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The Night Manager: episode 2 review

Beginning in ‘Mallorca, Spain’, Nina Simone sings ‘Plain Gold Ring’ on the soundtrack as Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), the  trophy girlfriend of arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), selects lingerie in hazy sunlight. The dressing is interrupted by a call. A strained conversation with her mother follows, Jed promises money and asks after ‘Billy’ (a son?). That she is not involved with Roper for pure romance is not a shock, but is Jed trapped in her situation or a gold digger?

Roper and guests visit a seaside restaurant. As Jed dances with his young son Daniel there is an attempted robbery that turns into a kidnapping. The men try to abscond with the boy, but Pine is watching them from a kitchen. The story then flashes back to explain how he came to be working as a chef in that particular Chiringuito.

To set up Pine with the perfect back story that will make him interesting to Roper, he is given a fake identity and sent to Devon with orders to make mischief. Arriving in a small village with a general store out of the nineteen fifties – they seem to only have eggs and a couple of tins of soup on the shelves, there is clearly a gap in the market for a SPAR – Pine sets himself up as a drug dealer to engineer a criminal background and a reason to leave the country.

The Night Manager episode 2

So when he apparently foils the kidnapping attempt in Spain and gets severely beaten in the process, Roper is quick to bring Pine to his home while sinister fixer Lance Corcoran (Tom Hollander) runs a background check. Corcoran is not entirely convinced, with Pine telling him that if he is found to be “stringing us along” he will “hood you and hang you up by those lovely ankles until the truth falls out of you by gravity.”

This was another fine episode building intrigue and character depth. Colman’s intense performance makes it clear that Burr’s vendetta is personal even as reasons remain elusive. The Etonian ranks of ‘the River House’ – the informal name for MI-6’s Vauxhall HQ – casually condescend to Burr and her “modest enforcement agency”, but she uses this condescension against them. Teaming with American agent Joel Steadman (David Harewood), Burr feeds them information but keeps Pine’s undercover work hidden. This is a dangerous game – a death in episode 1 may have been due to leaked information. One might reasonably question the how wise it was to discuss Pine after a meeting with MI-6, standing by the Thames in front of one of the most CCTV camera encrusted buildings on the planet. But it was a nice shot.

The Night Manager episode 2

The Night Manager plays with the tropes of escapist fantasy spy thrillers while also having the grit of more serious espionage dramas. From the elegant opening titles – an exploding RPG transformed into a cocktail glass, a spinning tea set becomes the barrel of a revolver – to exotic locations including, in this episode, Mallorca, Switzerland, and… er… Devon, sexual conquests and Hiddlestone’s tailoring, the spirit of Bond is invoked. However, the plotting and psychological complexity of the characters is all le Carré.

It is a difficult balancing act, but the series has deftly skipped across the high wire so far. We will see if it continues to impress as the stakes are increased.

Follow Stuart Barr on Twitter.

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