A Spy Among Friends – Season 1 Episode 1 “Boom-Ooh-Yatatatah” Recap & Review


Lily Thomas records the statement of Flora Solomon on 8th January 1963, who lives in Kensington. She states at the outset that the MI5 came to her, not the other way around. She has known Kim Philby for a very long time. Flora couldn’t realise all these years that he was a traitor. Nick reads the transcript and is apologetic for his friend, Kim. Flora’s statement is the final piece of the puzzle. It confirms everything Golitsyn told MI5 when he defected to Helsinki. Nick disapproves of Golitsyn’s statement. He also believes sending a team to Beirut will never work.

Nick says Kim should be handled by the SIS, i.e., his team, but Sir Roger insists on his team in the MI5. He says that Nick also has an emotional weakness for Kim. But Nick is sent for it anyway. Eight days later, we learn that Nick has returned to the UK and Kim has defected to the USSR. He managed to escape from Beirut. The investigation has stopped. Lily debriefs Nick and asks Tim Milne, his associate, to step outside the SIS office. Nick insists he didn’t think Kim would run and give up a nice retirement and his family for Russia.

Lily reveals that his entire stay with Kim in Beirut was recorded – over 34 hours of tapes. Back in Beirut, Nick informs Kim of the charges against him. There is convincing evidence that he worked for the USSR up until WWII. Lily confirms it is a lie but Nick defends his choice of words since he knew the Americans would be listening. And if they knew Kim worked for the KGB after the war as well, there would be chaos in the US and UK’s relationship. But Lily is after Nick for all the answers she can get about Kim.

We see the defected spy on a boat being welcomed by Sergei, who also calls him Agent Stanley. He celebrates Kim’s return after almost 30 years of working in England. Nick first met Kim on the first night of the Blitz in 1940. Even after the hit, Kim didn’t seem rattled and made friends with Nick.

Kim explains his escape from Beirut wasn’t easy. In a flashback, we see he received a warning, “storm imminent”, from an unknown friend. It was written in Arabic. Peter Lunne, the Beirut station chief invited him for coffee the next day. But he discovered Nick at the location. Four days later, he signed a written confession of his digression. In a separate sequence, we see the Americans tailing Nick, who was spotted giving a newspaper to a Russian.

Kim explains that the British ruling class is complacent and feels that victory for them is God-given. That is what he took advantage of. The big question for Lily right now is: was the escape of Kim deliberate at Nick’s end? Nick suddenly has a low blood sugar attack (he is diabetic). That attack reminds him of the first time Kim introduced him to Elizabeth, his future wife.

In 1951, Kim helped Burgess and Maclean escape the west into the USSR. He was the subject of a public enquiry after the incident. Both Sergei and Lily on either end of the spectrum wonder what really happened in Beirut. Nick believes for Kim, the intoxication of espionage was enough to convince him to become a double agent. Sergei and the KGB feel that Kim was turned by Nick into a double agent in Beirut and that he now works for the UK. Kim resists those allegations. Nick battles similar allegations from Thomas but he entertains them with assuredness and a smile. It turns out that he and Kim only went out on the balcony for a grand total of three minutes in the entire four days. What was said between them?

Nick asserts exactly what Kim said to Sergei: he wanted the Russians to start doubting Kim. Lily asks if Nick knew the book, which had the recording bug, couldn’t hear outside on the balcony. Nick maintains his innocence and leaves for the day. Lily reports to the higher-ups and reports the status of her findings. She feels Nick insisted on going to Beirut to make sure that Kim didn’t get to face the chin music at the hands of the commoners, something those at the SIS despise the most.

Unbeknownst to the Americans, the Russian has circled back and followed them to their safe house. Nick and Elizabeth go to the theatre, where he imagines Kim to be singing Are you Lonesome Tonight by Elvis Presley on stage. He gets emotional remembering his time with Kim and Elizabeth notices this. While discussing the case with her husband, Lily realizes Nick might have known about Kim’s betrayal beforehand.

The Russian from the previous night is actually one of Nick’s men. He reports the CIA are camped nearby and looking to gather intel about what’s going on at SIS. We get a snap of what Kim and Nick said to each other on the balcony. The latter asked his friend to give him a reason not to get Kim killed for what he has done.

The Episode Review

A Spy Among Friends seems set to play out like a slow burn. It has the visual elegance and essence of a classic spy drama, while its narrative ingredients are undeniably British. Episode 1 played out with not so much information about the controversy but a compelling portrait of the two men and their friendship. Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce were incredibly in tune with their roles and relished in their demanding stature.

It is still early days for sure but this story does not threaten to constantly unfold. Instead, the conceit sets to remain an exploration of the bond between Kim and Nick and a secret they hid from the world, perhaps even from themselves. The pace is a little slow. The narration is non-linear with frequent visits to the past in a staggered manner. But I feel this should be given more time and accepted for the nuanced editing choices made to bring this story to life.

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You can read our full season review for A Spy Among Friends here!

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