Sunday, November 21, 2010

To Be Or Not To Be: The Betrayal of Lucas North and Richard Armitage

Several descriptive catch-phrases ran through my mind, Lucas North... Nowhere Man, Mr In Between, The Man Who Never Was. All are fitting, I think, because there are no concise means to capture this enigma in a vortex of illogic that was Lucas' ill-fated storyline and character in Spooks Series 9.

Many have commented on the complete abrogation of this character by the middle of Series 9 for the sake of introducing a psychopath who can't be a psychopath, imaginatively named Bateman.  Who is John Bateman?  Lucas' alter ego? A split personality?  No, he is a remorseless murderer who dreamed 15 years of a noble and self-sacrificial life as an MI 5 Agent, who, then, willy nilly, went back to killing without conscience for the sake of true love and an innocence he never possessed. It's really a shame that in the spirit of the original psycho, Patrick Bateman, we didn't at least have a gratuitous beefcake shot of the Armitage running naked through the hall with a chainsaw. It wouldn't have seemed out of place.

The debacle that was Spooks 9 has mercifully come to an end.

One thing that the Armitage did accomplish was to bring Lucas of Series 7 and 8 into stark relief against the vast sky of Lucas' suffering in Series 9.  In series 7 and 8, he was a cool customer, his coolness enhanced by the blue tinged photography and smooth surfaces and bright blue eyes. Lucas was amiable, doing his job, had a few quirks like going off the grid, or taking up with Awful Women; he had a few flashbacks and outwitted his torturer. His identity was bound up in being MI 5.

Still, to me he was just another cipher spook in expectation of a few good years, and a ripsnorter of an ending where, like all good spooks, he would go to heaven in a blaze of glory. What we the audience didn't expect was that his true ending occurred in the complete obliteration of his character, beginning with the first episode of Series 9. More than character assassination, it was as if the creative team replaced Lucas' soul with a small nuclear device called not-Lucas and not only blew Lucas to bits, but vapourised his every atom. After that, not-Lucas, for all his sound and fury, was just an inkblot waiting to be erased.

Nevertheless, it was in Series 9 that I felt that the Armitage could finally remove himself from the constricted emotion of Lucas in 7 and 8 and strictures of behaviour, to reveal another side, a lacerated soul.  Unfortunately, we were to believe that the lacerated soul belonged to not-Lucas, a two dimensional character with no redeeming features, without a mote of "light". By default, I finally paid attention to the character before me.

Because regardless of who this not-Lucas cipher was meant to be, (to me a cheap knockoff and homage to perhaps the ultimate film psychopath, Patrick Bateman) it was Lucas who was living in extremis, with post traumatic stress full blown.  Indeed, this suffering was Lucas' not John's.  I finally met his inner life, the life he had always had and stuffed down.  And then I fell in love with him. Not because of his suffering but because unlike most of his colleagues, he had become a fully rounded character, human rather than tool.

In watching this man fall apart, I finally realised the qualities Lucas always, quietly, without fuss, embodied.  He possessed tremendous loyalty, a caring for humanity and for individuals, the need to connect and desire for love, fragility, strength of character, self-sacrifice, a sense of humour, courage, a desire for home. He withstood 8 years of torture in a Russian prison and gave nothing away. He was indeed, noble. It is only that kind of man who would suffer the torments of his own mind, his remembrances, not a Bateman cipher.

Nothing that happened to not-Lucas could ever be tragic. Nothing was.  That he escape or died?  A mere bagatelle.  After all his banging on, not-Lucas slipped quietly away, unmourned.  There was nothing tragic about any part of his life.  It is even pointless to elaborate on his character because the words that say everything about him is that he was a remorseless murderer.  In simplest terms, in tragedy a noble character possesses a fatal flaw or weakness.  For example, Othello's jealousy overwhelmed all that was great in him and led to his murder of Desdemona.  But not-Lucas?  What characteristics did he possess that should lead us to grieve for him?  He was just a bit of dark matter.

One might further ask, what about Lucas?  Was he tragic?  In the story we were handed, it is psychologically impossible to be both Lucas and John. Technically, I don’t think not-Lucas was a true psychopath because whatever he was, to my knowledge, has not ever been recorded in the annals of psychology.  It would have been psychologically unobtainable for him to stop being a psychopath even if he maintained an admirable facade.  He would have possessed a secret, depraved life; it is a perversion of all we know about the human psyche for him to sustain 15 years of purity of character.

What the Armitage showed us, I propose, was Lucas in an alternate universe where the Lucas story continued and John never happened, or at best was the cipher. Even given that alternate universe, Lucas can never be a truly tragic figure unless you are willing to believe that he was possessed.  Instead, he is an unfinished figure, stuck in a time warp.  He weeps and wails and gnashes his teeth and suffers his memories in a vacuum while Bateman has taken over his story.  With the advent of John, the only thing truly tragic about Lucas is that his story was never played out.  It was replaced. And Lucas ceased to exist.  But all of John's suffering belonged to Lucas and will always belong to Lucas of Series 7 and 8.

Lucas is not even dignified with any sort of ending, never mind a noble one.  He doesn't go out with a bang or a whimper.  Meanwhile, the character of Bateman, absurdly,  can only pretend to have Lucas' qualities, and pretend to have his emotions and behaviour, like some overgrown sock puppet.  When he jumps to his death, one feels nothing, because nothing is there but a blob. Lucas is elsewhere, perhaps in-between, waiting for his story to continue.

I think that the switch from Lucas as we know him to a psychological and logical grotesque was a betrayal of the character, a betrayal of the audience, and a betrayal of the actor(s). I suspect that some of the suffering that the Armitage showed us was real. I imagine that somewhere inside he felt the hurt.

Here you have an actor with intelligence, a devotion to his craft, prodigious gifts, able to spin dross into gold (lest we forget Guy of Gisborne), who elevates any material and dreck he is given.  Clearly the creative team didn't get that message.  Lucas ended up a paper hero, a mere plot device for cheap thrills.

I recall the Armitage talked about wanting to do a comedy next because he could no longer find any light in the Lucas character. He’s an actor who prides himself on finding dark or light as needed to add dimension. In essence, it’s like saying, Lucas became 2 dimensional. What could be a worse violation of artistic integrity and creativity than that?

His gifts were used to manipulate the audience emotionally, to make us care for non-Lucas, the black-hearted murderer.  It was a betrayal of the actor and his abilities and accomplishment.  To have carefully toiled in that garden for 2 seasons, in the light and in the night, nurturing the character, only in turn to witness such scorched earth, thanks to a bunch of fireworks that fly high, make a big bang and fizzle?   I bet it hurt.

This brings me to the last question: was the Armitage a good fit with Spooks?  Given the disrespect shown, I have to wonder.  Whatever his input, this was a character that could not be salvaged.  At least with Guy and Marian, I bought his stabbing of Marian, and I witnessed how genius his acting choice, the motion, so that truly, it looked as if he were reaching for Marian.  It is an ingenious and breathtaking moment like that which allows to me to connect with the divine. To act always in adversity, I imagine, is not a good thing.

All in all, I didn't think the Armitage and Spooks were a good fit, because until Series 9, he truly played a cipher, in great Spooks tradition, I guess. Perhaps the creative team knew that only he could convince an audience of his evil doppelganger. Or at the very least, evoke sympathy.  I would say the latter worked for many.  But at what cost?  At the cost of insulting the intelligence of the actor and some of the audience.  At the cost of generating a lot of fanwank and fan wankery, a consequence that would make me as a writer, think twice about my laurels.  All, as crazy Lucas North said, "chewed up and spat out".  It takes a load and a world of cynicism to do that.

Thanks to his upcoming role in The Hobbit, the commodification of the Armitage brand, (VH1 beefcake, anyone?) continues apace.  I dislike it. Yet at the same time, he just got off the Old Vic stage. My head is spinning.  Guarding the treasure becomes harder.  All of us long for another North & South, where integrity was the simple and complete order of the day, and for the Armitage, it was a perfect fit.  You know it when you experience it.  Perhaps it will never happen again, but I live in hope. Perhaps now, having endured slings, arrows and artistic betrayals, the treasure gets to shine again and reach greater heights taking risks and acting out of the box instead of treading water.  Perhaps this time, the creative team will consider the gem they have and treat him and his talent accordingly.  I can dream.  I bet he does too.

Meanwhile, Lucas continues to be.

As for future Spooks? Along with the evil not-Lucas, you are officially obliterated.


  1. Amazing. Particularly:
    "I think that the switch from Lucas as we know him to a psychological and logical grotesque was a betrayal of the character, a betrayal of the audience, and a betrayal of the actor(s). I suspect that some of the suffering that the Armitage showed us was real. I imagine that somewhere inside he felt the hurt." - True to the nano-word.

    "Guarding the treasure becomes harder." - That's exactly what I was talking about the other day at @RAFRenzy's blog!

  2. I can't totally agree with you. What I perceived was, instead,just an initial disappointment in Mr Armitage (in the interviews presenting Strike Back) who later on took on himself the hard task of making such an incredible twist credible. He accepted the challenge to undertake this complex journey and make it something real. I'm sure he suffered but enjoyed - as an actor - coping with this inspiring test. Just like me as a watcher: I suffered at seeing them de-construct my favourite spook but I enjoyed RA blissed performance in series 9. Every moment of it. My humble opinion. MG

  3. Here I stand, applauding thee. And thanking you for expressing what I've been feeling along the bumpy ride that was S9. In words I wouldn't even attempt to find.
    I'm still ignoring S9, haven't even watched the finale but know I will have to, eventually, to find closure. Maybe then I'll be able to erase it (and JohnnyB) from memory and resurrect the tragic, noble, intriguing Lucas I had grown to love. And make my mind construct new tales about what might have been, in past, and future.
    I was decidedly underwhelmed by the S9 as a whole and the shoddy treatment of not only Lucas' character but the new ones as well. Where from here, I don't much care anymore.
    Thanks once again for saying it out loud. Oh, and thanks for the linguistic lesson :)

  4. Your post was eloquent and thoughtful and right on. I realized that I didn't mourn Bateman when he went off the roof I was mourning Lucas.
    The betrayal was not only of the actor but of the audience for presenting impossible and illogical episodes as if we were mindless, empty robots accepting everything blindly. I am still offended!

  5. I pretty much could have written this, as it so very well captures exactly what I was thinking. I felt as if Lucas, and Richard and we were all slapped in the face and kicked in the rears by TPTB at Spooks who howled derisively while doing it.

    I didn't buy Bateman at all. Didn't care when he disappeared. It was Lucas I missed and mourned, the wholesale destruction of such a promising character for--what? ratings? To save a show that should perhaps be allowed to die?

    Spooks and I are done.

  6. As so many congratulate you on you blog entries, let me say that I hate your blog. It is pseudo-intellectual hogwash. I know you have the right to express your opinion but I find your entries extremely judgemental and caustic. Come off you high horse. You are not supposed to "love" a fictional character, you are just supposed to be entertained. And Mr. Armitage is not the greatest acting God who has ever lived, he is just a decent actor who does it job. Stop putting him on a pedestal and you will have less reason to be disappointed. And stop calling him "The Armitage".

  7. Hmmm, Spooks lover? Probably. Armitage worshipper? No doubt. How can I tell? So possessive of how he should be addressed.

    Does everyone know that George Orwell of 1984 fame, commented that the goose step was only used in countries where the population was too scared to laugh at their military? LOL

    I let the hateful comment above stand by brave "Anonymous" to illustrate why people shy from stating their well reasoned opinions and why it's a good thing that RA has removed himself from his admirers. I'm astounded that anyone thinks that they can dictate, no, demand, a certain way of thinking or feeling. This is what I had encountered on a certain forum, and certainly, this commenter sounds eerily familiar to me. Sucks the air out of every discussion. A type quite common on forums.

    So, to brave "anonymous", my little martinet. Take your little book of "shoulds" and insults and go back to your bullying elsewhere where it's acceptable. Goose-stepping is just not my style. Ugly and ridiculous.

  8. Well, you demand a certain way of thinking - yours. You are very good at offending and insulting everyone but beware if anyone dares to criticise you or disagree with you - not good. I know you think I'm a troll but in fact you are the one behaving like a troll. One last question, did you leave that forum voluntarily or were you banned for insulting members that disagree with you?

    I advise you to find a worthier object for your admiration, preferably someone who is already dead.

  9. Gotchya! LOL!

    All your hateful comments after this will be deleted.

  10. I don't agree with one word contributed by Anonymous. Appalling manners, and misuse of the cybosphere, and anonymity.

    Kindly keep expressing your opinions, pi. We don't have to agree completely with everything; just keep on keeping on. Thanks.


  11. How I wish that some of the members of the forum mentioned could start their own blogs rather than harass people who liked Lucas North of seasons 7 and 8 and thought season 9 was at best a tasteless joke that probably explains RA coming home from work keyed up, having fits of anger, throwing the script at the wall, and saying "Spooks asks a lot of its actors." It certainly did. It asked RA to take Lucas, throw away all that was good in him, and give him a terrorist past and an incomprehensible love life. RA did a great job with bad material.

    Those who wanted the story to make sense desperately came up with all sorts of bizarre and silly explanations. Personality transplants, Malcolm and Ruth are evil, "water" is really important (Look! Harry drank some! Subs ran in it! Lucas was on a ship on WATER!), it was all a pathetic attempt to give the Jocas story some logic. When it turned out that they were wrong, completely and thoroughly wrong, did they say so? Say "Got that wrong" or "That really just did not add up and I'm disappointed!" No. They got defensive. Their theories fell through and the real story was stupid and simple, but they have to defend it as if it was Shakespeare and persecute anyone who says "Sorry, but this emperor is wearing no clothes." It was lame. RA rose above his material.

  12. @pi
    Thank you for leaving that 'Anonymous' comment. It shows what I so very much criticize in modern education.
    We had discussion courses at school and our teacher forced us to come to one compromise at the end. You can understand that I hated that at school.
    A compromise is, that no one is content with the end result, but also, that no one can accept the other side in its own right and honor the rightfulness of those opinions as well.
    I do not have to agree with you at any time, but I admire your free way of writing and this post was just great. Thank you for it!!!

  13. What a cool blog you got going! Looking forward to your future posts.

  14. "If you are pissing people off, you know you are doing something right" --- Johnny Rotten

  15. Sorry for the late post, but the whole ending of Spooks 9 left a bad taste with me, and I needed time to recover from that nonsense before I revisited it.

    You have a very well thought out post, and I agree, S7/8 of Lucas and John Bateman cannot coexist. I think the writers insulted the intelligence of the audience and the actors with S9. Fedoralady summed up exactly how I feel about the whole thing:

    "I felt as if Lucas, and Richard and we were all slapped in the face and kicked in the rears by TPTB at Spooks...."

    @Rob, what a neat quote!

  16. I was also disappointed in the ending of Season 9. The start was promising with lots of suspense and angst. But they made John so irredeemably and horrifically bad that it was hard to reconcile with Lucas. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth. But what the heck? I'm always glad to have an RA performance.

    I also agree that RA has gives a sense of fundamental integrity that reminds me of people like Gregory Peck. It would be great to see him in a crusading movie where he could really explore that.

    California Fan

  17. Fwiw (and sorry for this very late comment), I often disagree with you but I never feel like you are compelling me to agree with your opinion through your writing (or any more than any writer compels any reader). I can only read this anonymous commenter as insecure in how much s/he was actually in danger of being persuaded by your standpoint. As you know I admired this post.

  18. @California fan, what a great comparison to Gregory Peck!

  19. To the other annonymous commentator, I too wish that forum would stop lauding their own particular POV as the only correct one and attack anyone who mentions a bad word about series nine.

    Jucas was bad writing. Fact. At least I can admit that about a show I like.

    I honestly don't know if I care anymore about series ten. If the writers can have so little respect for their viewing audience and get away with it, I really don't see the point in investing in characters.

    Oh and I agree 100% with this post. You summed up my thoughts on the stupid that was series nine's finale so well :)

  20. Sorry for being late to the party. I only discovered Spooks recently but a few things are standing out to me:

    1. Only 1 continuous character in 10 series - how on earth did any of the short-terms manage a three-dimensional character?! Kudos to them.

    2. I love Lucas. Beyond the RA factor, he is human although he push himself and everyone around him beyond their limits. What is it with him and the scary vampire type women? You feel like screaming at the screen "Run Lucas! Run!" Even though you know he can kill you without breaking a sweat, you still want to hide him from the horrors of his life and help him as much as possible. That is the brilliance of Lucas and the acting of RA.

    3. I think a job-requirement would be that your "normal-reaction-to-scary-stuff-bone" must be broken.

    4. With series 9 the writers shot their own credibility from hell to breakfast and back the long way round. This isn't Star Trek or the Never Ending Story! This kind of show only works for a long as it have enough basis in reality for the fans to see it working. In series 10 they couldn't win it back and had to end the show as far as I could see.

    5. Yes, series 9 was one continuous insult - to the character of Lucas, the viewers and the reality they built until then. I really wonder how many viewers they lost with S9?

    And more directly about your post: you said it perfectly!