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The plot thickens in 5 special agent series this July

Spy and military thrillers deliver heart-racing suspense, mental puzzles and twists like missing a step in the dark. They carry the promise of danger, but it’s a fun kind of danger revolving around situations that we probably won’t ever have to face personally.

There are heroes and villains, secret motives and double-crosses. But these are worlds in which life-threatening situations can be tackled by heroic individuals and small teams of allies, and problems can be solved by being tough and hitting stuff. Much more relaxing than dismantling an entire socio-political system via a state of perpetual revolution. Here are 5 seasons that are testing our spy savvy this July.

Below The Surface

Terror Task Force PET returns for more hostage crisis drama, intrigue and couch-clawing suspense in Danish language thriller Below The Surface S2.

Terror Task Force commander Philip Nørgaard (Johannes Lassen) will be tackling a hostage crisis aboard a ferry. But far more has changed than the mode of transportation that the terrorists have targeted.

Philip is pulled out of leave and into the story when Danish soldier June Al-Baqee (Yasmin Mahmoud) is kidnapped off his doorstep after desperately trying to warn him about Danish war crimes in Syria and that her life is under threat from ISIS.

A shadowy commander named “A” is giving the kidnapers further instructions, while the head of military intelligence, Bülow (Søren Pilmark), has taken over the kidnapping investigation and he’s bossing around Philip’s old colleagues S.P. (Alexandre Willaume) and Simon (Peder Thomas Pedersen) while making secret deals with his Russian counterpart. Meanwhile, Philip has leapt aboard the ferry where June (who is definitely no damsel in distress) has escaped and he and she are (separately) playing cat-and-mouse games with the kidnappers, who’ve taken over the ferry and are holding the passengers and crew hostage.

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The season will focus strongly on June and Philip’s parallel flashbacks, along with the tensions that the hostage takers are facing. There’s an escape room or chess board element to the setup in that there are a limited number of places that Philip and June can hide aboard the ferry, so their strategies and the strategies of the hostage takers will drive one another – with the poor hostages’ lives getting used as bargaining chips in the game. It’s a psychological-driven chase, and with the ferry stuck between Denmark and Sweden, there’s nowhere to run.

Watch Below The Surface S2 on Saturdays on M-Net (DStv 101) at 22:00 or on Catch Up


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Killing Eve

Intelligence analyst Eve (Sandra Oh) and assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) are back chasing one another around, their mutual obsession stronger than ever. The second season’s action revolves around both women’s reaction to the fact that Eve stabbed Villanelle in the S1 finale.

“The whole season is then about what that means to both of them. Does the fact that Eve stabbed Villanelle confirm to her (Villanelle) that there is some sort of love there and that Eve is obsessed with her? For Eve, what does it say about the kind of person she is that she can cold-bloodedly stab someone?” says executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle. “In S2, we have a woman who has accessed something darker within herself that she can’t put back. She has also realised that she can be the object of obsession for someone as extraordinary as Villanelle. S2 explores what that does to Eve’s ego, moral core and sense of morality in the face of it. We realise that their relationship can only last so long, and that Eve is in a great deal of peril. They will inevitably come together, and so the big question is, can you control a psychopath?”

This spy dramedy’s comic tone is as subtle and unexpected as ever – from the hesitance and revulsion on Villanelle’s face as she has to don decidedly un-stylish Crocs and teenage boy pyjamas to escape a hospital, to Eve’s handler, Carolyn (Fiona Shaw), revealing what her coroner friend really keeps on ice with the corpses.

All the spy tropes around food, fashion, passion and seduction are turned on their heads, used, abused and infused with new meaning during Eve and Villanelle’s hunt for one another. And the lines shift and blur further when Eve brings Villanelle into her investigation of tech billionaire Aaron Peel (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), who’s been hiring assassins to get rid of anyone in his way.

Unpredictable, brilliant Eve offers psychopath Villanelle something precious: an escape from her shallow, bland emotions and perpetual boredom with life – or at the very least, a new puzzle to unpick as she figures out how to manipulate Eve. Meanwhile, the show seduces viewers the way that Villanelle seduces Eve – with visions of a glamorous, beautiful life free of everyday chores and worries. Perhaps that’s worth the occasional stabbing, poisoning and knife blade in your lipstick.

Watch Killing Eve S2 on Wednesdays on FOX (DStv 124) at 20:45 or on Catch Up and see S1 here until Wednesday, 22 July


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Homeland

Spoiler alert! Please note that many of the linked features contain information about the season finale.

Homeland continually questions its characters’ loyalties, memories, motives and allegiances. Everything shifts depending on what you know, even though you never really have the full picture. In most scenarios we’d say the only person you can trust is yourself. But in Carrie’s (Claire Danes) case, she doesn’t even have that, thanks to chunks of missing memories. Her handler, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), seems to be the one constant she trusts – but in the spy game, that rug could get tugged out from under his or her feet instantly, depending who else enters that circle of trust.

“She is, by nature, attracted to duplicitous situations. So, she can have real feelings for this guy and at the same time be betraying him. These are the situations that Carrie thrives in,” warns showrunner Alex Gansa. He’s talking about Carrie’s relationship with Russian intelligence agent (and Carrie’s former captor) Yevgeny (Costa Ronin) this season – but it could apply to any of her relationships.

Meanwhile Claire insists that on some level, Carrie is fundamentally trustworthy. “She’s like a superhero. You know she shouldn’t exist. She doesn’t exist, she’s so exaggerated. She’s suffers a lot, she’s not having the kind of great time that Bond (superspy James Bond) is having. She does, despite all of the pain, take deep joy from her work. She’s professional. She’s always the smartest person in the room, ultimately the most trustworthy, even though she is volatile.”

In July, we’re halfway through the season, but we still have no clear picture of where Carrie’s loyalties lie, and we’re loving it! “People have been saying that they've now turned to Homeland to escape anxiety. I think it's the first time I've ever heard Homeland being used as a de-stressor in the world,” says Alex.

PS: This month, Homeland fans can also look forward to seeing Claire’s real-life husband Hugh Dancy playing one of the season’s major villains, White House foreign-policy advisor John Zabel, from episode 7 onwards. Alex calls Hugh’s character “despicable in the best way”, and refers to his expressions as “repulsive and riveting”. Bring it on.

Watch Homeland S8 on Thursdays on M-Net (DStv 101) at 21:00 or on Catch Up (only two episodes are available on Catch Up at a time)


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FBI

As S2 begins, FBI analyst and special agent Kristen Chazal (Ebonée Noel) gets her badge and sets off into the world for her first day as a fully-fledged field agent. She’ll soon find herself caught up between loyalties to the black community and to her FBI colleagues, thanks to the handling of a case in which a white man opens fire at a black club. She should probably turn right round and ask fellow team member OA (Zeeko Zaki) how to deal – because he’s stuck in a similar position in the season premiere when a bombing exposes how FBI undercover agents’ harassment has radicalised young Muslim men into turning terrorist.

FBI showrunner Rick Eid explains, “There'd been a lot written and discussed about the OA character being Muslim and Arab Muslim, and I just wanted to do something where we were able to dramatise what that really meant. What did it really mean to be an American Arab Muslim FBI agent living in New York City in 2019. What does that mean – the tension between his life as an FBI agent and his life as a proud Arab Muslim?”

Kristen and OA also have a new boss, Special Agent In Charge Isobel Castille (Alanda de la Garza). “Isobel Castille is no-nonsense, very direct. Honestly, she does not mess around. She doesn’t mince words. But you will see that the passion she brings to her agents and everything she’s involved with, she brings it on all levels, meaning you will see her throughout her journey really defend her team with passion,” says Alana.

Double-crossover time: This season’s penultimate episode (18) is the backdoor pilot for spin-off series FBI: Most Wanted. We’ll be introduced to Jess LaCroix (Julian McMahon), head of the FBI’s Fugitive Task Force, and his team: Hana Gibson (Keisha Castle-Hughes), Kenny Crosby (Kellan Lutz), Sheryll Barnes (Roxy Sternberg), and Clinton Skye (Nathaniel Arcand).

And look out for the Chicago PD crossover in FBI’s S2 finale, as Detective Hailey Upton (Tracy Spiridakos) who’s being punished for her recklessness, gets partnered with OA on a murder case. The episode was directed by former Chicago Fire star Monica Raymund (Gabby Dawson).

Watch FBI S2 from Tuesday, 14 July on M-Net (DStv 101) at 21:00 or on Catch Up


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Blindspot

S4 ended with charming, charismatic yet creepy Madeline Burke (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) triumphant. The new head of HCI Global put her Project Helios into effect, causing a power blackout, framing Jane/Remi’s (Jaimie Alexander) FBI team, and putting her puppet Nash in charge of the National Intelligence Agency, then having Nash order the bombing of the team’s safe house.

As S5 – the series’ final season – begins, Madeline blackmails her way into being Director of Federal Law Enforcement but she’s not feeling the triumph so much anymore. It becomes clear that all but one member of Jane/Remi’s team escaped the bombing. With tattooed amnesiac agent Jane/Remi & company on the run while trying to clear their names, their allies inside the FBI will be doing their best to help while covering their tracks and avoiding Madeline’s attention.

“What’s so fun this season is that you get to see the team at their most creative and their most ingenious,” says series creator Martin Gero. “Now, because there’s so much external conflict going on, the team is more united than it’s ever been and they need to rely on each other, more than they ever have. They literally have no other friends. There are so many incredible team moments, this year. It’s really beautiful.”

The season will also take us inside the mind of FBI Special Agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) – Jane/Remi’s fiercest advocate, love and ally – after he’s captured, drugged and interrogated. “Having been tortured and broken down and driven deep into his mind, I think he learns that you've gotta work through things and work on being a more positive force on the team. Weller and the team have gone through some really dark times and met really evil people, which does start to have an impact on the characters,” says Sullivan.

Watch Blindspot S5 from Wednesday, 5 August on 1Magic (DStv 103) at 20:30


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