the series), but it should not really be missed if you wish to work through the show because of the cast introductions and orientations to the show that occur in this episode. We can easily say that Episode One of Season was more for the benefit of the writers, cast, crew, and directors of the show rather than the viewers, but they all learned fast, and they learned well. As Season One progresses, we start feeling we are watching a well-oiled and precision racing machine that is gaining increasing momentum as the episodes unfold, and by the time we reach the cliff-hanging ending of Season One, we can easily see that this is an amazing show.
Some of the Seasons have been hideously expensive to purchase on DVD, but some of that may be reduced at this point (late 2011). Each season normally contains either eight or ten episodes. However, when one considers that most of these episodes are more like mini-movies than television shows, the price becomes much more understandable. Unfortunately, no Blu-ray versions currently exist (to my knowledge). But the DVD quality is superb. Gorgeous filming and excellent sound make these episodes among the best you'll ever see from television.
Is it allowable to give a seven out of five stars ranking? If so, that's how I would rate this show, particularly as we get into Seasons Two onward.
To much agonizing around the world, MI-5 was finally ended by the BBC in late 2011 (Season Ten). As of December 2011, there is no word of the North American DVD release date, but most assume it to be either first or second quarter of 2012. The discussion boards and blogs were filled with sadness about the end of the show, but the BBC felt that this was the best place to tie off the show, probably for financial as well as artistic reasons. There is some talk of an American spin off. I am skeptical of that, because, although anyone can easily enjoy this show, it is quintessentially a British show, and that's really part of its appeal.