THE cliffhanger to last year's Spooks saw spymaster Harry Pearce kidnapped and gagged in a body-bag, on his way to Russia after falling foul of their security services. Mysteriously, the show seems to have had a change of heart over its break, so when it returned, it was awkwardly revealed that, erm, Harry hadn't been kidnapped by Russians after all, or, erm, actually left the country.
It was all a bluff, or something, by this year's new villains, who appeared to be called The Secret Army of Righteous Vengeance, a name straight out of DC Comics which had me quite excited at the prospect of masked supervillains. But sadly, that, too, was a bluff, concocted to throw off Harry's loyal team by making them think Islamic terrorists were behind things, when it was really Hindu terrorists, trying to get hold of some uranium which he had hidden after exposing an earlier international conspiracy to plant it in Baghdad and thus vindicate the Iraq War.
Yes, I know, it's all gibberish – as if the government would have lied to people about weapons of mass destruction – but it didn't matter because last night's episode was really all about the return of Ruth. The nervous intelligence officer, played by Nicola Walker, was part of the ever-changing cast for three earlier series and she has been much missed since she was framed and sent into faked-death exile.
Though not originally intended as Harry's love interest, apparently the response of fans to their odd, awkward scenes together persuaded the writers to introduce gradually a rather lovely simmering romance, which was never consummated as Walker left to have a baby. For some reason, the bad guy who had kidnapped Harry, and resurfaced Ruth for blackmail purposes, seemed to know all about this.
"Were you two just friends back then?" he pondered, while holding them prisoner. "You know, it wouldn't surprise me if it were all quite chaste, in a frightfully outdated, Brief Encounter kind of way." Since it seems rather unlikely that many terrorists have watched Brief Encounter with a tear in their eye, perhaps this was a clue that the whole thing was a triple bluff: he wasn't after the uranium at all, he was just a "shipper", a fan who was desperate to bring Ruth and Harry together. So, he had to shoot a few people to do it, including the man she'd married in hiding, but wasn't it worth it to get these two crazy, middle-aged soulmates together?
But Ruth blamed Harry for not giving up the uranium to save her husband. Infuriated, the terrorist fan switched allegiance to The Armstrong And Miller Show by quoting one of their recurring sketches: "Kill Zem!"
The day, if not the relationship, was saved in the nick of time, while the "one in, one out" principle meant that Ruth's return presumably required fellow Spook Malcolm's exit, for once with no death or desperate exile (for now).
Spooks' formula is set: a contrived plot, a convoluted first half, yet somehow by the end you're carried away by the tension. It's partly due to the generally good performances: Walker's gulping hysteria when Ruth's husband was executed was perfectly done, Malcolm's doughty attempts to comfort a small boy in danger were touching. We can't condone terrorism, but if the Secret Army could possibly arrange for Tom and Zoe to return as well, that would be great.