Friday, 29 November 2013

Spyder's Web: Emergency Exit

Ever since I first watched through the only series of Spyder's Web, this has remained one of my favourite episodes, even though it has also remained strangely hazy in my memory. I have watched it at least three times, but bizarrely what remains in my memory the most is the street scene which forms the opening scene. That said, I would have had difficulty telling you exactly what was going on; I think this may be partly a penalty of such effective visuals - Lottie is totally convincing as a traffic warden, but Hawksworth looks like a man pretending to be a plumber - that they tend to be remembered over the plot.
I find it interesting the way the Network DVD liner notes phrase the premise of this episode: 'Spyder knows that the Viscount Employment Agency is a cover for the deployment of agents from the Other Side...'. Both the phrase & the capitalisation create exactly the right atmosphere of Cold War intrigue. In fact it way simplifies the case compared to the effect of the opening scene where we see Lottie shoot a man & then see Hawksworth fairly obviously planting a replacement man to pretend to be Lawrence Felton & confess to the murder of his wife. Lottie then confronts another man claiming to be Felton - still in her traffic warden's uniform, & calls him 'comrade'. The sum effect is to make this scene totally confusing, while at the same time the 'comrade' makes it very clear who the 'Other Side' are. I do love the way that Lottie the putative traffic warden tells Felton, 'You're double-parked, you know, I could have you for that'.
It is a bit of a theme in Spyder's Web episodes - things not being what they seem - but I love the way Hawksworth pretends to be a solicitor. The pretence theme of course extends as far as the fake employment agency, run by two men who are rather too obviously Russian spies!
Lottie & Hawksworth return to acting like an old married couple in this one, but their bickering covers a real difference of personality, where Hawksworth is very relaxed about the case, which serves to increase Lottie's anxiety about it. Once again Hawksworth excels in his man of action role, breaking into the employment agency to change their records to fit the man Spyder has planted. Can there really have ever been a time when any employment agency would have a whole drawer of Head Waiters? Hawksworth's Lottie's approaches differ in other ways, with Hawksworth - surprisingly thuggishly - being eager for their prisoner to have just a little accident. It's strange that each does not trust the other to handle this situation.
One of the most effective strands of this episode is the way the nothing-is-what-it-seems theme is at times turned on its head to become a theme of make believe & imitation. Lottie acts like a real traffic warden because she is dressed as one. Hawksworth - obviously - wears a suit to pretend to be a solicitor. He first comments that it is to keep the cold out, which echoes the reason one of the Soviet spies at the employment agency has given for buying a suit. This echo adds a layer of ambivalence suggesting that while the two sides are apparently completely different, there are or may be ways in which they are the same. Hawksworth then reinforces this by commenting that nobody questioned whether he was a solicitor at the court because he had the right rig on: in this episode appearances are both everything & nothing at the same time.
I think my favourite character in this one is Kalashnikov. I love the way he has all the English idioms & customs off pat in a rather textbook way, which nonetheless holds a mirror up to English Customs. He of course susses what Spyder is doing, that the man in prison is a plant. He manages nonethless to be a totally obvious caricature of a Russian spy, the pretend - being - acting - seeming theme recast yet again.
There are some plot similarities between this episode & the Series 2 Avengers episode, Intercrime, at least in terms of appearances, deception, a pseudo-prison setting, and infiltration of the other side by means of a plant. The difference is - this Spyder's Web episode is so much better than the Avengers episode. It handles the plot with a much lighter hand, avoiding the feeling of dread in the Avengers plot. Putting the heroine in prison - as Cathy Gale is - changes the whole feel, makes it much more heart-rending than it is if the person in prison is a character we're less concerned about, allowing our attention to remain on the whole plot rather than the Boys Own Paper issue of the fate of Our Heroine. This lightness - & sureness - of touch is seen in the treatment of the prison. There are attempts in the Avengers episode to make the prison appear like a prison, which are unfortunately rather unconvincing. Here the impression of a prison is given as if it was painted by an impressionist, & yet manages to give a much better impression.
Visually this is very effective, showing the same light design touch that makes the prison so effective. It rather makes me glad that so few episodes of Spyder survive in colour, since it is strikingly effective in black & white shades. I'm almost thinking that it would be less effective in colour.
It is possible to draw a deeper moral from this episode than that it is merely a jolly jape. By the time of the showdown between Kalashnikov & Lottie the effect of all the duplicity is - deliberately? - so confusing that you just want a break from it, & the effect of their involved conversation, when it also becomes apparent that they know each other & have both sussed the whole game, indicates that it is time for the two divided halves of Europe to stop confusing each other & relate in a different, more straightforward way, which can only be beneficial for humanity.
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