The Life and Times of London Spy

This ones a doozy, folks. Bear with.

I try to keep up with TV news as much as possible. Deadline is my go-to site. I visit it enough to have a list of its journalists whom I like which corresponds with the very short list of its journalists whom I hate with a passion (who also happen to hate me, I gather, given the massive amounts of comments I’ve posted that never made it past their asshole “moderation”). I’ve fallen behind on news as of late because of Valentine’s Day and a whole mess of “real world” work and in-law birthdays and partridges in a pear trees, etc. All of which is beside the point which is: when a new show is announced on Deadline and the description strikes my fancy, I put it on a list of what to watch later, if/when it makes it on air. A show about a gay spy in London did indeed my fancy strike.

When the first episode of London Spy premiered, I have to be honest: I was really impressed. Maybe I’m just American and therefor are not used to quality British thrillers. Maybe I’m just another plain ol’ gay dude who likes all things gay. Or maybe I really am someone who actually enjoys good television and this happens to be that. Either way, I wanted to know what other people thought, so I looked up reviews. Deep breath.

I won’t even link to the particular bullshit I found. I don’t wanna give the shitty reviewer any hits. His take on a subtle, nuanced love story in the middle of a mystery thriller went something like this:

“No plot, but lots of disco dancing! You might think it’s impossible to switch on the TV without seeing two gay men being all gay with each other, but the BBC seems to think we need more of those damn gay gays! And that’s all this show is. Period. Just gay music, gay dancing to gay music, gay sex, and then in the last 10 minutes something-or-other happened, but… *shrug* I don’t know what it was. I wasn’t really watching because I’m a piece of shit.”

For good measure, the “author” of that “article” squeezed in a review of a police documentary series that premiered the same night. He gave it five stars compared to London Spy‘s one. I’m guessing because the macho and assuredly heterosexual police cracked wise when pulling homeless drug addicts out of rat shit.

The shear contempt and obvious bigotry from a person who’s job it is to fucking watch television just astounded me. So, to fully counteract his bullshit, I present you with as detailed a play-by-play and as glowing a review as I can muster of each episode.

Episode One

We immediately meet our “dancing” hero (if nodding your head while walking and smoking counts as “dancing”). He’s looking good and feeling gorgeous on his way to his local gay club, the door of which comes complete with a sign that reads “Any person found to be selling illicit substances will be handed to the police.” Pesky gays being pesky gays, indeed. To quickly clarify: the “lots of disco dancing” mentioned in the asshole’s review stops abruptly at the 1 minute mark. Our once-fresh and clean hero then stumbles out of the club, morning dew on the ground, and night-time sweat all over his face. He calls an appropriately sleeping friend, leaves a sad voicemail about wanting something more to do with his now-morning-night, and ends up wandering around until he finds himself on a bridge. An obnoxiously handsome jogger happens by right when the drunk mess that is our hero drops and shatters his phone. This seriously way-too-handsome man crouches down to help, knowing glances get exchanged, very un-British facial touches occur, and the very straight-acting, stupidly beautiful man, shocked by the uncontrollable comfort he feels with this stranger… jogs the fuck away. Cue opening credits.

We find our hero doing his mundane job stacking boxes at a factory, we see him taking his mundane stroll home after work, we see his cramped apartment full of roommates, and we generally get a good feel for what kind of in-between life he lives. Not quite a child, by no means an adult. So, the sudden sight of him jogging would throw anyone off, if they didn’t realize he was looking for his knight in shimmering sweatsuit.

The day does come when they meet again and he takes the opportunity to proposition Mr. Handsomest in what is maybe the most British way possible:

“I just had a… a hunch… Sometimes you have to take a chance, right? Otherwise… how’d you know? Hehe.”

And wouldn’t you know it, that shit works. He’s Danny, the male British equivalent of female American adorkable, and the impossibly good looking jogger of his dreams is Joe. Joe’s not out of the closet. Danny doesn’t mind. They head to Joe’s place.

This flat just so happens to be as gorgeous as the man who lives in it. Danny looks around, feeling somewhat out of place, while Joe showers. When Joe reemerges, towel-clad, Danny (the fucking idiot) does the polite thing. He excuses himself so Joe can get dressed rather than yanking that god damn towel off and going to town. Instead, they literally go to town and grab some food. They eat it while flirting and generally being cute, while Joe simultaneously lets us viewers in on his powers of perception. He knows Danny looked through his clothes. He’s not mad at it, but Danny does get a handshake at the end of the date, which Danny doesn’t happen to be mad at. As he leaves, we get our first hint at the deeper plot. The van Danny walks by has a cracked window with smoke coming out of it. Someone’s watching Joe’s apartment and they’ve been doing it for a while. Danny, the very picture of a smitten kitten, doesn’t notice.

Danny meets up with his older gentlemen friend a week later. I, myself, have an older gentlemen friend who is just that, so I don’t find their platonic relationship strange. He waxes poetic about how Joe will definitely call at some point and how happy he is at the thought of it.  He’s in la-la land, his older friend understands, and happily lets the la-la ensue. More days pass, but eventually Joe does come a-knocking, dragging Danny away on a road trip (while noticing a mysterious car following them, but not saying anything about it). They get to their destination which, honestly, isn’t one. It’s a big open field which leads to a dried up sea-side. Joe sits and sips tea while Danny throws pebbles and wonders if he’s too young for Joe. Joe says he is young, but not too young. They chat and chit, Joe says the wrong thing, but it doesn’t bother Danny which makes Joe smile. Real emotion seeps out of this guarded, full-of-walls man. It’s obvious to Danny that it’s hard for Joe to let people in. His immaturity is only outer, you see. Inside he’s quite wise. Exemplified perfectly when he asks Joe what his real name is. Joe is Alex.

Now back at Danny’s place, he asks Alex to come inside. When he refuses, Danny, quite politely, says his goodbye and goes upstairs to get pissed off about it. But not pissed off enough to write Alex off all-together. He runs back downstairs, intent on winning the affections of this man he mistakenly let leave, only to find Alex exactly where he left him. Of all the subtle romantic cues thus far, that was my favorite.

The next few minutes essentially amount to pillow talk. Except it mostly happens in a bath tub, rather than a bed, and only Alex happens to be in it. Danny sits outside the tub, fully clothed, which tells of Danny’s desire to ensure that he’s trustworthy. Alex is safe with Danny. Alex, who talks of his inexperience and never having been in a relationship, can rest assured that Danny not only can be, but is the person Alex should be with. The person Alex should be not alone with. And, in turn, Alex is the person Danny should be himself him. The person he should be sober with. The person he should actually feel things with, rather then the people he gets high with and fucks, in the very young, immature, gay way young, immature, gay people have relationships.

With that comes one of the most passionate, breath taking, and beautifully portrayed love scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The second “take my breath away” moment of the series thus far. Simply put: love was made.

“You saw me.
What I mean is you saw me.
And you asked if I was okay.
And not like most people ask it, like they’ve… asked it a hundred times that day already.
You asked it as if… nothing else mattered to you.
And I thought, ‘How is it that this person who I’ve never seen before… How are they the only person in the whole world who knows… that I’m not okay?’
And I was sure if I could just find out your name, if I could just find out who you were… then everything would be okay.”

“What if everything isn’t okay?”

There lieth the crux.

“Is there something you want to tell me?”
“No.”

Oh, there’s something to tell. Believe you me. It’s just not something our dear handsome Alex wants to tell.

Eight months later, Danny finally gets around to introducing Alex to his older gentlemen friend, who we find out is called Scottie. Scottie, a self-proclaimed “old queer,” does what the protective father figure does. He doesn’t grill Alex, no. He just makes sure Alex knows how protected Danny, an “insufferable romantic” who has “a terrible track record of picking the wrong man,” is. Alex reassures Scottie of just how incapable he is of ever hurting Danny and when Scottie asks him to prove it, we’re given the third of my “clutch my pearls at how heart wrenching that is” moments.

“Does it fall to me to say ‘Don’t break his heart?'”
“I could never hurt Danny.”
“May I ask, as someone who’s been witnessed to the breaking of many a heart, how you could be so sure?”

“Because he is the only friend I have.”

I mean, fuck, man. What else could Scottie say to that other than “I’m pleased for both of you?”

Since we’re now pretty substantially deep into their relationship, Danny and Alex are starting to have “those” kinds of talks. The serious ones. The ugly ones. The ones that reveal our deepest regrets. Back in Danny’s flat, shirtless and loverly, Danny reveals his lowest of low points. He’d placed an ad online for anyone to come around and do anything they wanted to him. A dangerous thing for anyone to do, gay or straight. He tells the tale in part to explain why he and Scottie are so close. No, he wasn’t one of Danny’s callers. He was always just his protector. When he found out what Danny had done, he took him to the hospital, got him on meds, and got him tested a few weeks later to find that, thankfully, Danny was still HIV-. All in all, the scene is just a brief glimpse into what it means to be completely open with someone.

The next morning, Danny prepares breakfast as Alex tells him he needs a new laptop battery. He turns the volume up on the radio when he says he can’t go without replacing it. They kiss and sit down to eat.

Danny never sees Alex again.

Eleven days later, we find Danny, slightly distraught and disheveled in Scottie’s home telling him that he hasn’t seen or heard from Alex. Knocks on Alex’s door go unanswered and calls on Alex’s phone go unreturned. A bit frustrated with his and Danny’s relationship, Scottie plainly tells him that he hasn’t got time for the latest in a long string of Danny’s heartbreaks. Hurt by Scottie’s response, Danny, just as plainly, makes a fool of himself. Feeling as though he’d been accused of being selfish, Danny strips off his clothes. He asks Scottie how many nights he owes him for all the trouble he’s caused in his life.

Half-naked and as painfully innocent as possible, he looks down in shame.

Suffice it to say, Scottie’s having none if it. He hands Danny his shirt and that’s that.

With the lovely love and embarrassing displays of immaturity out of the way, the next logical direction for this story to go in is: a weird one. And weird, indeed, do things get.

Danny makes his way home to find his front door ajar. Walking in, he finds the place completely ransacked. He happens to notice a neighbor slowly closing his window blinds and, after going outside, he notices a large number of cigarette butts in one spot on the ground.

Presumably thinking nothing much of it, he goes to work which is business as usual until his handheld computer glitches. (Or does it?) When it comes back online, it directs him to a very specific box. We’re talking “Item for Danny Holt” with a fucking blinking map kind of specific. Inside the box are four different keys.

Those keys just so happen to be for Alex’s home.

Inside, Danny cautiously opens every closed door. He looks around to find every piece of furniture and decoration exactly as they were the last time he was there. The only difference being, the entire place is devoid or electricity and life. There’s also a faint dripping sound. And the stain on the ceiling.

Getting no response from his cries of Alex’s name, he climbs the attic stairs. He finds a dark room, almost completely barren except for strung lights, a raised bed, sound proof padding on the walls, a large wardrobe, and a music box under the bed. Inside it are a twirling ballerina and drugs (which Alex previously claimed to never use). Above the bed hangs several mirrors. Beside the bed is a laptop which shows how to properly tie knots. Inside the wardrobe are numerous items of leather clothing, including a mask, and drawers stocked with metal… let’s call them… instruments. Understandably a bit dazed by all of this, Danny doesn’t notice the chest. The chest sitting vertically by a space heater. The chest with blood dripping out of it. The chest Danny makes the mistake of opening.

He rushes downstairs to call the police, notices blood on his hands before he does, and washes them accordingly. After dropping Alex’s home phone, he sees its loose battery. It reminds him of Alex’s very-out-of-place “I need to replace my laptop battery” comment, so he goes back upstairs while calling the police on his cell phone . Lo and behold, there’s something very not-battery-like inside the laptop where only its battery should be. He swallows said item just in time for the police to show up and detain him.

Here’s where our story turns police procedural and, believe it or not, gets even weirder. While telling detectives about Alex, Danny is questioned about the details of their relationship. If sadism was involved. If drugs were taken. If he knew that Alex didn’t actually work for a bank. If he knew that Alex was actually named Alistair. If he ever actually knew this man he thought he was in a relationship with at all.

At this point, it’s clear that Alex isn’t who he says he is. (Or was.) That much we know. What we weren’t previously privy to was the fact that Scottie worked in the realm of spies. Not a full-on spy himself, no. But definitely spy-adjacent. Having worked near or with spies (more will be revealed in later episodes), we can understand the nature of his overprotective reaction to meeting Alex(stair). It was a bit supernatural, a Spy Spidey Sense, if you will. In addition to giving us more insight into the past we (the audience) have seen, it also gives us an indication of what’s to come. After all, a Spy Spidey Sense would definitely come in handy when trying to find out what, if anything, happened to Alex, no?

Now, here’s the part of our story where Danny grows up. Or, at least, gets seriously curious. He sits on his toilet ’til he drops a deuce and gloves that mystery item out of his loo. Of course, the producers, being the tricky little tricksters that they are, don’t reveal what the damn thing is before the episode ends. Lucky for you, my long-winded ass is here to save the day.

Episode Two

Previously on…: Alex is a genius and he works with “inscrutable” people when he’s not fucking Danny who he could never hurt because he’s his only friend, except, be tee dubs, Alex is actually called Alistair and he’s a spy who apparently has a pretty substantial BDSM fetish and ended up dead in a box, thereby hurting his only friend. Also: Danny’s getting secret clues or some shit. He’s not sure what the fuck the deal is.

Being the lowly audience that we are and still not privy to exactly what it was that Danny found at Alex(stair)’s place, we’re left to wonder for the first few minutes exactly why Danny is looking out his window suspiciously, turning the volume up on his not-so-ironic song choices, and huddling in a make-shift blanket fort to really give the item a good look. The mystery item is revealed to be… a mystery item. Some kind of very small (and locked) puzzle box, presumably with something inside, that can only be opened with the correct series of numbers. He tries a few combinations, unsuccessfully, and decides to take it on the run. He duct tapes it to his chest because paranoia has officially sunk in, complete with a whole mess of “Is that guy following me?” thoughts and “Let’s jump back on this train, just in case” or “Maybe I’ll just walk through this random restaurant, steal a cook’s clothes, and leave through the back door” actions.

We (you, me, and Danny) end up in some kind of abandoned factory, which is apparently the perfect hiding place for Danny’s truly unmentionables. Diaries, favorite pens, random-ass puzzle boxes found in dead boyfriends’ apartments… things like that.

Hideable things safely hidden, we find Danny back home unsuccessfully tying a neck tie in a mirror surrounded by an enormous amount of newspaper articles tacked onto the wall. Flashbacks of Alex tying his tie for him bring us to the onset of the depression portion of the grieving process. Danny practices a speech in the mirror, in which he declares “I’m here to tell you the truth.” He’s getting gussied up to visit the headquarters of one of those newspapers, you see. Not pleased with the current story making the rounds (“BDSM Perv Found Dead in a Box”), he wants the true story of not-Alistair-Alex put on the record. He wants a retraction and he believes that he, by himself, in a room full of people who make money on headlines, will be able to get that. He’s wrong. When the head newspaper honcho essentially says “Sorry, boo,” a newspaper underling takes Danny to lunch.  Nothing very fruitful comes out of the encounter other than the reporter saying she believes him. Which, like I said, doesn’t do much good.

On a stroll with Scottie, he jumps back into the protective role. Nay overprotective. He could fit very comfortably in a guilt tripping mother’s shoes, let’s put it that way. His reaction to Danny’s newspaper intentions is basically “You should’ve asked me first so I could tell you not to do it. ‘Cause you’re dumb. And now I’m pissed that you don’t trust me like you used to. Wah wah. Let me tell you when I became a spy.” His story starts in the woods, by a distinct and [apparently] very memorable tree. Through many twists and turns, it ends up involving gay sex with soviet operatives in bathroom stalls, blackmail, and 11-year sexual abstinence because Russians are assholes when it comes to gay people. Danny felt bad enough about the abstinence part to hold Scottie’s hand, but not bad enough for it to go any further than that. So, they wait patiently for the paper to come out the next day. When it does, shock of the century, it’s not what Danny wanted. The headline reads:

“DANNY HOLT: ‘I TOOK DRUGS’ ‘I NEVER KNEW HIS NAME'”

Fuck the media, amiright? (…I write in my super-long winded TV blog post.)

Co-workers give Danny dirty looks until the boss gives him the dirtiest and promptly fires him. A gay drug user cannot a proper box mover make, you see.

Another out-of-left-field twist comes at this point, akin to the box with 4 keys. It’s an envelope with bus tickets sent to Danny in the mail by Alistair’s parents. On his way to their home, Danny fills in every blank square in a crossword puzzle with “A,” “L,” “E,” and “X.” (Fourth way-too-cute romance thingy.)

Maybe it’s a European thing, or maybe it’s just a “parents of a friggin’ spy, so wer’e scared to be really mean to you” thing, but they were a bit too hospitable for my taste. Just inviting a stranger over to your home, a stranger who, by the way, thought you were dead because his boyfriend/your son told him so, and letting him stay the night just because… strikes me as odd. That “too hospitable” feeling quickly gets erased, however, when they don’t eat dinner with Danny, nor actually speak to him about anything of substance. Especially not the dead  gay spy elephant in the room.

At the ass crack of dawn, Alistair’s father dryly says that it’s “time to talk.” Just as dryly, at the breakfast table, he sums up: “Whatever that weirdo did in London was his choice. Can’t change it. He’s dead. The end. Quit talking about it, fucker.” (I may be misquoting.) Danny says, “Um, how ’bout no, you liar-faces?” The über-suspicious Danny throws a bit of a fit and demands to know who these people are because they’re obviously not Alistair’s parents and this obviously isn’t his childhood home. Not a moment later, the phone rings. It’s Alistair’s real mother saying she wants to meet Danny. (I told you this shit gets weird, y’all.)

They drive a spell and come upon what’s-her-face from Broadchurch who, now that she’s nominated for an Oscar, thinks people mad at the Oscars are racist against white people (insert Liz Lemon eye-roll here), but for the purposes of this little piece o’ writing, we’ll just call her Alistair’s actual mom. Or Frances, since that is the bitch’s name. Danny empties his pockets like a toddler and asks what else she wants to see, since he apparently had to pass some kind of test to really meet her. She tells him she doesn’t want anything from him, she was just worried he wanted something from her. Specifically, something like money. She and her husband are super rich, you see. Rich enough to pay their staff to pretend to be them.

Honestly, that whole thing just seems like a way to fill up time. Does him staying, politely, in a house with strangers somehow prove that he doesn’t want to extort his dead boyfriend’s parents? No. It does show the level of asshole that Alistair’s parents are, though. They say they’re upset by his death, but they’re more embarrassed by it than anything. That kind of asshole. The kind of rich asshole that actually has a fucking maze. Jack Nicholson frozen at the end of The Shining type shit.

Anyway, they’re not warm and fuzzy is the point. Which is a major indicator as to how Alistair turned out the way he did. He was a child prodigy, his shitty parents knew it, and they pushed him harder than he should’ve been pushed. Frances is convinced she knows the ins and outs of Alistair’s brain and does her best to convince Danny of such. But he doesn’t give too many fucks, honestly. And he especially doesn’t care that Frances believes Alistair was never gay. Her working theory is that he was smart enough to become whatever someone wanted him to be. Which, sure, could be a possibility. But why choose to become a gay man if it wasn’t something you wanted to do? Emotionless robot brain or not.

Things get uncomfortable here. I mean… my mother knows I have sex. The end. She doesn’t know who I’ve had sex with, what kind of sex I have, or how I feel about that sex on an orgasmic level. Alistair’s mother seems to know all of that and it’s a bit stomach churning. Turning the churn right back on her, Danny talks about the many people he’s fucked. And the physical reaction inexperienced people have to said fucking. The physical reactions Alex had, which cannot be faked no matter how “smart” a person is. He calls her bluff, which he’d basically been doing the entire weekend, and gives her a good ol’ “Bye, Felicia.” Not before she can give him one last tidbit, though. A repeat tidbit, at that. “Quit talking about this shit, fucker.” (Or, in polite British speak, “No fuss.”)

Danny crawls into Alistair’s childhood bed.
It’s the loneliest room in the house.
He cries.
He sleeps.

The next morning, he eats in the kitchen with Alistair’s fake mother (hereby known to have been his Nanny). Bluntly, he asks her if, unlike his real mother, she actually cared about Alex. Hearing that names brings her to tears. She smiles about how much he hated the name “Alistair.” She frowns at how badly Danny should stay as far away from “these people” as he can.

He does just that. Danny goes home. And he remembers a story. A story about a man.

“While everyone was laughing and drinking, he would just walk until he reached the exact same spot where he’d sit with his back toward those people. While he did everything he possibly could to signal to the world that he wanted to be left alone, more than anything he hoped that someone passing would understand that what he really wanted was the exact opposite and that this someone would sit next to him and strike up a conversation. I was that man. And you were that someone.”

The painfully romantic moment is abruptly ended by a stranger walking up to Danny on the street, talking about some damn candy and nonsense. (Or is it?) He tells Danny that owning a house or a car is meaningless as long as you’ve got your health. Your health is the most precious asset of all. He hands Danny a business card which reads “Protecting lives and property for 80 years.” He tells Danny that lots of people think they have nothing to lose, but in his professional opinion: they just haven’t thought it through.

Now… I don’t know about you. But if a stranger comes up to me and says some shit like that, I book it toot sweet in whatever direction he’s not going because that shit is fucking scary. But our hero Danny stands his ground and gets to the crux of the matter. A confusing and ominous crux, but a crux nonetheless:

“Once in a while, someone tells you something that might save your life.” Also, Danny should be sure not to lose that card, which the strange man tells him before he accidentally-on-purpose drops his handkerchief that he spit some tiny piece of red candy into. That tiny piece of red candy isn’t actually candy, though. It’s some sort of spy pill holder. What does Danny do when he realizes this? He finally does something sensible. He runs his ass to Scottie’s place.

Scared that even Scottie’s home might be bugged, Danny pulls him outside where Scottie then gives quite the mini-pep talk. A “keep your cool, quit trusting people, and don’t fuck with goddamn MI6, you psycho” kind of pep talk.

At home, Danny carves out the pill and puts it in a drawer with his other random pills. Then, being the ballsy little man that he is, he goes on to the roof of his building with creepy spy business card in hand. Sure that someone must be watching his every move, he holds the card out in front of him, tears it up, and lets the pieces fly in the wind.

Danny might just be turning into somewhat of a badass, you guys.

Episode Three

Previously on…: “You seriously didn’t know what a freaky bitch your dead boyfriend was? You sure you didn’t whip some bitches with him? You know, all sexual like?” Also, don’t forget about that little puzzle box thing. Or that creepy stranger with the business card that Danny tore up.

Smack dab in the middle of a terrible dream in which Alex was naked in a locked box, the police burst into Danny’s apartment and arrest him. Fingerprints, cheek swabs, and some vials of blood later, the police (Detective Taylor, in particular) reveal their theory: Danny killed Alistair accidentally while they practiced erotic asphyxiation. That’s choking yourself until you cum, for those not in the know. Danny is definitely in the know, unfortunately for him. While Alistair was in the trunk, Danny drank a bunch of G and passed the fuck out. A real whoopsy daisy of a sexual experience is the best the police can surmise which, granted, isn’t all that insane when you think of the circumstances surrounding the case. If it wasn’t for all the random and very strange shit that Danny experienced since discovering the dead body in the attic, we the audience would probably believe it too. But of course, the police don’t know about all the post-dead body strangeness because of Danny’s shiny new über-paranoia. And about a minute later, his paranoia is officially justified.

While telling Danny that he and Alistair obviously must’ve had sex with loads of hookers from an escort agency, seeing as how “there are always more people” when it comes to gay sex (eye roll at that shit), she plays him a recording of him telling Alex about his Craigslist “come on over and fuck me” past. Y’all remember? The private conversation he had with his boyfriend in the middle of the night in his home. That’s somehow on tape. And in the hands of the police.

The officer claims that conversation took place over the phone and that all phone calls are recorded, Edward Snowden-style. Now officially, officially scared, Danny spills most of the beans. Because, you know, of how not-crazy and ultra innocent it makes him sound. “Four keys in a box! I don’t even know, y’all. They were just there! I don’t know who put them there for me to magically find, I swear!”

Danny holds firm to his crazy story, though, since it is the truth. And since the police could only have kept him with a confession, they had to release him. With the promise, however, of testing a whole bunch of bed linens for his DNA.

Trusty Scottie picks Danny up and they peace out. Peace doesn’t have much to do with it, though. Danny is visibly shaken, trembling, and terrified. Before he forgets it, he draws the logo from the aforementioned escort agency business card. His working theory (because, remember… Danny doesn’t know any more than the police do in terms of what actually happened to our poor, dear Alex) is that he’s being framed for the murder and the attic was built around his past, all the dirty secrets he revealed to Alex that made their way onto recordings into powerful actual-murderers’ ears. This does not provide for restful sleep and results in more nightmares, which seems to be the theme of episode three. The second episode, I would say, is about parents. While the first is about, what else?… Love.

When he wakes, Danny is sure that his DNA will be found on the bed sheets. Not because he splooged all over the place or anything, but because the people framing him would absolutely be able to get his DNA onto the sheets, given all they’ve managed to do so far. The only way to not be sent to prison for murder at this point would be to solve the case on his own. He becomes a rogue spy and starts with the escort agency logo. He visits his old dealer, whom flashbacks show he visited many, many times with many, many boys.

Picture an über-creepy and equally gross drug dealer who enjoys using his product more than he should. Then add a bunch of sweat to his body. And multiply the grossness by about 10. Then you might have a clear picture of this dirtbag. But, nevertheless, if there were anyone Danny knew who would know anything about the logo, it’s this guy. And the good news is: he does know about it. The bad news is: again, he’s really fucking gross. He not so subtly implies that he’ll only tell Danny about it if Danny gets high and fucks him.

Before any getting high or fucking occurs (save for in said flashbacks), things get real for a moment. And here’s a perfect example of exactly why this series is amazing. Yes, it’s a spy thriller. Yes, it’s a mystery. Yes, it involves espionage and murder and the quest for redemption and the truth. And yes, it involves gay characters. This means that, just like every single other spy thriller ever in the history of time, relationships are involved. Vastly different characters are involved. And in the same way straight characters get their remarkably different, yet somehow relatable stories told, gay characters deserve the same. Can most people, gay or straight, relate to a gross drug dealer? Hell no. But this series cares enough about its characters, its big ol’ honkin’ gay characters, to tell all of their stories. Our über-creepy, gross drug dealer gets his moment to shine. And the brightness of that shine is appropriate. He sits in his bath tub, fully clothed, and talks about how it’s the spot where his life will end. Either through a heart attack or stroke as a result of his lifestyle. (His drug dealing lifestyle, not his gay one, just to be clear. Being gay is not a lifestyle, but I digress…) He talks about how undignified his death will be. How terribly his body will decompose. How they’ll write about him in the papers. How, in his delusional mind, the headline will be something about him always getting what he wanted.

He’s had enough of what he wants, I think. And Danny agrees. He just can’t give him more. So, he leaves. And takes one hell of a shower.

Spic and span, he finds his roommate in tears on his bed. She asks him why he didn’t tell her about his medication. Not knowing what the hell she’s talking about, he asks her to explain and she hands him the pill capsule (the one inside the candy the creepy business card guy was sucking on).

Danny gets his ass to the doctor’s office to get an HIV test. He was tested before he met Alex, was definitely HIV- at the time, he had only had sex with Alex (who was also HIV-) since then, and he hadn’t had sex with anyone else since Alex. By all accounts, he should absolutely still be HIV-.

His blood is drawn and the doctor leaves the room. We (the audience) are given the gut-wrenching non-pleasure of watching Danny wait for the doctor to return with the results in real time. For anyone who hasn’t experienced this feeling in real life, I’m jealous of you and also angry at you. Get your dumbass tested. It’s worth knowing, no matter what the result. But even when you know for sure that you can’t be positive, your mind still races and wonders about all the incredibly slight chances that could’ve occurred to make you such. You’ll wonder if you brushed your teeth a bit too hard before that one time or if you’re absolutely certain the condom didn’t break that other time. It’s truly, truly, crazy-making. And I’m sure our dear Danny was going through exactly this while waiting. Being sure he was still negative. Being absolutely sure.  I know the feeling all too well. The feeling I don’t know is what Danny experiences next. When the doctor comes back in to tell him that the results indicate that he is HIV+.

At this point, I sort of have to check out and emotionally detach. I’ve got a few friends who actually went through this and writing it up into a fucking TV review doesn’t feel right. I will say this, though: if ever there were an episode to submit to the Emmys for Best Actor consideration, this one would be it for the amazing Ben Whishaw. Hell, even for Best Directing (Tom Rob Smith) and Writing (Jakob Verbruggen). This shit is fucking powerful. Too powerful, even.

Because shit was getting really real, I suspect Jakob and Tom knew they had to cut the tension with something. And literally cut they do. Danny crushes a needle in his hand amidst his emotional outburst while ranting about knowing exactly how “they” infected him. Our lovely and quite calming doctor handles it like a champ and insists they call a friend to pick Danny up.

Enter who else but trusty Scottie? Danny talks about how the police somehow infected him when they drew his blood. Somehow. Even though it’s technically impossible. He rants and cries and begs Scottie to believe him. Scottie recalls the last time he had to take Danny to get tested. When he made Danny promise never to put himself in that kind of jeopardy again. Danny swears by that promise and, luckily for him, Scottie believes him. He believes “they” infected him as well. And that they did it to discredit him. To show how reckless and irresponsible a character he has. And, with no shortness of tactlessness, will say that Alistair became HIV+ because of Danny, even though Alex was negative. And they’ll do so because no one will demand justice. No one will so much as lift an eyebrow at the possibility of innocence on the part of a gay HIV+ drug addict.

Now fully immersed in the depression portion of Danny’s grieving process, he gives up all hope. He thinks he’ll never be able to fight “them.”

To sway his spirits, we’re given another glimpse into Scottie’s past. He speaks of a lover he had long ago. A beautiful and promising aspiring artist who became HIV+ in 1983. Back when some people were still referring to AIDS as “the gay cancer.” Back when there was barely any awareness other than fags dying.

This critically ill artist was given a book about color therapy. The book taught him that the color blue would fight infections. Overcome with the inevitability of medical defeat, he put all of his effort into the metaphysical idea. He ate, slept and breathed blue. He would eat blueberries, for example, but not oranges. He would take baths because water is blue, but he would not lay on a white mattress unless it was wrapped with blue sheets. So on and so forth until he got sicker and sicker. He suffered terribly and he died. Because enough people in power didn’t care enough to try and provide him, and countless others, with any alternatives at the time.

Pausing here to again show the genius that exists inside Jakob Verbruggen and Tom Rob Smith. In another moment that is painfully too real, they cut the tension. This time with a visual. When an artist knows he’ll die and thinks the color blue will save him, we get the following:

Set Design Emmy, anyone? Cinematography Emmy, anyone? Makeup Emmy, anyone? Every fucking Emmy award for this episode, anyone?

Back to the matter at hand, Scottie tells Danny that winning is, in fact, impossible. They will lose against “them.” But what’s important is that they will fight “them” nevertheless.

One slightly more optimistic scene involving swimming under water in a pool later (again, a good tension cutter), Danny tells Scottie he’s ready. In order to do proceed with any kind of plan, however, Danny has to be completely honest with Scottie. He lets the puzzle box secret out of the bag. Scottie surmises that since Alex clearly (though, not so clearly at the time) intended for Danny to find it, Danny must know how to open it. Basically, Danny needed Scottie to reassure him that he could, in fact, open it. He also does another cute mother-like thing in which he gives Danny props for hiding the box. He tells him he’s proud of him, in many more British words. And, realizing how difficult it’ll probably be for them to understand what’s inside the box, he arranges for him and Danny to meet with some ultra-highbrow, 1%-type people. The who’s who of spy-dome. Specifically, in this case, the President and Provost Professor of the University of London. Luckily for Danny, she happens to be an old friend of Scottie’s. She’s Claire.

Here’s a twist for you. Young Alistair Turner was a once student of a Mr. Marcus Shaw, who just so happens to work for Claire. Marcus and Alistair weren’t necessarily close, but Marcus did admire him. Envied him, as well. Not enough to murder him, Madam President doesn’t think. So, she agrees to arrange a meeting between them and Marcus. Scottie and Danny then away to some more hobnobbing amongst 1%-ers.

The picture of nouveau riche amongst the posh members of this particular gentleman’s club they end up in, Danny uncomfortably hides his reindeer socks under the dress pants Scottie provided him. James, Scottie’s co-worker of over 30 years and his and Danny’s guest of honor, arrives and Scottie promptly asks him what he can tell them about Alistair’s murder. Surprised and slightly appalled by the question, James answers with a joke.

“An Englishman, a Chinaman, a Frenchman, an American, a Russian, an Israeli, and a Saudi walk into a bar… and they all agree.”

Scottie is left aghast by the joke while James leaves. Scottie and Danny immediately do the same, but not before the butler demands that Scottie “settle up.” Such questions, you see, immediately cancel memberships to such establishments. And such answers to such questions, as Scottie explains to Danny, amount to thus:

“Substitute the nationality for the security agency. British MI6, the Chinese Ministry [of] State Security, American CIA, Israeli Mossad, Russian FSB, the Saudi GIP… The punchline was that they all agree… They’ve never agreed about anything. Until now, it seems. Whatever Alex discovered, whatever it was, whatever it is, no one wants in the open. We’re not up against one intelligence agency, we’re up against them all.”

It means that Danny and Scottie are “quite alone.”

Walking home, Danny is approached by a vehicle transporting everyone’s least favorite drug dealer. He demands Danny get in the car so that he could give him a package. A package containing “the impossible.” Not sure what the hell that means? Well, neither is Danny who’s told to get out of the car before he can see what’s actually inside the package. He walks into the nearest convenience store’s bathroom to find a phone inside the package which immediately starts to ring. He answers it and… the episode ends.

Really getting a hang of them cliffhangers, Tom Rob Smith. You fucker.

Episode Four

Previously on…: Danny’s ass got arrested. It was traumatizing. Also, Scottie’s got a history of depression and alcoholism. And don’t forget about that puzzle box. Or that escort service logo. Or, oh yeah, that fucking phone that was just ringing.

At the other end of the phone is a distorted voice telling Danny where to go. Inside the bathroom of room 116 of a nearby hotel is a bath tub full of water. Danny is told to get in it, clothes on. Obviously free of any sort of recording device, Danny’s told to get changed (with the damn sexy suit this phone stranger provided for him) and leave. He gets into the taxi waiting for him. A taxi that, not so comfortingly, locks from the outside. Danny’s “journey through Alex’s past” begins. He’s brought to Alex’s apartment building (if, for no other reason, only to reassure Danny that they do know a great deal about the man). Then to the restaurant where he and Alex first had a meal together. There’s a reservation set up for him and our mystery caller who, after a while, appears. He identifies himself only as “Alex’s past.”

Pretty immediately, things get confusing. Our mystery caller turned mystery guest talks about how weird this is. How he’d never done anything like it before. How being paid to tell someone how he fucked their boyfriend… is a first for him. How “they” are paying him to do it and telling him exactly what to do to/for our dear Danny. Including sitting closer to him, touching his inner thigh, and rubbing his neck, all of which is somewhat strange to do in public, given the slightly shocked faces on the other people in the restaurant.

Once the odd touching is semi-done, our mystery guest reveals that he worked at this restaurant, where Alex happened to eat breakfast almost every morning. Actually, he “worked” at the restaurant. As in: his actual job is being a secret escort, the secret being the fact that he’s an escort. (I told you it was confusing.) This escort agency that keeps being mentioned is explained to work a bit differently than your average escort agency. Whereas you might typically call an escort agency to get yourself a friendly hooker to go wild with, you’d call this particular escort agency when you wanted to hire a friendly hooker for someone else who should never find out that this hooker they happen to end up sleeping with… is a hooker. Hence, our mystery guest hooker “working” as a waiter at the restaurant where Alex eats his breakfast. Alex being the person our new hooker friend was hired to seduce. So, the question becomes who hired him and why? Unfortunately for Danny, our new hooker friend doesn’t have the answer to the question because, as he puts it, “[he] just [does] the fucking.” He was told by his employers to “accidentally” meet Alex. He was told to act like Danny. He was told to be “good” and to stay that way until Alex began to act “a little bad.” And, apparently, act a little bad Alex does. Our hooker friend’s intimate knowledge of Alex’s birth marks and his tendency to get dry mouth during sex proves it. The dirty deed took place at our hired hooker’s fake apartment, which Alex went to to see his waiter’s paintings. (He’s an aspiring artist. ‘Cause clichés work for dear Alex, I guess.) Afterwords, whoever hired our hooker wanted him to have a lot more sex with Alex, but Alex just wasn’t having it. That’s of little comfort to Danny, though, who, tired of hearing about infidelity, reveals that his sweet, but cheating boyfriend had since been murdered. And that’s our hired hooker’s cue to leave.

One flashback of adorable pillow talk between Danny and Alex later, we find Danny and Scottie, present day, in a park where Scottie tries to give another pep talk. He basically says “Bitch, if you really were the only person Alex had ever been with, you can’t be mad that he tried dipping his foot into a different pool. Especially if he jumped right back into yours and stayed there until his fingers got all pruney.” Voice of reason, that one. Also the source of tidbits such as the opposition using prostitutes to gather information about rival candidates during Watergate. Sex, you see, is absolutely a weapon. And when Danny’s relationship with Alex became a problem for “their” relationship with Alistair, “they” used that weapon. Anything to keep this genius of a man in their corner and out of Danny’s.

Danny seems to have reached some semblance of acceptance at this point in his grieving process because he’s realizing that he didn’t really know Alistair at all. Alex is just the idea of a person that Danny was presented with. But, even still, Danny can’t understand why that person, real or not, wouldn’t tell him about the artist waiter. Though it’s clear enough to Scottie: Alex knew Danny needed him to be perfect and a sexual transgression would destroy that.

Danny tells Scottie about Alistair’s funeral. He found out in the news that he was buried a week ago in a private ceremony for “close friends and family.” A.K.A.: No fags allowed. Scottie is all too familiar with such practices and he encourages Danny to hold his own funeral for Alex. To say goodbye. Which Danny thinks he may be ready to do. To say goodbye to Alex. And his quest to find Alex’s killer. His quest to find the secrets which were thrust upon his world. Maybe those secrets just aren’t meant for Danny. Maybe he should just remember the day Alex took him on a long drive to the seaside and leave it at that.

Danny remembers a conversation he had with Alex by a bonfire.

“Not only do I not believe in [soulmates], it’s not even a nice idea… That there’s only just one other person out there for you. What are the odds this person would be in the same country or the same city? That their paths would even cross? It would mean almost everyone in the world is with the wrong person. If it’s a way of saying ‘We’re good together,’ why not just say ‘We’re good together?’ … There might be [better people out there]… for both of us.”

In present day, by the same bonfire, Danny is remembering this conversation alone. With a box of Alex’s belongings. He smells his clothes before he throws them on the fire. Ticket stubs, hair wax, maps… burnt to ash. He picks up the ashes and carries them into the ocean. He’s burying his lover.

He takes the puzzle box to a locksmith who tells him the only way to open it is with the correct code. Danny plays through every memory he has involving Alex and numbers. Addresses, map coordinates, dates, phone numbers, times. Between these random numbers are memories of fights and tears and heartbreaking admissions of love. When his muse finally does him some good, he runs to that abandoned warehouse, finds his secret stash, and starts turning the number dials on the puzzle box. The code is 0000001.

“…That there’s only just one other person out there for you…”

I’d be annoyed with that mess (and a little insulted that maybe Alex thought, “Better give Danny the easiest code possible”)… if it wasn’t as well done as it was.

We (the audience) still don’t know what’s inside the box when Danny arrives at Scottie’s home, only to find him massively drunk, surrounded by broken furniture and blood. He mumbles something about remembering a place where no one cares and then plants a big, sloppy, wet, drunk kiss on Danny.

At the hospital, Scottie and Danny both wonder why someone who’s managed depression for 30 years would suddenly suffer a relapse and wind up in drunken stupors. Convinced that “they” have somehow managed to swap Scottie’s medication out for placebos, Danny promises to get him new pills. He’s “got a friend” he can get anything from. Thankfully, it’s not the gross “I’m gonna die in this bath tub” guy.

Proper medication fully restocked, Danny shows Scottie the puzzle box. The contents of it is finally revealed to be a USB. An encrypted USB, at that. Since neither one of them has the wherewithal to decrypt it, they must find someone who can. This, for whatever reason, brings Scottie to another one of his random “old man” rants. This time it’s about a man who the FSB framed as a pedophile. Without getting into the details, his point was to say that he won’t abandon Danny to get framed for murder. They both put on their spy hats and meet up at “a place where no one cares.” A place where there are more important things to worry about. Where you can walk by someone who would not care what you were wearing or who’s hand you were holding. A place not unlike Danny’s abandoned warehouse.

Danny and Scottie meet Claire there. While waiting for Marcus (Alex’s old professor), Claire reveals how she and Scottie met. They both attended Cambridge back in the day. Back when homosexuality was illegal and rumors started to flare about Scottie. Being the good friend that she is, Claire and Scottie agreed to pose as a couple. More than a beard, but less than a girlfriend. They truly cared about each other nonetheless.

When Marcus arrives, he gets straight to work at decrypting the USB. It does take some time. Not three episodes worth of thinking about numbers kind of time, but a few hours, at least.

During a cigarette break we learn what a presumptuous asshole Marcus is. He glibly poo-poos Danny’s love for Alex since he never truly understood how smart he was or the work he did. Marcus was absolutely certain that Alex would change the world in some way. He tries to explain the enormity of that feeling, but the only way he knows how to do it is to tell Danny, in no uncertain terms, that him distracting Alex from his oh-so-important work is probably what got him killed.

Cigarette break over, we’re finally given a sense of exactly what work Alex did. Or tried to do. Marcus gives Danny, Scottie, and Claire quite the lesson in coded messages. I would bore the fuck out of you if I tried to give you all the details, so I’ll just give you the very summarized gist:

Alex invented a visual lie detector. A foolproof way to eliminate dishonesty. Fully grasping how far-reaching such an invention would be in terms of human civilization, Marcus says he’d be surprised if the four of them weren’t killed within a week.

After parting ways, Scottie romanticizes the situation a bit. He wonders when Alex began working on the project and if his guilt surrounding his relationship with Danny was the catalyst behind it all. He wanted to force honesty upon his life so he could fully be himself with Danny. It’s kind of a lovely thought, isn’t it? Unless you see it the way Marcus does. That Danny’s distraction did, in fact, result in Alex’s death.

It appears that Danny does see it that way, unfortunately. He backpedals a bit in his grieving process. He’s somewhere near bargaining. Wishing he had the chance to tell Alex that he would’ve loved him just the same, even if all the lies which were unbeknownst to him ended up out in the open at the time. Because they weren’t, he had no way of knowing it was something Alex needed to hear.

He thinks maybe Scottie does need to hear it. An admission of love, however platonic it may be. Love nonetheless. Danny makes sure to tell him before he goes to the police station.

Looking a little out of character, almost scared even, our once stern Detective Taylor, who previously interrogated Danny and promised she would charge him when his DNA is found on Alistar’s sheets, tells Danny that he won’t be charged and is free to go. Firmly and oddly, surrounded by a room full of men, she tells Danny that for him… this is over.

Unrelenting, he tells her she’s wrong.

Later, at a nightclub, Danny, Claire, and Marcus all enter separately, but sit down together. As they do, Danny’s phone rings. Scottie, inside the taxi that locks from the outside, tells Danny, “There will be a note.”

Danny runs.

On his way to the woods, he sees Scottie’s coat on the floor with a note in the front pocket.

Further down the trail, hanging from that very distinct and memorable tree, is Scottie’s body.

Episode Five

Previously on…: Alex was murdered by every intelligence agency there is. They did so because he invented a lie detector that would change how the world works immeasurably. Scottie was helping Danny figure this out when he was killed as well.

Broken and alone, Danny attends Scottie’s funeral. He holds a prepared speech, but doesn’t read it. He instead begins with a spontaneous question. And, I’ll tell you what, it breaks me.

“I have a question.
How do we live without the people that we love?
I can hear his reply…
‘We must figure this question out for ourselves.’
He’s right.
He’s always right.
Except, my friend,
I don’t want to know.
I don’t want to know how to live without you.
I don’t want to figure out how to stop feeling this sad.”

Feeling justifiably scared that his premonition of their untimely deaths was correct, Marcus tells Claire and Danny that he’s destroyed his copy of Alex’s research and that they should do the same. He washes his hands of the entire situation and will no longer help. Regardless of how “nice” the idea of completing Alex’s work is.

Back home, and finally curious enough, Danny breaks into the apartment across the way. The one he now paranoidly assumes was occupied by people spying on him. It’s empty now and he doesn’t find anything other than divots in the carpet and pieces of paper tacked to the wall. He’s startled when his roommate calls him back outside. I suppose we’ll never know if the people living there were actually spying on Danny. But, if they were, it’s all too convenient that they had moved out now that Danny was about to as well. I assume Scottie left Danny his car and home in his will, which very possibly could have been the note he referred to in the all too brief phone call.

I only wish my old friend had a home that nice to leave me. Not that I want him to die or anything… I digress.

At the spot where Danny and Alex first met, he’s approached by Detective Taylor. Since we last saw her, she’s jumped on the “this shit really is about spies” bandwagon. She met with the nurse that took Danny’s blood, since drawing blood isn’t normal police procedure when interrogating a suspect, and when asked why he did it, he could only respond with fear. Almost as soon as she asked, her phone rang. It was her superiors demanding to know why she was interrogating him. She calmly tells them, “No reason.” Knowing all too well the extreme lack of evidence that exists to prove Danny’s story, her belief in said story is the only help she can provide him.

Later, in Claire’s office, Danny pleads with her to continue in the investigation with him. She’s hesitant and, quite clearly, it’s because of remorse. She talks about the affection her and Danny both felt for Scottie, and the affection he had for them. She’s not sure if the goal they set out to accomplish (proving that Alex’s invention works) was something they actually felt was worth doing or if they were just doing it because they didn’t want the objects of their affections doing it alone. Not taking into consideration that Danny was doing it for Alex and no one else. She too can’t offer any more than belief. Though, not completely giving up the ghost, Claire tells Danny that she’ll be there for him when he’s ready. An offer of friendship, should he ever need it.

Now just he, himself, and him, Danny prints out every document from the unencrypted USB. A few copies of each document, in fact. And mails them each to different major newspapers. At least a dozen, by the looks of it.

He’s awoken in the middle of the night by odd sounds coming from outside the house. He does the dumb horror movie thing of “checking it out” and finds his garage door open. Inside the garage are two cardboard boxes marked “Fragile.” Inside the boxes are every single copy of Alex’s work that Danny mailed, except all the pages were replaced with blank ones. So, undeterred, he moves on to plan B. He tries e-mailing copies to the newspapers, but he gets no replies.

An older man arrives with a younger woman and Danny looks none too pleased about it. He ignores the doorbell for a while, but eventually lets them in. His parents. Whom he hadn’t seen for 11 years. They’ve come because they read about Danny in the papers, but also because his father is dying. He’ll die in a matter of weeks and he wants to show Danny something before he does. They drive Danny to their home, take an uncomfortable family photo, sit down for tea, and proceed with the bullshit that Danny promptly calls them on. He looks under each potted plant until he finds the microphone. Halfway through her teary confession, which doubles as a guilt-laden demand to know what Danny did wrong to make “them” come after them, Danny tunes her out. Until he breaks the camera in half and she tells him that she and his father never loved him. Officially at the acceptance stage of grief, he gives them each a kiss and peaces the fuck out of there.

Just outside and wondering why his phone suddenly doesn’t work, he mentally plays back the last few minutes. He realizes that the camera his parents were given (yup, by “them”) must’ve been more than a camera. And the same damage the camera did to his phone must’ve been done to the USB he’d started wearing on a necklace. The source of Alex’s work is now deleted. As are the e-mails in Danny’s Sent folder. The only e-mail he does have is from an unknown sender. Attached to that e-mail is the picture his mother took. The picture automatically prints and Danny promptly shreds it.

Later, Danny attends a support group for people living with HIV. He talks, surprisingly openly, about Alex and trying to find out why he was killed. He remembers the first time they met. He talks about Alex being a spy. He remembers finding his body. He talks about being intentionally infected with the virus.  He remembers crying on Scottie’s couch, begging him to believe him. He stops talking. When asked what he’ll do now, and assuming that someone in the meeting is there to spy on him, he simply states that he won’t be doing anything.

Back at home, he collects the shredded pieces of the picture and tapes them together, completely out of sequence. A sort of art house family portrait. A real family portrait, showing exactly how broken a family can be.

He leaves with what is presumably the last existing hard copy of Alex’s work and brings it to Frances. Alex’s father, the mute, finally speaks, but only to say how pointless talking to a stupid boy like Danny would be. Disagreeing with him, Frances sits down with Danny by the fireplace.

Not satisfied with simply talking about how much they both loved Alex(stair), Danny holds her hand. She speaks somewhat metaphysically about Danny’s clairvoyance… Alistair was the last person to hold her hand. She remembers him as a child running through the maze. And she blames Danny for his death.

“How can you blame me… unless you know why he was killed?”

There’s that clairvoyance again.

Danny hands her Alex’s work. She calmly places it in the fire. For all the work he’s done, all the sacrifices he’s made, and all the losses he’d been forced to suffer, Danny is rewarded with nothing. Nothing tangible, at least, save for the now useless puzzle box. And with nothing else left to discuss, he asks Frances to show him Alex’s real room. Not the lonely one Danny previously slept in. The one with the locked door. The locked door that can only be opened with the key Frances wears on her necklace. She admires the puzzle box Danny wears on his and complies.

His room is at the top of a long flight of stairs. The ceiling and walls are made out of chalkboard, all of which is completely covered with notes and equations and scribbles. When he ran out of every square inch of space, Alex had glass panels installed and filled those up with writing as well. Shocked by the room, Danny begins erasing some of the notes, hoping it would be jarring enough to get some honest answers out of Frances. And it was. She admits that the reason she knows exactly how Alistair died is because he was her spy.

Frances and Charles Turner met at Cambridge where they were both recruited by British intelligence. By all accounts, she should have flourished much more than Charles did because of his, as she put it, second-rate mind. But because she was a woman, she was relegated to hosting dinner and cocktail parties while Charles hammed it up at the MI5 gentleman’s club. Thoroughly distracted by the perks of being a spy, he failed to notice the three moles in his and Frances’ organization. With their organization compromised, they were removed from the service, exiled to their home, and guarded by active spies. She then lived a life of shame and debauchery until the prospect of a child became possible. The child would be her redemption. She would turn it into the spy she was never able to be. Luckily for her, and unfortunately for him, Alistair fit in those shoes all too well.

Danny tells her a story. A story about a man.

“While everyone was laughing and drinking…”

Frances realizes in hindsight how unfair she was to Alistair. How lonely she made him. Because she was lonely herself and had anyone but herself to blame for it. But the fact of the matter is, no child can redeem their parents.

“Hard to connect to people. Especially when you’re not sure how they’re connected to you.”

Danny gives her his broken family portrait and leaves to find Alex’s Nanny. Plot twist alert.

It’s revealed that she, Alex’s fake mother when she and Danny first met, actually is Alex’s real and true birth mother. After he was born, she found herself living in squalor and working for (and stealing from) Frances and Charles. When caught red-handed, Frances blackmails her into allowing her to raise Alex as her child. Charles was initially resistant, but Frances, of course, persuaded him. She could persuade anyone of anything. And as a grown man, she persuaded her adopted son, whom she renamed Alistair, to become her spy.

In a flashback, we see Frances sitting in her car outside Alex’s apartment. Watching Danny ring his doorbell and eventually leaving. She walks in with a number of men, finds a room full of people working on computers, puts on protective clothing, and enters the attic where she and others are staging the scene. Alex is inside the chest, in the middle of the room, still alive. He wakes up, drenched in sweat, and, you guessed it, he freaks the fuck out. Frances tells him that he’s in a great deal of trouble because of his lie detector, but that there is a way out of it. He is to go to America, change his name and live under an assumed identity for a few years while working for an intelligence agency as punishment. He agrees, not only to got America, but also to destroy his project, never to work on it again, and (very reluctantly) to never contact anyone from his soon-to-be former life.

In tears, he says Danny’s name.

Frances is not allowed to open the chest and is escorted downstairs. In the work room, everyone is watching a recording of the conversation Alex and Frances just had. There is a camera inside the chest filming Alex’s face. His visual lie detector is analyzing it. Every dilation of his pupils. Every twitch of his cheeks. Every chatter of his teeth.

It decides that everything he said was a lie.

Frances is sedated and taken home.

Alex is left to die.

Back in the kitchen, Frances reassures Danny that the fact that he now knows the truth is irrelevant. Regardless of what Alex deserves, there will never be justice. The problem with that, however, is the only thing left for Danny to possibly do is share his newly learned truth. Discredited in the public eye, he would need someone else to corroborate his story. He begs the Nanny, Alex’s real mother, to help save the memory of the boy she named Alex. Distraught and unsure of herself or how she could help in any way, she runs outside, douses the maze in gas, and lights a match. She does it in the name of her son. It’s all she can do.

It’s all she can do. But Frances is staunch in her refusal to do anything at all.

Danny, sullen and alone, solemnly gets into his car to leave. Alone for only a moment, though. Frances surprisingly opens the passenger door and joins Danny.

Let’s burn ‘them’ down for real.”

Ladies and gentlemen, London Spy.

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