SPOILER ALERT: This summary contains spoilers for episode four of The Little Drummer Girl. You can read the previous notes here.
As Le Carré's latest adaptation was yellowed in the United Kingdom and Europe in 1981, opinions differed as to the efficacy with which he evoked the images, sounds, and atmosphere of his period. Even the most skeptical viewer would have to admit, though, that the opening stretch of episode 4 actually captured the essence of the powder keg of a 1980s static caravan holiday in Somerset: periods of overcast boredom punctuated by great yelling fights .
After relief from having survived his first cover-and-sword adventure in Austria, Charlie (Florence Pugh) was on a wait-and-see pattern with his former playmates as he waited for Michel's revolutionary network to make contact. This involved, maliciously, the feeding of potatoes to the swans, while his trainer Becker (Alexander Skarsgård) continued his training in trade. Charlie learned of the messages scrawled on top of the fag packets, familiarized himself with a portable radio alarm clock with a hidden transmitter, and performed a random practice with a firearm.
Becker was also carefully nurturing her with more background information about Michel, while hiding perhaps the most important information: that the playboy bomber was dead, blown to pieces in his Mercedes packed with explosives. This omission became vital when Michel's comrades finally came in contact with Anton, a clandestine Swiss lawyer in a waterproof coat of Inspector Gadget. After leaving a business card in their tight quarters – again, probably not the first time a bottle of non-formal vodka is a key part of a holiday in a Somerset caravan – Anton took Charlie for a frantic questioning with Helga.
Charlie's apparently plausible reaction to the news of Michel's death – in addition to his solemn revelation about kissing his gun – seemed to be enough to convince his captors of strange couples that she was the real deal. It was a high-tension scene, though it was interrupted by two moments of black comedy: an inconvenient power outage, requiring Anton to pick up 50p from his prisoner to the meter, and an unexpected burst of Kenny Rogers from the rogue clock radio. Of all Charlie's many auditions so far, this was probably the hardest. But she apparently passed, even though she became irritated with Becker later during interrogation in a graveyard.
For Kurtz (Michael Shannon), now engaged with his team in an elegant London hostel, it was the operational breakthrough of his dreams: a direct connection to the bomber network. In their excitement, the metaphors were mutilated. "You opened a whole new can of worms for us, Charlie," he chuckled, "worms we've been trying to hook for many years." Despite his strategic nature as a careful maker of plans and backup plans, the cunning master spy seemed to misjudge how to respond when Charlie demanded to know if it had always been his intention to kill Michel. He gave it to her straight as he tried to protect Becker from guilt. She sped off.
Or was it all part of Kurtz's overarching scheme, a way to arm the volatile relationship between Charlie and his best agent? The thoughtful Becker, who had spent the last three episodes moving away from Charlie, finally left his cautious front and showed him something of his true self: a small, slightly anonymous London-crash-up to a dizzying flight of stairs. If the attractions and repulsions between Charlie and Becker were the long, slow fire that burned the story so far, here it finally lit up.
This long-delayed physical consummation seemed important in promoting the relationship between two main actors, but for all the passion on display – reinforced by some eccentric driving choices – Charlie and Becker's post-coital reverie seemed so significant. Scanning a bedside lamp under the thin sheet, Charlie traced the scars on her lover's body, which seemed so fascinating on Naxos; a kind of biography, etched on Becker's torso after many years of fighting both hot and cold wars (as well as a nasty nibble by a rogue Pomeranian). Then, with the help of his lampshade, Charlie conducted his own mock interrogation, an article of espionage history reworked as a heart to heart among lovers.
If Charlie was finding life in the UK a bit dull, the contact with Helga made everything quicker. A telephone box meeting turned into an ambush, with Charlie packed in a car under a gunshot and carried with terrifying efficiency to Beirut by Charles de Gaulle airport. As the details of his whereabouts returned to Kurtz in London, he seemed triumphant: here was his carefully prepared bait being drawn straight to his target through the trunk of several battered halls. Becker, shattered sending Charlie in the first place, seemed less enthusiastic.
Much of the story so far has involved men manipulating or coercing women, from Michel's post-bomb stables to Charlie's underhanded recruiting for Kurtz. But the final scenes of episode four left us in an interesting place, with Charlie abruptly coming face-to-face with Fatmeh, dear sister of the dead man whose life she so carefully braided in herself. With little conversations aside about Michel's birthmarks and scars (and penises), what do these women – both of whom are needed to survive in precarious situations – need to discuss? I'm intrigued to find out.
Park Performance Review
If the initial marketing of The Little Drummer Girl seemed to emphasize the attractiveness of her two main stars, her long-delayed sex scene came with a surreal edge. Seeing Skarsgård open his mouth, apparently in a cry of passion, only to see that Pugh's eyeball was more haunting than sexy. But director Park Chan-wook seems to appreciate these moments of disorientation: the shots from Charlie's point of view being mistreated by several lackeys have also added some bumps to his journey through Lebanon.
Spy Notes and Observations
Becker had ordered Charlie to kiss the gun-an intimate ritual for Michel, adopted by his eldest brother-had a remarkable strangeness, but he also seemed to be actively dangerous. Would not the newly launched barrel be hot yet?
She may be going along with Kurtz's plans, but Charlie reading the work of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, knowing that the Israeli and his team would be listening through his clock radio, seemed like his retreat from rebellion.
The stylized and often theatrical approach remains divisive. "The Magus meets the New Avengers and finds the Archives of Ipcress," argued one commentator, which sounds like a great compliment; "A French parody of itself," said another.
We already met Fatmeh, but there was only a trace of older brother Khalil. Are you eager for the elusive mind to emerge from the shadows?
A Little Drummer Girl debuts in the US this week, with all six episodes sorting into double counts over three nights, so Be suspicious of spoilers.