Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: How It All Fits Together
March 12, 2015 10:55 AM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

In search of more information about Operation Testify, George sends Peter back to The Circus for the archived file. Waylaid mid-operation by the three of them and Alleline, Peter is read in on and then interrogated about some ultra-ultra-sensitive Witchcraft material. Patrick Stewart makes a brief, silent, and rather intense appearance during Smiley's relation to Guillam of the time in Delhi when he met Karla in the flesh.

I got sucked into a Karla-based Wikipedia hole:

- The Cambridge Five
- Arnold Deutsch (the Soviet scholar/spy who recruited The Cambridge Five)
- Markus Wolf & Major General Rem Krassilnikov (Karla templates)

I hope this isn't too spoiler-y, but it was just an ordinary Ronson.
posted by carsonb (12 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
And Patrick Stewart played a brief, silent and rather intense appearance as Karla in the climax of the series sequel, "Smiley's People"!
posted by thatwhichfalls at 12:45 PM on March 12, 2015


Another great episode. The grilling of Peter is magnificent - "I positively seethe with goodwill" - if just for Bill Haydon's masterclass in sarcastic looks and the way Percy's eyebrow shoots up after "wee bairn".

I find Fawn's sardonic delivery terribly amusing for some reason, "I think it's in view of the emotional side..."

Alec Guinness, meanwhile, never sounds more like a bad impression of himself than when he says "truly horrible" interrogating Tarr for the second time.

I feel like the full-bore seventies horror of the meal Peter and George share is worth a mention too, wrapping absurdly around the intensity of the Karla/Smiley confrontation: "Well, that was ... sumptuous."
posted by sobarel at 2:51 PM on March 12, 2015


The grilling of Peter is magnificent - "I positively seethe with goodwill" - if just for Bill Haydon's masterclass in sarcastic looks and the way Percy's eyebrow shoots up after "wee bairn".

Not only the sarcastic looks! Ian Richardson delivers perfectly subtle tics in character at two other key points: Genuine fear when he either begins to believe Peter about not having been in contact with Tarr or completely disbelieves him, and a great 'Oh, fuck!' look when Alleline spells out the name on Tarr's fake passport. Given the second reaction, I imagine the first stems more from the latter possibility than the former. He's also ultra-creepy reciting the description of Tarr's daughter.

Toby Esterhaus' stonewall expression, in contrast (to Bill as well as to his polka-dotted costume), is scary but unconvincing. Peter suspects one of these men is a Russian mole, and he's getting a real up-close look at them while they think they're getting a real up-close look at him. Bland is just that, as usual. A nervous cough would be suspicious in anyone else, but that's just him.

The dinner scene, and the nesting-doll driving scenes, are some of my favorite illustrations of how this miniseries moves its story right along. On the way to dinner there's several courses' worth of information for them to digest, and connect to George's existing knowledge of Karla and his operation out of Moscow Center. Peter is fired up, but George wants to slow down! and take it all in. Literally, as in dinner. Let the wine breathe, we'll dine at our own pace. Then, having recounted his Karla meeting and heard Peter out about his Circus interrogation (not to mention closed the restaurant), Smiley has digested the information and made some connections that confirm his suspicions, and can't go fast enough back to his hotel to read the Witchcraft file. It's just great story telling!
posted by carsonb at 4:34 PM on March 12, 2015


I find Fawn's sardonic delivery terribly amusing for some reason, "I think it's in view of the emotional side..."

What's great about all of these scenes we see that happen away from George Smiley is that we can pretend that they're not exactly what happened but more of a recounting from whomever is relating the story to him. What we're seeing is Peter's memory of the meeting with Alleline and co, so yeah we get all the trumped-up pomposity magnified by Peter's emotional stress and perceptions at the time. Bill is mugging behind his hand big-time, Toby is stone-faced, and Bland is just coughing is usual, Peter says. Alleline is in fine form (a fact that we see George confirm in the Witchcraft files and then comment upon aloud when reading them back to Lacon at the end of the episode) but it's just so utterly ridiculous because it's been amplified in the telling.

Similar could be said for all of the other stories that are told to George Smiley throughout his investigation, that there are embellishments and holes in the memory that can only be implied when presented in the stark wholeness of the screen medium.
posted by carsonb at 4:41 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Alleline is in fine form (a fact that we see George confirm in the Witchcraft files and then comment upon aloud when reading them back to Lacon at the end of the episode)

"Percy was enjoying himself, wasn't he?" George can probably afford to find Percy more amusing than usual because - whoever the mole turns out to be - he's going to be proved to be a fool and a dupe. This man who took Control's chair and left George out in the cold.

I was also thinking about how much muscle there is in this episode. Paul Skordeno looms menacingly and silently during Peter's interrogation ("damn near killed each other"), Tarr is armed and dangerous, Fawn is karate-chopping away, Mendel is - we assume - handy in a tight spot, Karla is in manacles, and we learn Irina has been liquidated at the Lubyanka.

And I think George's comment about how Karla's downfall will come due to his fanaticism and lack of moderation is really interesting - and possibly quite ironic - going ahead into Smiley's People. As he says of Tarr, "everyone has a loyalty somewhere"...
posted by sobarel at 5:40 PM on March 12, 2015


George never seems to get a decent meal. Poor George.
posted by clavdivs at 10:25 PM on March 20, 2015


"A man with message and cleft stick does reach Brixton does he?"

Probably the best Percy quip. Very elite in both class and work structure.
Brixton/ Vauxhall. 6 has a sence of humour.
posted by clavdivs at 11:46 PM on March 20, 2015


George never seems to get a decent meal. Poor George.

Was he being sarcastic when he called the meal he and Peter shared 'sumptuous?' They closed down the restaurant lingering over it, but I guess they couldn't get out of there quickly enough once George was finished talking.
posted by carsonb at 6:34 PM on March 21, 2015


Quite.
posted by clavdivs at 9:27 AM on March 22, 2015


George demonstrates an important grasp of information in the car ride with Guillam. The important pieces are not just the information, but from whom, when, and how. The information about Ricki Tarr keys him onto Moscow Centre.

It's why there's no distinction between data and data-about-data, or metadata. Smiley uses this to connect Merlin and the mole.

It's interesting to me that the Brits are more concerned with being a conduit for Moscow to siphon material from the Cousins. Discredited in their own eyes, discredited in their allies eyes.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:47 PM on March 30, 2015


The important pieces are not just the information, but from whom, when, and how.

Which is one of the most important takeaways from Peter and George's conversation over dinner: Control and Smiley were concerned with the metadata surrounding the Witchcraft material, where did it come from, who vetted it, why is it so topical, and immediately discounted/disregarded the source when Alleline didn't care to share. The goodness of the information wasn't good enough to pass muster by itself with Control, but if you combine that with his perceived continuing failure (by civilian oversight) then you can wrench, uh, control away.

It's interesting to me that the Brits are more concerned with being a conduit for Moscow to siphon material from the Cousins.

Within the context of the Cold War, that's just how it is, just what they were.
posted by carsonb at 12:14 PM on March 31, 2015


Within the context of the Cold War, that's just how it is, just what they were.

A Perfect Spy goes into this pretty deeply. There's a theme of English/British irrelevance and decline, like Connie says of her boys raised to run an Empire: "Englishmen could be proud then"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:21 AM on April 1, 2015


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