Pine Gap

A drama set in the US-Australian alliance is too talky and sluggish to live up to its ambitions.

The backdrop of Pine Gap has all the ingredients of a tempting drama thriller: a joint US-Australian facility shrouded in secrecy, a unique and exotic setting in the Australian outback, and a cultural clash with the Indigenous community.

Located just outside Alice Springs, Pine Gap is one of 3 major ‘eyes’ in a network linked with Colorado and the UK,. With just 1 road in and out into a valley surrounded by mountains, it is so ominously placed that no filming on site was allowed for this production.

So it’s disappointing that with such an interesting setting the opening episode gets bogged down in talking heads and a pace that lacks sufficient energy.

The Operations Floor looks like Australia’s answer to 24′s CTU, staffed by both American and Australian intelligence. Mission Director Gus Thompson (Parker Sawyers) oversees the surveillance which hits high alert when an armed warhead is targeted at an APEC summit in Myanmar -attended by the US President and Australian Prime Minister.

Aussie communications analyst Jasmina Delic (Tess Haubrich) is one of several staff on the floor the day it takes out a civilian plane with 14 people, including 4 Americans. It’s a Pine Gap fail and someone has to take the fall.

But how could so much money and tech wizardry fail? American Moses Dreyfus (Mark Leonard Winter) suspects an insider has hacked their mainframe and sets about gathering information covertly.

The opening chapter also introduces us to the Alice Springs community where a simple dinner date can entail an ASIO check, and the Indigenous community (led by Kelton Pell & Madeleine Madden) is torn over whether to sell out to a Chinese mining company (led by Jason Chong).

Other key roles at Pine Gap include Chief of Facility, American Ethan James (Steve Toussaint), Deputy Chief Kath Sinclair (Jacqueline McKenzie) and Chief of Intelligence Operations Rudi Fox (Lewis FitzGerald).

Given the filming restrictions, the CGI used to recreate Pine Gap with its giant ‘golf ball’ dishes looks convincing and the red dirt of the Alice for exterior scenes adds to the visual palette.

But much of the action is confined to the claustrophobic setting of offices and the Ops Floor with various disagreements over strategy and accountability. Gus and Jasmina share the load as central characters within the ensemble, but I can’t help but feel it would be stronger with more individual focus.

The real disappointment is the lack of action (it’s all happening on the other end of the satellites) and as a result Pine Gap starts to lift more outside the base than within it. Some of the dialogue was clunky (“We Aussies know all about sucking it up”) and US accents were sometimes inconsistent -Lewis FitzGerald is easily best at feigning Yank-twang.

Over the opening hour I struggled to care for these characters, and to think that all those ’80s protest, it was for a place of dull bureaucrats who spend more time talking than amounting to any regional threat. Against Homeland, 24 and Spooks this was a very tepid start when on paper it really shouldn’t have been.

Pine Gap double episode 8:30pm Sunday on ABC.

17 Responses

  1. Not enough action? What did you want, gunfights in the corridors, police chases, choppers chasing cars? I enjoyed the way this series worked both as a bit of a primer on what Pine Gap might be doing without being overly didactic but also as a mystery (who planted the software, who was the leaker). I enjoyed it. Stephen Curry does a great role in “nasty-angry” too, hard to believe he was ever a comedian.

  2. It doesn’t need to be action to work just a stronger script and a few roles that let it wallow as well as a Director and DP who were more worried about style than substance if you pick a style it needs to be consistent and track the story not meaningless frames that never assisted the actors who at the end of the day are the ones we should be looking at. Another missed moment, another nail in the coffin for Aussie Drama!

  3. Was so looking forward and came away disappointed. No action, some dreadful accents – you are spot-on David. I kept thinking ‘The Code’ did this so much better. A wasted opportunity.

  4. I had mixed feelngs about this, agree with others that some of the dialogue was clunky but it does seem to be building up to something (if a bit slowly), there are some nice espionage and well reserched sub-plots that look like they may develop into something. Some nice exterior photography to contrast with the dark technological caves they were working in, I wasn’t bored and found it a rather remote but intruiging thing to watch. I will come back to watch the next episodes so it got me interested enough to think about doing that.

  5. This show works in its own way and at its own pace, it does help to understand some of the workings of the global intelligence network to get into the plot, especially the global computer controlled war the western powers are preferring to use on it’s enemies nowadays, but generally the writing is not too bad for such a complex subject, the production standards are also above average.Some of the choices of actors could have been better but that diversity is typical of Australian shows, my only real gripe is that the ABC should have resisted using their logo so much.

  6. David, with all due respect, how do you know the Operations Floor at Pine Gap doesn’t look like 24’s CTU?

    I understand that you’d prefer the action to occur onscreen rather than off it, but by doing that, the story wouldn’t have been from the perspective of the main characters. A blast of white noise and a flat line on a screen indicates horrible things have happened thousands of miles away – this is what these surveillance operatives live with.

    I for one enjoyed the show. The production was very slick and the scenarios portrayed completely credible. If they’d gone all Jack Ryan on us, it would’ve felt too removed from reality, IMHO.

    1. The CTU line wasn’t a criticism it was a compliment. I’ve stood on the set, its much bigger than we are used to getting in Aussie drama. As to your other question, I get that it isn’t an action genre but the plot needed more momentum and there are ways to do this without compromising genres. It picked up somewhat towards the end but I note I’m not alone in looking for more turning points etc.

  7. Tepid sums it up. The direction really lacks energy, the performances feel lifeless and not helped by some very clunky expositional dialogue. I came to Pine Gap expecting a hell of a lot more than was delivered. Some of this team made Janet King – you’d never know it.

  8. Given the rather negative comments thus far on Pine Gap, I found myself enjoying the series thus far, and I didn’t find it a “talking heads” program. In the first 30 minutes, there was a possible attempt to bomb an APEC conference with an airplane which was thwarted by Pine Gap staff. Perhaps anything less than a 9/11 attack these days is boring. In comparison to Pine Gap, The Dish would very likely be considered more boring
    Overall, I think that Pine Gap has been really well produced.

  9. Ambitions to allow what’s left of ABC middle management to hold meetings about making “Australian” drama without spending much of their own money, or having an idea beyond a pitch that Netflix would bite on. Pine Gap sits in the very definition of the middle of nowhere for a reason, it’s just about geeks trawling though Asian’s mobiles calls and internet traffic.

  10. I was really hoping for rave reviews on this one. Hopefully they improve as eps continue. Everything about this has been so enticing… question though, is the landscape as stunning as mystery road? I found that was spectacular during scenes where I found myself not listening to the dialogue. Guessing more internal scenes on this show

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