A Spy Among Friends is the kind of show where one should pay attention to every detail. For me, this extends to episode titles. Snow. It is a polysemous word. The first thing that comes to mind when snow is concerned is, of course, the small white pieces of ice that sometimes fall from the sky when it is cold. However, as a verb, snow also means to deceive or trick someone with persuasive talk. And it is exactly what spies do, isn’t it? So it snows in Moscow in this episode while the spies keep snowing each other 🙂
At Eddies Fish and Chips, Elliott is convinced that Sir Roger is part of Blunt’s KGB network. Lily now has to “snow” Sir Roger and see how he addresses the problem called Blunt.
“Philby didn’t escape. I let him go. Why did I let him go? Because I’m trained in, shall we say, exigent circumstances, to consider myself above the law. Because all of us at SIS have been raised since the year dot to believe we belong to a higher order. A different set of rules. Tell Sir Roger that.”
I cannot stop giggling since this is the exact description Lily gave to her MI5 superiors in Episode 1 as she shared with them his impressions of Elliott and SIS in general 🙂
Lily: What if they don’t?
Elliott: They will. Sir Roger will.
Yes, he does. Sir Roger believes Elliott has found out about Blunt because he had lunch with Blunt yesterday at his club. SIS has no clue about Blunt being a Soviet spy, so it could only be Philby that shared this information with Elliott. And since it was Lily that asked to take Elliott off the lead and follow him closely, Sir Roger is quite surprised that she does not have any idea about Elliott’s lunch with Blunt. And lo and behold, Miss Sissmore is in Lily’s office to break the news that Sir Roger is taking her off the case.
It turns out it was Jane Sissmore who recommended Lily to Sir Roger for debriefing Elliott because Lily is good at what she does. And Sissmore also thought Elliott would find her intriguing. That said, she thinks, a little bit of make-up could help her hide the truth.
The conversation between the two MI5 women be my favorite in the entire mini-series. Sissmore knows there is something Lily does not share with her MI5 superiors. And while she is here to tell Lily that she is off the case, Sissmore quietly encourages her to unofficially pursue whatever it is that she is not sharing with them. And the way she uses make-up as a metaphor in the conversation is priceless.
Lily: Nothing more to be done?
Sissmore: Officially, no.
Sissmore: (referring to the lipstick she just left on Lily’s desk) They call that one Shimmering Rose.
The show creator Alex Cary said that Lily Thomas, a fictional character, is a composite of several real-life characters one of which is Jane Sissmore. Sissmore was the first female officer at MI5. And Kim Philby, recognizing her superior abilities, tried to sideline Sissmore’s career in 1940s when he was the head of SIS Section IX where Sissmore was working at the time.
As he tasks Lily with having Sir Roger talk about Blunt, Elliott tasks himself with confronting his old friend James Angleton. And once he gets news from his asset at the Russian Embassy that the KGB raided a CIA safe house in Moscow last night, Elliott knows it is time to wake up Angleton with the best bacon and egg roll in the country 🙂
Elliott is straight with Angleton. He knows about the bug in his house and finds it understandable that the CIA suspected of him so Angleton does not have to explain either of them. However, it seems Angleton did not tell CIA why he really came to London – to be in the radio frequency with his people in Moscow! As Angleton denies that he is running agents, the morse codes sitting on his desk say otherwise 🙂
Elliott: “As painful as that is… it’s important that we finally come to terms with the cold, hard fact that one of our own, whom we loved, respected and admired, to the point of, dare I say it, hero worship… has done the unthinkable.:
Angleton: “Hero worship? Speak for yourself.”
Elliott: “I am. Believe me.”
I need to add here that Ben MacIntyre’s book that the mini-series is based on is quite rich with “hero worship” trivia. Kim Philby’s charisma made everyone adore him. His friends and colleagues want to be like him, or they actually wanted to be him. Philby effortlessly made worshippers out of people. It is quite something, in my opinion, that Nick Elliot bought the exact same umbrella that Philby carried and James Angleton, who later became the head of the counterintelligence in the CIA, bought the exact same homburg hat that Philby wore.
Elliott tells Angleton to destroy any evidence of his blind trust in Philby and go back to Washington immediately. Angleton asks him how he will redeem himself. And as Elliott leaves his basement, he takes Elliott’s advice and burns everything in there.
As he arrives at his office, Elliott finds Arthur Martin waiting for him. Martin is here to tell Elliott that Ms. Thomas is off his case and ask him questions about his lunch with Sir Anthony Blunt the previous day. When Elliott talks about Beef Wellington and Vermeer when he talks about his lunch with Blunt, Martin says he is there under the authority of the minister so Elliott should behave. But Elliott is determined to put Martin in his place.
Elliott: “Ten years ago, when we shared source intelligence with you about a possible Soviet penetration agent at MI5, you personally – Of course I remember your sodding name, how could I fucking well forget it? – were responsible for the inquiry that completely overlooked and missed Blunt.
While Martin warns Elliott not to go near Blunt under any circumstances, Blunt himself seems to be very concerned about people going near him. He constantly looks out of the window to see what is going on outside as he is giving an art lecture. Who is Blunt afraid of? SIS? CIA? KGB?
In parallel, in Moscow, as Philby stares, from his bedroom, at the raided CIA safe house with bullet holes in the windows, he notices a wedding party – a young bride walking to her wedding service with her parents. This takes Philby back to his mother’s funeral service. While one is a happy and the other is a sad event, both wedding and funerals are about someone you love.
On the evening of the funeral service, Elliott and Angleton visit Philby at his mother’s house. Philby is quite emotional not only because his mother died all alone but also because she did not really know who her son was. While Angleton’s kind of lifting his friend’s spirit is reciting T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of Alfred Prudrock with Philby, Elliott is determined to take them out for drinks!
Now that he has confronted Angleton about Philby, Elliott removes the CIA bugs at his house. As he and Elizabeth remember their exciting spying days during the war, they have a romantic moment… only to be interrupted by a phone call from Desmond! Angleton did exactly what Elliott hoped he would. He went to the airport but then got into a different car waiting for him there and drove north for an hour and a half.
In parallel, Philby sits to write a letter to Elliott. He has now realized that Elliott did not give him a lifeline but a rope that he used to hang himself.
“Only you would have pulled that one off…”
Philby goes back to the night of his mom’s funeral where a British spy, an American spy, and, yes, a Russian spy, go to a bar, drink and make up silly limericks 🙂
Elliott: There once was a Yank named Jim…
Angleton: Who swore by his old friend Kim.
Elliott: And every time they drank…
Philby: They’d go for a wank.
Elliott: To the tune of their favourite hymn. ( All laugh )
Philby puts his Red Banner and his wedding ring together – probably symbolizing the fact that his life as he knows it is over. He leaves the apartment, walks in the snow, reflecting on the few days in Beirut where Elliott repeatedly tells him that he is offering him a lifeline in return for a full signed confession.
Philby ends up going to a park where homeless people sit in the cold and drink Vodka. One of them offers Philby some only to make sure he gets so he can steal his possessions – the box containing his Red Banner and wedding ring.
In London, it turns out Blunt was right being concerned about his safety! Two men show up at his dinner table at The Connaught and ask him to go with them. Lucky for Blunt, Lily’s side kick Al has been following him but he and his partner lose them in traffic. So Al calls Lily who calls Elliott to let him know that MI5 just lost Blunt. Yikes!
Elliott figures this is one desperate move on Angleton’s end to save his ass. Besides, he knows where Angleton should be keeping Blunt. So Elliott confronts Angleton in the countryside, tells him one more time to go back to Washington, and moves Blunt from the CIA safe house to an SIS safe house where he and Lily interrogate him. In fact, Nicholas Elliott has just saved MI5 from a HUGE embarrassment. Maybe this is one way Elliott redeems himself.
Blunt’s first words as Elliott and Lily start the interrogation is that he is not the third man which Elliott and Lily already know. Philby is the third man. Blunt is the fourth.
Blunt tells them that he went through an interrogation with Sir Roger Hollis last night, and insists that he does not have a KGB handler. But when pushed hard about the instructions given to him in case his cover was blown, Blunt says he was told to go to Hollis and Hollis told him to do nothing until he got back to him.
Lily: Who is your KGB handler?
Blunt: I don’t have a handler.
Lily: So who told you to go to Hollis?
Elliott has an Eureka moment and answers the question before Blunt does:
Philby is lying in the park, consumed by alcohol, exactly like the guy he saw the other day lying on a Moscow pavement. And when he wakes up in the hospital, he is living another night in his mind, a night where he was consumed by excess alcohol.
Philby drinks himself to oblivion at St George’s Hotel after leaving the SIS safe house. And when Elliott shows up to take him home, he says he has no home thanks to Elliott and attacks him. The fight ends with Elliott kicking Philby into the pool.
The episode ends in quite a cliffhanger. Elliott comes home late from the Blunt interrogation. Elizabeth, who is waiting for him on the stairs, nods towards the living room. There is a surprise waiting for Elliott there.
Sir Roger: “Hello, Nick.”
Elliott: “Sir Roger.”