Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Spyder's Web: The Hafiz Affair

Since I'm taking it upon myself to give these programmes Avengers-style subtitles, this one can be: in which the Spyder does Danger Man with a few nods to Bulldog Drummond.
Actually only the Danger Man comment is mine (& really only the premise of this episode screams Danger Man, otherwise the treatment is quite different), the Bulldog Drummond one is Lottie's comment to Hawksworth. You see, what this episode chiefly stands out for in my eyes is the character development & the development of Spyder's Web as a body.
Hawksworth was introduced to the series as very much the individualist, yet in this episode it is plain that he needs a fairly rigid organisation to form a background. He finds Spyder's Web very difficult & is continually trying to find his bearings. If only one thing is clear it is this: he is not the whizzkid he seemed in the first episode, & Lottie is a better spy than he will ever be. Her intelligence is astounding: I love the instructions she gives Hawksworth wrapped up in a pill!
Hawksworth finds her apparently obsessive secrecy frustrating & will not accept that for security he cannot know who else is involved. Her comment about Bulldog Drummond places him firmly in the tradition of gentleman adventurers, who all seem to have the army background Hawksworth has.
Their relationship also develops: I find it quite touching that Hawksworth goes to check on Lottie when he hears a bang in the night. In this episode they interact like an old married couple, in one of those marriages where they seem to spark off against each other yet are actually reliant on each other. Hawksworth's questioning of the way Spyder does things makes me think that in real life I would think he is exactly what Lottie needs, to protect her from the dangers of her excessive independence.
The nature of working in Arachnid Productions is also made clearer: Lottie claims to have a string of awards for her documentaries, but on the basis of what we've seen so far spends precious little time making them, which cannot be invisible to her employees. Finally some wondering as to what is actually going on here happens in this episode.
I wanted to be able to say that the portrayals of black people & a newly-independent former colonial country, were not negative. True there are shades of acceptance: Hawksworth, true to the tradition he's placed in, mourns the taking down of the union jack; Lottie is more pragmatic. However it's interesting that she is the one who is a personal friend of the president: I feel Hawksworth wouldn't have a black friend.
There are stereotypes of an emerging country, their guide claims that slums have been abolished ('In the last half hour?' Lottie replies), & where the water & electricity in the hotel don't work. There are also good portrayals of cobflicting identities & emotions, in places traditional dress is rejected, accepted, forced on others & trotted out to entertain the documentary makers. There is an undercurrent of identifying the 'natives' with deeds of darkness, showing the extent to which this episode draws on gung-ho literature.
In fact the very premise of this episode makes me uncomfortable: Spyder is supposed to be an under-the-counter organisation of the British Government, set up to investigate anything too tricky for conventional methods. In that case the British government is not above interfering in the presidential election of a newly-independent nation, a paternalistic action with no doubt diplomatic implications. Interestingly, the Africans see the people from Arachnid Productions as suspicious right from the start, Lottie is known to them, so you frankly wouldn't want to send them anyway.
For a completely studio-bound production it doesn't do a bad job of giving an impression of being in the tropics by using sound effects. It even manages to give an impression of the sort of dark darkness you get with less artificial light, & even of the contrast of light in Africa. I like the twist in the plot, when Hawksworth does actually find the president. It is interesting how very different the plots of different episodes of Spyder's Web are. Obviously I'm watching them this week in the way that shows of this age were never intended to be watched, for that you have to watch them one per night or even one per week, on the same night & the same time. Watching them back to back as I am exposes them to a level of scrutiny they would never have had, but in this case it so far gives the impression that each episode draws on a different genre of popular literature, & then puts a twist on it.
My best line from this episode, said by Hawksworth: 'You might have warned me they also sent the hand he was clutching it in.'
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