Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Part 1   Show Only 
February 19, 2015 12:27 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Two to six men in a room filled or quickly filling with smoke. There is terse, slow conversation, interrogations mostly, punctuated by short, uneventful drives on the streets of Cold War-era London. Spies! George Smiley (ret.), played elderly and formidable and ironically reticent by Sir Alec Guinness, looms and frowns at the goings-on and pieces together the legend of a mole, right at the top of The Circus.

The cold open inside the inner chamber of MI6 inner chamber The Circus introduces the three, and Alleline. One by one, in complete silence, four men enter a tiny room and sit down, each fiddling with a different bit of business. The fussing comes to a slow halt and the man at the head of the table says "Right! We shall start." Cut to opening titles of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) roll.

Timelines jump around without warning in this slow-moving story, a few times right at the very beginning as we watch Circus chief Control send spook Jim Prideaux to Czechoslovakia. Fast forward a few years and we finally meet now-retired Circus first mate George Smiley, buying a book in London and attempting to duck the attentions of Foreign Office scourge and pompous, bogus, gossiping, old featherhead, Roddy Martindale. As ticked off as he ever gets, Smiley still manages to get the gears turning about the four men running the top of The Circus, just in time to be surprise 'delivered' by also-disgraced Circus spook Peter Guillam to an audience with civil servant in charge of the Ministry of Intelligence Oliver Lacon.

He's got a problem on his hands in the form of A Spy With A Story named Ricky Tarr.
posted by carsonb (15 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
That's a lot of names and a lot of set-up but it's still just a tiny sliver of everything that happens in this episode, which is no different than any episode. It can be difficult to keep up with this show, which is hilarious because it (and George Smiley) moves.... so.... slowly. When dialog does happen, and when questions finally get answered, the answers are terse and convoluted, littered with HME-isms and references and very few clear declarations.

So I look forward to discussing all those intricacies with you! I've seen this show about 8 zillion times, and have a blast putting together ever more little pieces and references throughout this story and the following one, Smiley's People. There's bound to be so much stuff I haven't noticed, and it's going to be great seeing what you have to contribute.

See you Thursdays!
posted by carsonb at 12:31 PM on February 19, 2015

I watched this after the recent film version. I liked it and appreciated the performances, but it didn't stick very well. I still have a few images in my head, I think they actually landed there seeing bits of it when my parents were watching it on TV the first time around, but I can't really remember the story.
posted by latkes at 1:29 PM on February 19, 2015

Wierdly, I read the book after watching the movie and the miniseries, and I can remember that least of all!
posted by latkes at 1:29 PM on February 19, 2015

I've seen this show about 8 zillion times

Me too. It only improves.

It can be difficult to keep up with this show, which is hilarious because it (and George Smiley) moves.... so.... slowly.

I always think it so cleverly puts you, the viewer, into the same position as Smiley within the series. Putting together little snippets of information, gradually realising the significance of a comment from much earlier. Observing.

I think my favourite bit in this episode is Smiley's little soliloquy walking back to Bywater Street after his dinner with the dreadful Roddy Martindale:

"'Bits of sandstone' ... 'shop-soiled white hope' ... 'everybody's love to Ann'! Oh damn. Oh damn!"

Or maybe it's Smiley's little fantasy about establishing himself as "an oak of my own generation" in retirement, bumbling along innocent pavements.
posted by sobarel at 3:03 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think my favourite bit in this episode is Smiley's little soliloquy walking back to Bywater Street after his dinner with the dreadful Roddy Martindale:

"'Bits of sandstone' ... 'shop-soiled white hope' ... 'everybody's love to Ann'! Oh damn. Oh damn!"

It's literally the only time George lets it get to him. It's amazing that of all the people ribbing him about his career and his wife throughout this show, Roddy Martindale is the one who gets under his skin. Right at the beginning too, which I guess is motivation for George to resolve these issues with his legacy. But from that point forward he takes everyone's asking after Anne and insinuations about Karla stoically.
posted by carsonb at 6:29 PM on February 19, 2015

For a second I thought someone had remade the original series and was struck by the most horrible sense of dread.
posted by fullerine at 12:47 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

But from that point forward he takes everyone's asking after Anne and insinuations about Karla stoically.

From that point forward he's back on the clock, and can view such things with professional detachment. He says to Guillam later on something like "Have you noticed whenever I rattle one of our acquaintances they bring up the subject of my failure as a husband?" - it's all grist to his mill. An interesting observation to be filed away for future reference.

When Martindale baits him he's powerless, out of the game, and can't pretend this is all nothing more than some terribly interesting puzzle.
posted by sobarel at 4:31 AM on February 20, 2015

carsonb - after you've done TTSS I don't suppose you fancy doing Sandbaggers do you?
posted by longbaugh at 3:17 AM on February 27, 2015

I've got Smiley's People on deck, but that'll just give me time to actually watch Sandbaggers. So maybe?
posted by carsonb at 7:29 AM on February 27, 2015

After some preliminary searches, did not know a BBC version existed, has anyone seen it. I was raised on PBS version, when we had to wait, and Acorns' wonderful copy. Yeah, time jumping does not usually work. Digress: I like the cinematic license used. It encompasses what keeps every screen writer going: FADE IN.
Here is genius of comedic proportion, absurdity and character development in under a few minutes. Ventriloquistic yet robotistic Toby. Bland as Bland. Percy loomingly bumbles in. By the time Bill comes with cookie balancing act and letting the door open just enough for Toby to close chase. In a nutshell, there-in lies your villain.
So, yeah time jumping usually does not work but this is espionage.
So Stevchek (TESTIFY) is really KARLAs' xx to finish off Controls carrer. But the unexpected happens, C takes a chance and sends thebest freind of who he suspects is a mole into danger or gold. Either way, C gets his string pulled. Jim goes and disaster happens and you know Karla knows it's jim because of the broader scene and the fisheye shot at Jim before he pulls off. Bill didn't know. Since Jim is back with his bullet in the back, all is settled with a small change in staff and good news, we have a wizard.
Right, we shall start.
posted by clavdivs at 9:44 PM on March 21, 2015

I cannot place Roddy in the schematic other then plot device. Roddy is a tool's tool. Can't place him other then sanctioned gossip.

"Who's the clever boots"
Percy puppet/ nag/ jebedee/red brikANNE/oh dam

I like that the movie used the shim.
A shim spotted is not easily replaced.
Which is an askme.
posted by clavdivs at 9:49 PM on March 21, 2015

Retract the shim. (SP)
posted by clavdivs at 9:25 AM on March 22, 2015

I mentioned that this series has seven episodes in the FanFare Talk thread, though without knowing that there were two cuts of the series. 'Seven' corresponds with the original BBC airing, but differentiates from the re-cut 6-episode version shown on PBS in America (and apparently the Region 1 DVD/Blu-ray).

To be clear, these posts will be about the original 7-episode version.
posted by carsonb at 11:22 AM on March 25, 2015

Roddy Martindale

Rewatching yet again, I really don't understand what Roddy's purpose is. Is he just that much of a pompous, bogus, gossiping, old featherhead to corner George, drag him to drinks and dinner, and needle him about his professional and personal failures for what, two-to-three hours?

Also they were having dinner at Roddy's club.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:25 PM on March 30, 2015

That's a great question! I'm not at all familiar with the books, but from what I know of the other characters, they're much more fleshed out in the novels, so you get a lot of the 'where they're coming from' context laid out. Whereas with the TV show, they had to do a lot of implying and cramming info into odd looks, ostensibly interstitial shots, and some very, very dense dialog. Roddy only has the one scene at the beginning, but as you progress through the series and become familiar with George's backstory and the prep school sub-plot/metaphor you can back-fill a lot of where he's coming from and what he's saying.

Roddy's a member/leader of the Foreign Service, the ministry that staffs UK's embassies and consulates and in general represents the UK overseas. They also work hand-in-hand (or hand-in-glove) with MI6, naturally. In this capacity alone I believe Martindale has enough pull to buttonhole Smiley the way he does and drag him to dinner.

He's also clearly an 'old-boy' which carries its own pull. When you old prep school or Cambridge buddy (and former co-conspirator) finds you in the street and asks you to dinner knowing full-well that one hasn't anything better to be doing with the evening, you don't have a whole lot of outs to excuse yourself with.

Finally, and this is outside of character development and wholly in service to plot, but Roddy is the one person who gets under George's skin. Seeing that right off the bat brings extra relief to George's (from then on) stoic reactions whenever anyone (and mostly everyone) else pokes him about his personal and professional failures.
posted by carsonb at 9:26 PM on March 30, 2015

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