A Spy Among Friends, Episode 4: Vodka

The Russian National drink names this episode and is a recurring theme in the story.

Na Zdorovie!

Important morning in Moscow for Philby. He has an appointment at Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters, for his debrief. The CIA agents are watching him dress up from the CIA safe house across from his apartment. As he prepares to leave, Philby remembers the press conference he had 10 years ago to deny the accusation that he was responsible for helping Donald MacLean and Guy Burgess escape to the USSR.

Nicholas Elliott is taking a moment to look back to the press conference, especially on how he helped Philby prepare for the questions the press would ask him… Him being in quiet reflection at a church feels like Elliott is examining his conscience before his confession, if you will. We all know less is more with Damian Lewis and A Spy Among Friends gives him the opportunity to do so.

And Lily has an unusual morning not only  because she has the information that Blunt has been named a Soviet Spy by Michael Whitney Straight but also because she finds James Angleton of all people at her doorstep! Angleton obviously has the information about Blunt. As he offers Lily a ride to the city on which they could talk about possible cooperation, Lily’s question to him is quite legitimate:

“Would you be doing all this if I was a man?”

We’re back to Beirut.

Philby reminds Elliott how he was a loyal friend to him 10 years ago when MI5 accused him of helping MacLean and Burgess. Elliott points out that he believed Philby was innocent then because there was no solid evidence. But the evidence they now have convinced him that Philby was a Soviet spy. And as Philby posits the evidence Flora Solomon provided has no value, Elliott gives him the bad news: Solomon is not the only one. There is also a KGB defector who actually says Philby is not the only traitor but there are two more still in play.

And we go back to 1941, just after Pearl Harbor, to witness Angleton and Philby meeting for the first time. We saw Elliott telling Lily about Philby’s innate ability to make friends with anyone in Episode 3 Allegory of the Catholic Faith, and Philby is at his most charming as he greets Angleton with a “You’re the poet” – probably the best compliment one could pay to Angleton who started a poetry magazine called Furioso as an undergraduate student Yale.

Lily shares the Blunt information with Elliott at his usual breakfast place. Sir Roger Hollis, the director of MI5, as well as her other superiors know about Blunt but they do not know that Lily is sharing this information with Elliott. Maybe this was the “promise” Elliott  meant when he told Elizabeth  about Lily when she asked him whether she was friend or foe but there is obviously some trust relationship between Lily and Elliott now.

Elliott thinks one thing  they cannot afford is for the Americans getting to Blunt before they do. While he believes Angleton is too cautious to do that, he is close to shocked  to hear that Angleton dropped by Lily’s house that morning. This means they need to rattle Blunt immediately.

Lily has a different question in mind: Straight coming forward out of blue risking the value of the intelligence Elliott received from Philby is rather odd to her.

Elliott’s response:

“Rule Number 1: If  it smells bad and if you suspect the Russians, it’s probably the Russians.”

As Philby leaves his building for Lubyanka, it is now his turn to see two kids playing  nearby…

…and he slips on the ice. On the way to Lubyanka, he notices a guy just lying on the street and asks Sergei about it.


We see Philby smile sincerely for the first time when he enters Lubyanka. old friend Donald MacLean is there and he will be the translator at the debrief.

After quick pleasantries, the Lubyanka team asks Philby about Angleton. Philby tells them that he developed a close relationship with Angleton over the years and had regular and detailed intelligence exchange over long lunches at Angleton’s house in Virginia.

But what about his personality, his character? It  turns out the KGB really cares about the Americans these days! 🙂

“Er, well, first and foremost, he really is an odd bird. He would like to be regarded as a poet although he has almost no discernible talent whatsoever. He is, however, a gifted intelligence man with a keen eye for the nuances of human behavior except one could argue where I’m concerned.”

And as he says these words, Philby remembers a meeting at Angleton’s Virginia House where the latter is praising Joe McCarthy of all people for diagnosing right that the US has not been paying attention and now the Communists are among them 🙂

It is quite obvious that the KGB team does not trust Philby.  They know about the “fickle nature” of spy types that they are typically driven by opportunity or ego rather than ideology. And they suspect Philby may have come to Moscow to penetrate the Russian Intelligence Service.

Philby tries to break the ice with the woman who asks the question exactly like how Elliott tried to do it with Lily:

“German accent?”


But, no, the ice is still not broken between them. Moreover, the woman demonstrates the level of suspicion they have by asking Philby if he really slipped on ice that morning – so it has also been reported to them. Yikes! And when she says she cannot believe that Philby has come to Moscow with no useful documents or information of any kind, Philby feels the urge to react:

“You don’t trust me.”

“We don’t know you.”

“You’ve known me for 30 years…”

As he understands that the KGB needs solid proof for his loyalty to communism, Philby takes out the cigarette box we saw him put in his jacket pocket that morning before leaving home. With the help of the woman’s lighter, he shows them the poem on the cigarette box.

As Philby is grilled at Lubyanka, Elliott arrives at his club to grill… well, Blunt, who thinks he has a lunch appointment with Tim Milne 🙂 And before going into the dining room, he remembers an intimate moment with Philby and Angleton, as the three of them sang Wlliam Blake’s Jerusalem in one of the club rooms.

As Blunt is considering  to have fish at lunch, he finds Elliott as his new companion recommending Beef Wellington as the main followed by Baked Alaska. Blunt tries to downplay it as Eliott reminds him of his faux pax at the Queen’s Gallery the night before.

“Vermeer? Vermehren?”

Elliott directly asks Blunt whether he killed anyone, if he had real blood on his hands… Because, he adds, he really wanted to kill Philby in Beirut. Elliott is determined to unnerve Blunt today.

“Stick a knife in Kim’s gut and watch him bleed to death.”

And he leaves the club as, I believe, Blunt has entirely lost his appetite.

As Al, Lily’s sidekick from MI5, is tasked with following Blunt’s every move, Elliott and Lily are waiting in a car near the Queen’s Gallery.  The rain is pouring and Elliott talks about the importance of a good umbrella which brings him to the umbrella Philby gave him 10 years ago for the part he played in convincing the Foreign Secretary and the government that he had nothing to do MacLean and Burgess. He is still keeping it.

Elliott’s umbrella engraved “N.E. from K.P. 1955”

Lily asks Elliott about the poem Philby recites on the Beirut tapes. Elliott appreciates that Lily has found out about the poem and its link to Angleton. He confesses that, at first, he really thought Philby was just drunk and comparing  his sacrifices to those of Jesus. But as he thought further, he realized that what Philby was really doing was to send a message to Angleton knowing that either the Americans already had the MI6 safe house bugged or they would somehow procure the tapes later.

What kind of a message, Lily wonders.

“If I know Kim, he worked very hard over the years to fool Angleton into believing that if he ever should defect to Moscow one day that it would in fact be as a CIA asset.”

As soon as they hear from Al that Blunt called a cab and then called an untraceable number and talked for 12 seconds, Elliott and Lily are on it. Elliott is convinced that the person Blunt called should be in his KGB network!

Having put a hard day’s work at Lubyanka, Philby, Sergei and MacLean come to a nice hotel/bar to chill. Burgess is there to meet them and it is obvious Philby is still disgusted by his escape which risked everything for him. As he tells Burgess that he only told him to get a message to MacLean but not to run off to Moscow with him, Philby notices the American female agent at the bar showing him the exact cigarette box from last night. As he plans how to get the CIA message from her, Philby teaches me a new phrase:

“I need to point Percy at the porcelaine.”

What? 😀 😀 😀

Guy Burgess ruins Philby’s plans by deciding to point Percy at the porcelaine himself. And as he goes on and on about how Philby should know that the Russians will never trust him because he is not a real Communist, but just a spy who befriends and betrays, seduces and infects, Philby has been looking for to be able to leave the men’s room alone.

“All fine and dandy when you’re  among friend. And now you’re here it’s finished. Take it from me. All that’s left now is their Vodka.”

“I’m a Communist.”

He punches Burgess – not anything  unexpected since Philby is obviously convincedthat Burgess ruined his life by running off to Moscow with MacLean 10 years ago when he was a house guest at Philby’s Washington D.C. home. And on his way from the men’s room, Philby gets the message the CIA woman gives him as she walks by.

Philby finds out at home that night that the CIA woman gave him the address of the safe house. He burns the piece of paper in his room so the CIA agents across from his apartment see that the message has been received. And as the morse code beeps in Angleton’s basement, we find out Elliott actually knows Philby well 🙂

“We now have a man in the KGB.”

OMG. The confidence in Angleton’s voice is cracking me off. Philby is right. Angleton could have a keen eye of human behavior, but it doesn’t work when Philby is concerned 🙂 What Philby basically did is to ensure that his spying days would not be over if he ended up in Moscow one day. And hats off to Elliott who definitely knows Philby!

Elliott and Lily follow Blunt to a bus stop and wait to see what he will do next. When Blunt takes a certain bus, Elliott gets out of the car and gets on that bus, too. He sees that Blunt is upstairs with someone and so he sits downstairs waiting for the two of them to get off the bus and it happens at Embankment.

Elliot’s face when he realizes that it is Sir Roger Hollis, the head of MI5, who is getting off the bus with Blunt…

…speaks volumes. He is now convinced that Sir Roger tried to stop him from going to Beirut because he is also in the KGB network! When he meets Lily at a fish and chips place late at night, Elliott tells her she would better sit down for the news he has brought.

Although Angleton is over the moon about having an agent in Moscow, his happiness does not last long because Russians do business differently:  they make a raid on the CIA safe house (it seems Philby also told at the Lubyanka about the safe house being across from his apartment), kill the CIA woman and arrest the man. Philby is beside himself with anger when Sergei gives him the news.He worked on Angleton for 20 years to convince him that he would work for the CIA if he ended up in Moscow one day, and just like that, the Soviets have destroyed his 20 years of work!

Philby asks for Vodka. When Galina puts the vodka and two glasses on the table, Philby probably remembers the man lying on the street earlier that day as well as Burgess’ words about vodka in the men’s room. So he resists.

Philby: “I gave them a gold mine. A gold mine. A CIA safe house. And this is what they do. This is how you… treat me.”

Galina: “You are a Soviet hero.”

Philby: “Oh, fuck it.”

And Philby gives in to Vodka. It may be true that it is really the only thing left for him to be able to cope with the fact that his spying days are now over.

Episode 5: Snow

Author: Damianista

Academic, Traveler, Blogger, Runner, Theatre Lover, Wine Snob, Part-time New Yorker, and Walking Damian Lewis Encyclopedia :D Procrastinated about a fan's diary on Damian Lewis for a while and the rest is history!

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