A Spy Among Friends – Season 1 Episode 4 “Vodka” Recap & Review


In episode 4 of A Spy Among Friends, we alternate between the present and the time when Burgess defected and Kim was put on the stand by the media. He tactfully answers the questions doubting his association with Burgess. Iris and Orchis, the two watching Kim, see him get ready for an event.

James approaches Lily at her house with a proposition to pool resources and work together. But given Lily’s staunch belief in ethics, she says she will only commit if James can assure her that the nature of their partnership would be made official. Nick sits in deep thought in the church.

His mind goes to a conversation he had with Kim about Burgess. From these flashes, we can be certain Nick had no idea about Kim’s real intentions. Even then, he asked Kim to be careful and think about what the media and public would make of his actions. Kim is extremely careful in how he phrased Burgess’ defection news and his wonderment at how Kim got fooled. We then switch to their time in Beirut when Kim asks Nick about the time we just saw. He asks what made Nick change his opinion.

Along with Flora’s testimony, Nick says the SIS have evidence from a KGB defector as well. James reflects on his first introductions to Kim. They met right after Japan attacked Pearl harbour and the US officially joined WWII in 1941. Lily informs Nick that the Americans found out about Blunt. Everyone in the British secret service knows as well. But they do not know that Lily has told Nick this. He instantly makes it clear they need to get Blunt before the Americans.

Kim’s strange day, after seeing a Russian dead on the streets and no one helping him, gets better when he sees Donald in the FSB’s building, called Lubyanka. They embrace and Donald says his wife, Melinda, wants to show Kim the whole of Moscow. While questioning him about James Angleton, the Soviet generals remark Kim looks nervous, which he concedes to Donald he has been for the past thirty years.

Kim calls James “a gifted intelligence man with no discernible talent for poetry.” This is exactly the opposite of what Kim said to James when he first met him, indicating how easy it is for him to lie. And how charm can turn any lie into God’s honest truth. In a flashback somewhere around the 50s, we see Kim and James discussing Senator McCarthy and the Korean war’s impending chaos. Nick meets Blount and alerts him about his desire. It seemed like a veiled threat but we can’t be sure at this point.

A German woman sitting with the Generals begins questioning Kim in English. She bemoans the lack of useful information he has provided them. She also touches upon the topic of Nick Elliot and Kim gets defensive. She says the Russians do not trust Kim and he shows the woman the message on the cigarette pack. Nick and Lily wait for Anthony to come out and give them an answer to them. Nick is convinced that Anthony had nothing to do with the escape of Burgess and Maclean.

They discuss the poem’s message and Nick reveals that Kim was trying to send a message to James, who surely was listening in. Is Nick a CIA agent? Whom is he playing?

Al, Lily’s compatriot, reports that Anthony has left the building and is possibly going to meet his Russian contact. Burgess meets Kim at the bar and their meeting is cold. He even follows Kim to the men’s room and tells him that the Russians will never trust him, no matter what he does.

Burgess says the reason is that Kim is not a communist. He is a spy. There is a difference between the philosophical core of the two. Kim punches Burgess for running away and ruining their plan. Iris leaves a note for Kim at the bar, which he opens at home. Lily and Nick follow Anthony and the latter gets on a bus to discover the Russian contact. Kim reads the message, which is not apparent on watching it once but it looks like some address. He burns the paper, which means that he has confirmed his intention to work as a CIA asset. James elatedly announces this to his mate in Westminster.

When he exits the bus, Nick notices the man is Sir Roger Hollis, the head of MI5. Nick’s mind wanders to the first scene of episode 1, where Roger was against sending Nick to Beirut and wanted to send his men.

We see that in the dead of the night, Russian soldiers barge into the safehouse where Iris and Orchis are staying. Iris refuses to drop her weapons and is shot dead. Kim notices her body being stretchered out in the morning. It is difficult to shrug off the suspicion that Kim had something to do with it.

But the next moment, Kim loses his cool with Sergei. Yes, he gave up the Americans, but not for the Russians to kill them. He cultivated those assets for twenty years and iris even gave them a location of a CIA safe house in Moscow. The Russians should have acted non-violently to get more information. It turns out that Galina does speak English. She calls themselves Kim’s friends and Kim a “Soviet Hero”. Nick shares the explosive revelation with Lily.

The Episode Review

A Spy Among Friends intentionally misdirects just like its central spies. We cannot quite get hold of the stories and have thus far looked at the flashbacks as disjointed pieces of memory. But whose memory is that? The beautiful way how they unfold gives a sense of betrayal and remorse.

It truly turned out to be an episode about a lost friendship and coming to terms with its impact on Nick. There is no handle on the can of emotions for Nick and Kim. Both actors have internalized their sentiments and once that lid is topped off, there is no stopping the impending tears. But one doubts that will ever happen, given their elite training and conditioning. The makers have done a great job of leaping from one memory to another.

The intention is to see the story from Nick and Kim’s point of view – about how they missed the cues of betrayal and the tides turning. Episode 4 continues the show’s strong momentum.

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