No Man’s Land
The opening scene of the finale for A Spy Among Friends shows a glimpse from a German check post. We will learn later who the man in the car is and where he is going. We pick up from the last scene of episode 5 – Sir Roger waiting for Nick at his house.
The exchange between the two men is a mix of cordial and cold. They aren’t very sure of each other’s intentions; only a vague clarity on what to do next. Roger asks Nick about when he last saw Blunt and Nick refrains from giving a straight answer. Roger calls the SIS man into his office the next day to discuss Blunt, Beirut, and more. Kim has regained consciousness in a hospital. Maclean is beside him and Kim explains his circumstance as the result “of a longing for some colour and music.”
Kim discovers the letter he wrote for Nick is gone and asks Maclean to deliver the new one he is going to write. James is in deep thought while on a flight to report back to Washington. It seems like he has been psychologically smeared with Kim’s betrayal and the revelation of his position in Kim’s scheme.
What happens in the meeting in Sir Roger’s office?
Jane, Lily, Roger, and Nick meet in the office for questions about other Russian double agents in British ranks, what happened in Beirut, and snippets from the recordings from those three days. Roger tries hard to wrap up Nick in his web of lies around Beirut and the cleverness he showed by allowing Kim to crack a window open to distort the recording for some moments. But Nick is too smart to be played like this. He makes his position and that of the balance of forces clear: it is his word against Sir Roger’s.
Snippets from Beirut: the conversation on the balcony and the dinner
Kim confesses that his defection began in Vienna and not in Cambridge, as Nick alleges. Kim purports that was the time when “they” (him, Blunt, Maclean, and Burgess) were learning “who they stood against”, as opposed to “whom they stood for.” That is where he fell in love with Litzi. He had no recruiters and no handlers. Kim purposefully opens the window to the balcony from where the noises of outside, especially an accordion, make it impossible to hear the conversation. Roger and Jane call it a distraction on Nick’s part, who calls it “an opportunity for Kim to bare his soul.”
Kim had indeed hired the accordion player and gives Nick a list of Russian handlers. But there are no specific details about dates and operations. Nick is upset and takes Kim onto the balcony. He says he lied about Kim’s spying stint till 1945 not because he wanted to protect the relationship between Americans and Brits; but to protect Kim. Nick implies there are more Russian defectors in the intelligence cadre, bringing a concerned look to Roger’s face.
Nick gives a list of names that he asks Kim to filter and confirm which of them works for the Russians. Roger’s name is on there as well. He asks to take the list at dinner that night from Kim’s home. Nick shows up that night but Kim looks tense. He seems desperate and angry, his state only worsened due to his drinking. Kim speaks profanely about the Americans and almost loses it on the table, before giving Nick the list. We do not see whose names Kim has circled but Nick has an incredulous reaction to it.
What impact does Kim’s betrayal have on James Angleton?
Angleton comes back to Washington and debriefs a meeting. He says that the British services have been compromised and rouses the possibility that the CIA too has been violated. They have Russian spies in their midst and seek to set a precedent for American intelligence agencies to never underestimate the Russians again. He seems traumatized and heartbroken.
A snippet after the credits roll tells that the real Angleton pestered a wave of mistrust and paranoia in the CIA and was eventually fired in 1975. He became unfit to serve due to that incident. That was the impact Kim had on Angleton, who perhaps could not divorce his work from emotions. Did Nick manage to do that?
Who is the fifth man?
Roger and Nick have a stroll outside the office after Nick mentions a few names from the Russian spy list he gave to Kim. Roger is worried that his name was on there too and tries to eke it out of Nick. The SIS man is too smart to give him a straight answer but insinuates that “one of them is not safe” after Kim’s explosive revelations. He also implies Sir Roger is still blameless because of Nick and how he handled Kim’s confession.
The “fifth man” here means the fifth Russian double agent among the elite ranks of British intelligence services. According to Kim, it is Sir Roger Hollis. In real life, this anecdote was confirmed in Chapman Pincher’s book, Treason (2009). Nick, in the series, does not believe it to be true. That is the reason he has not outed Roger’s name to anyone.
Why did Nick let Kim go from Beirut?
It is revealed that Nick did not let go of Kim. He did not help him escape. Instead, he “forced Kim to flee to Russia.” It was self-vindication for Kim’s betrayal. Nick wanted to avenge the smear on their friendship by not protecting Kim but giving him the impression that he did. Forcing him to go to Russia “would kill him,” both figuratively and literally. We could see glimpses of that in Kim in the last two episodes, especially in this episode when Kim said he wanted “some colour” on the streets. And that is the reason why Lily apologizes sincerely to Nick for doubting him and thinking he got played.
Nick never wanted to give Kim a nice, retired life in the countryside with his family. He was, indeed, a step ahead of Kim always. Flora’s premonition came true when she said Nick is the sort of man who never lets on his knowledge and positioning in pressing circumstances. He remains in the shadows and the guise of the unknown to stay ahead of his enemies.
Nick confirms this while talking to Lily in his favourite parlour. He also shows the letter that Kim sent him, asking for a meeting. When Nick indicates, he would want to go, Lily scoffs in disgust. After all the betrayal, why go back? But the above revelation comes after Lily’s allegations and justifies Nick’s brevity. But why did Nick go to Russia despite knowing all this?
What is the significance of the umbrella?
The man on the German check-post is Nick and he is going to see Kim. He sits beleaguered in a bar waiting for Nick and suddenly notices a silhouette behind him. It is Nick watching him through the window but before Kim can reach him, Nick is gone. He has left an umbrella for Kim, the same one that he gave Nick many years ago as a token of their friendship. The significance of the umbrella lies in the part of Nick who dearly considered Kim a friend. Thirty years is a long time and the bond forged during that period is hard to wither away so easily.
It was closure on Nick’s part to his relationship with Kim. He ended his friendship by giving that token back, which would hurt Kim even more. How fitting is the title now; “A Spy Among Friends!” This also answers the question of why Nick went to see Kim at all, despite not believing his word to Sir Roger.
Why did Lily Thomas decide to resign from MI5?
Lily expresses her disgust for Nick and the institution he represented. Throughout the show, we saw her realizing what a good man her husband is (who is a doctor) and the sacrifices he has made to make people’s lives better. But on the other hand, after learning about Nick and Kim and men like him, she is circumspect of what good they do in the world. Their little games are self-serving and warp other innocent people around them.
They only make others suffer and do not make a real difference. It is a continuing theme in the episodes since Lily started debriefing Nick as part of her counter-intelligence assignment. That is why she has decided to leave MI5.
Galina celebrates Russia’s successful mission into space while Kim dozes off due to his drunkenness. It shows how Nick’s move has really “killed” him. In real life, Kim died in Moscow due to alcoholism. The last scene is of Lily coming into the SIS offices dressed in red. She is shown around by the same guard who showed her the first time when she started debriefing Nick. Lily is given the same room where the wood has expanded due to the damp and the door struggles to open at once.
But contrary to her reaction then, she laughs at it, indicating she has made peace with her disgust for the institution. She did feel she was able to make in impact to Nick and change him in some way. She sees Nick outside his office, briefly acknowledging her. But the next moment, he is gone, quite like Kim was when Nick read the list in Beirut.
She picks a marshmallow from the bowl kept on the table and the show ends. That bowl was most probably kept by Nick, who also brought it the first time Lily came to the room and expressed her liking for it.
One can think that Lily and Nick must have ended up friends after the incidents. She was convinced of how Nick managed to make a difference with his work and keep up its ethics. Lily saw a change in Nick from the first time when she met him and appreciated Nick for his demeanour.
The Episode Review
A simply sublime finale to end things. Honestly, it could not have ended in a more poetic fashion. It is difficult to say goodbye to A Spy Among Friends, given the tremendous precedent it has set for all espionage shows.
The finale touched upon all points and major characters. This was a send-off that justified all the means and ends for the spies.
You can read our full season review for A Spy Among Friends here!