Allegory of the Catholic Faith
Kim cannot sleep at night and thinks about what Nick said to him in Beirut about making a definitive choice in his life as episode 3 of A Spy Among Friends starts. If he gave them a full confession, the SIS would give him immunity. That would mean a comfortable retirement and a nice life with his family.
But if he didn’t, he would be tried for treason. And by the people that Kim mocked with the brazenness of his actions. We also catch the American duo – man and woman seen in the last episode spying on Kim – making their preparations early in the day and waiting for instruction from the CIA operative in Westminster watching Nick.
Lily is informed that Michael Whitney Straight, a CIA operative, confessed to the FBI spying for the Soviets since the early ‘30s till the end of WWII that day. He too studied at Cambridge with Kim. We see a group photo of them with Burgess and Maclean, both of whom are known to be defectors.
They also discover that the Americans are watching Nick and MI5 too feels they want to know what Nick traded for with Kim in Beirut. Nick sits in deep thought at breakfast. He recollects an incident from his field days. The place is Istanbul, Turkey and the time is WWII. He is tasked with picking up a Nazi defector working for the UK. His name is Erich Vermehren.
We see that Elizabeth too was with them in the getaway car and handled stress really well. Nick requests Elizabeth to ask her friend to get the couple on a guest list for a private view at the Queen’s Gallery. He has something on his mind as he knows the Americans are listening. Kim is taken by Sergei to officially give him Soviet citizenship. Comrade Galina, with whom Kim is placed, reports Kim does not like her handmade food. We learn the name of the American watching Nick – James Jesus Angleton. Lily gets his file and wonders what they want from Nick.
While en route to the passport office, Kim’s mind wanders back to Beirut. Nick and he were friends above everything. Nick genuinely wanted the best for Kim and advised him not to get the press involved in his case. He urges Kim to accept he committed a mistake and must confess out of guilt. At one point, Kim compares himself to Jesus and Lily thinks there is a connection between Nick and James. In Ohio, Michael Whitney does not identify Nick as one of the defectors when showed his photo. The trip to the art gallery is not too volatile or exciting. Nick perhaps wanted to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of Lily, who is present, and his friend Anthony.
He purposefully takes Vermehren’s name instead of Vermeer in front of Lily and his former MI5 mate, Anthony Blunt. Anthony is shaken and Lily sees his reaction. James gives his dictum to the American agents in Russia.
Kim gets down to take a view of the Kremlin and receives the Order of the Red Banner, a gallantry award, from Sergei. Elizabeth confronts Nick with our suspicion about his slip of the tongue at dinner. She also feels he did it purposely and feels Kim said something to Nick about Anthony.
Nick confesses his wife is right. He says everything hinges of want Blunt does next. If he does not do as expected, Nick “is a goner.” Kim remembers the time he spent with Nick and even imagine sitting next to him at a diner. Lily goes to meet James, who says he is not “officially in Westminster”, indicating this is a covert CIA operation. This too was a psychological move from Lily. The Americans report on Kim’s movements, who comes back drunk to the apartment. James hears Lily and Nick’s conversation as she goes to his house and confronts him about Vermehren.
It turns out that the couple in Russia are actually working with Kim and relaying a message. The man gave him an empty cigarette pack (in the diner) and wrote the rhyme on it. Kima acknowledges it to the couple from his window. This revelation puts Kim in a pensive mood. A flashback shows Kim giving James a copy of Ezra Pound’s collection of poems.
That is where the passage on the cigarette pack is from. James and Kim were actually good friends, as Nick confirmed to an incredulous Lily. Kim made a secret code language in the book to communicate with James “the day when West was going to depend on them”. Is Kim a triple agent? Kim purposely takes Lily to the outhouse so that James cannot hear them. He asks Lily if she is “a friend or foe” to Elizabeth and him. Nick tells her about Vermehren. He was a devout catholic who hated the Nazis and wanted to fight them from within: until Kim and Nick came along into his life.
Without Kim, he would have never been able to defect Vermehren and get the name of hundreds of Abwehr officers working undercover in the UK. Vermehren was also anti-Bolshevik and wanted no part of Germany to go to Russia after the war. When the political leadership decided to carve up Germany into pieces, Vermehren and his friends were stuck in the part going to Russia. They tried to make a break for the British area but Kim gave them up to the Russians, who killed them all. The bus of passengers we saw in the opening scene was that Catholic group whom Kim betrayed.
Only Nick, Kim, the Russians and now Lily knew about it. But how did Blunt know? Lily deduces it is because he works with the Russians and that is what Kim told Nick in Beirut. Nick has played his cards and asks Lily the same question he did before she walked in. It seems like she will be a friend to Nick from now on.
James gets an envelope from the Embassy in the wee hours of the night, confirming that Anthony Blunt is a Russian defector. “The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue. But never a cry cried he” is what Kim relays to the Americans in morse code. It translates into, “You and me, e sweat and strain.” The woman says now “they’re in business”.
The Episode Review
Despite its sedate tone, A Spy Among Friends truly unravelled in episode 3. It was by far the most compelling chapter in the entire saga. Quite remarkably, Kim Philby and Nick Elliot’s friendship has spilt over casual contours to being detrimental in shaping political relations. The Americans had to come in sometime and now they’re fully involved in the mission.
The possibility that Kim is working with them is high. But will he betray the Russians? His deception and its brutality were shown when a bus full of harmless Catholic folks – children, old people, and women – were killed by automatic weapons.
The moral turpitude still does not let one settle over whom to root for. This show is a true espionage drama and never strays away from asserting its authenticity.
You can read our full season review for A Spy Among Friends here!