Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Foyle's War - Sunflower Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: The Cage

One of the greatest attractions of murder mysteries are the conclusions. After a dramatic confrontation (usually in the library, surrounded by a group of suspects), the crook is bundled off to an undisclosed but hopefully sinister end. Lord Peter Wimsey observed that “in detective stories virtue is always triumphant. They’re the purest literature we have.” On the other hand, in spy stories, corruption and lying are often rampant on both sides, and stories end in a muddle of gray. James Bond is not paragon of justice.

This mix-up of the two genres worked for the first two episodes, but Sunflower comes dangerously close to compromising the entire premise of the show. In this episode, Foyle is tasked with a mission he finds very unpleasant: protecting a Nazi. Karl Strasser is making up for a dark history by feeding MI5 Soviet secrets, but he’s begun to receive death threats. Queue Foyle, the world’s worst bodyguard. His efforts on Strasser’s part seem only half-hearted.

This is an interesting reversal, and the situation reminds me of Foyle's antagonism with Guy Spencer, the Nazi sympathizer from way back in episode two. Unfortunately, Strasser is just as one-dimensional as a villain. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy baddies, but I think it would've been a neat twist to see what a reformed Nazi would look like. Just because the guy was a Nazi doesn’t mean he has to be bad on every count. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who earned a passing mention in the superb episode Plan of Attack), had many friends that joined the army because of the enormous emphasis placed on nationalism, and not on any count of anti-Semitism. There was a draft in Germany too, and I doubt conscientious objectors were encouraged. Admittedly, Strasser makes an attempt to justify his actions: "I had to survive," but it rings pretty hollow.

It turns out the threats are connected to a wartime operation in France, codename Sunflower. Horowitz throws a few whodunit conventions into the mix by introducing the inhabitants of Strasser’s boarding house, a bitter widow and two gruff Poles.

Meanwhile, Sam is taking a more active part in the investigation, and sporting very cool 50’s garb. Adam, due to his overflowing sympathy with everyone that walks into the room, is yet again involved in the complaints of a constituent. This, like the Foyle storyline, also seems to be pointing towards corruption in high places.

Honeysuckle Weeks is one of the highlights of the episode. Her penchant for getting into trouble is on full force, and her new role, and subsequent responsibilities, as a wife are nicely handled. She has finally grown up. Sort of.

Michael Kitchen seems to drift through the episode, his usual stolidly industrious sleuthing lapsing into apathetic observation. He’s bamboozled by nearly every single character, including Sam (well, almost). Yes, he figures out the primary twist, but there is no sense of justice being done, only one injustice being prevented. The investigation process is almost an afterthought among the complex tangle of insalubrious doings. 

The series had just managed to get its feet after the monumental shift into MI5, but now Foyle's future seems as murky as the London sky. Gone is the fragile trust he had built with Pierce and Sir Alec, unsatifyingly replaced with an unexpected (and probably short-lived) bond with Valentine. To so completely demolish this stability leaves the show with somewhat of a conundrum - one it seems very aware of as a disillusioned Foyle drives away. I'm curious to see how season nine (which has been confirmed) will handle this. Will we see a rehabilitation of the marvelous Mrs. Pierce and the curmudgeonly Sir Alec? I hope so, but God knows how Horowitz will pull it off.

That said, while I think the theme of disenchantment is not a good choice (especially for a season finale), it is executed quite well. The scenes explaining what exactly happened in Operation Sunflower are truly moving. A certain level of double-crossing and turning a blind eye is to be expected in this brave new world, but as Valentine observes “It was a step too far.”

 2.5/5 stars.

EDIT: Watched it again, two years later. I'd definitely change my rating - maybe up to 4 stars, especially since I've seen how they handle the new series.

My review of next season


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