International espionage television can be as popcorn as 24, as glossy as The Night Manager or as embedded as The Honourable Woman.
Whilst some lean towards action, money on the screen and invariably the hero, others may adopt a wider political theme. Deep State is knee-deep in the realism of the Middle East for its central character, retired MI6 agent Max Easton (Mark Strong).
Happily ensconced with his wife Anna (Lyne Renee) and young family in France, Max is forced back to work when threats are at his doorstep. Although reluctant to go back into the field for his old boss, his attitude soon changes when he is told his son from a former marriage, Harry (Joe Dempsie) has been killed in Iran, whilst trying to emulate his father.
“We’re giving you the opportunity to make this right. Isn’t that what you want?” his MI6 boss George (Alistair Petrie) proposes.
Suddenly the idea of one last job takes on new meaning even if it means lying to Anna, who thinks her husband works in international banking. Yet she is suspicious and leans upon her brother Noah (Adrien Jolivet) to detect if Max is having an affair or leading a double life.
Concurrent with this central plot are flashback scenes with Harry and his team trying to take down Iranian nuclear experts, whether scientific or financiers. It’s risky work, as Max knows too well, and Harry’s life is clearly in danger.
Max’s hunt will take him to Lebanon where he must draw upon all his rusty espionage skills and strong-arm tactics, soon entangled in a covert intelligence war, unaware he may be just a pawn of the CIA.
This 8 part drama filmed in several countries for the FOX-owned EPIX channel certainly takes things very seriously. Australian director Robert Connolly (Balibo, Paper Planes, Barracuda) helms the first 4 episodes and the opening chapter includes explosions, chases and austere British spy games. It also screened at both the Sydney Film Festival & Series Mania.
Robert Strong leads a convincing cast, if looking a little young to father Joe Dempsie (Skins, Game of Thrones) as his son. Playing aloof and contained is all well and good in the spy genre, but there is also a risk it does not establish enough sympathy for the central character too.
While the men are getting testosterone, and occasionally toasted, in the field, Anna must bring an emotional side to the story isolated with her own mystery in France.
Heavy in its politics this is nevertheless a promising first episode from writer Matthew Parkhill (Rogue) that ends with a hook.
9:35pm Wednesday on SBS.