‘The Night Manager’ Continues to Tighten its Rope (TV REVIEW)

[rating=8.00] “Episode 2”

The Night Manager continued its run on AMC last night with a perfectly slow burning episode that sets the stage for future tension, plotting its course of revenge and betrayal with all of the taut intensity of a tightrope between skyscrapers. Ever so slowly did the series begin to bring its two stars together, teasing viewers with a promise of joined forces which itself teases the inevitability of double crossings and calamity. Not being one to force feed the audience, episode two continued its path of exposition, giving viewers scant time to see Hiddleston and Laurie share the screen. Instead, this week’s drama plays out largely behind the scenes as Hiddleston’s Pine is sent deep undercover to establish a trail of criminality left for Laurie’s Roper to find like so many breadcrumbs.

We begin at a dinner, a fancy affair for Roper and his cohorts to revel in their moneyed existence privately in Spain. The group is interrupted by armed robbers, who storm the dinner demanding money and jewels. Here, Roper’s son Daniel attempts to run away in childish fright, getting himself held at gunpoint as collateral. Despite agreeing to turn over their cash and their jewels, giving the men free reign of the restaurants tills, and offering an additional $100,000 on top of that, the men see the benefit of holding the boy for more money, making a hasty escape in the process. All the while, Pine watches, hidden behind the door of a kitchen.

A quick jump cut takes us six months back in time. Pine, still in Switzerland, solidifies his plans to go undercover with Angela Burr, a woman who’s been trying to capture Roper for longer than Pine has. It doesn’t take much to convince Pine, still reeling from the death of Sophie 4 years earlier. In order to gain access to Roper’s inner circle, Pine must become an evil of Roper’s level. Burr encourages Pine to channel his inner psychopath, becoming more than the mild mannered hotelier we’ve known so far. To that end, he takes his first steps into the criminal landscape by emptying the safe of his hotel and high-tailing back to England.

While Pine invades a small village on the shores of Britain, Burr does her best to keep her operation secret from MI6. Hers is a small, boutique intelligence agency giving them a unique opportunity for infiltration. If the big boys in MI6 or the CIA get wind, their meddling puts Pine and the mission at risk. The plan is for Pine to be so far under the radar that, to all outside eyes, he looks to be just another brutal thug ripe for arrest and prosecution. Here, she forges a surreptitious alliance with American intelligence officer Joel Steadman (David Harewood).

Steadman’s role in all of this is to make the American’s seem as inept as possible. The idea of course is for MI6 to believe that there’s nothing actionable currently going on in the case against Roper, throwing them off of the scent. This allows Pine to establish a criminal pattern in the small village, which ultimately leads to his death being faked, allowing him to disappear off the radar.

The brilliance of the episode is in its portrayal of how an undercover operation of this magnitude might work. As of now, only a handful of people know about Pine and the operation itself, lending an air of freedom to the mission as all parties work to establish a backstory. As Burr and Pine work separately but in conjunction, their aims inch closer and closer to coming to fruition.

Which brings us back to Spain, back to Roper’s dinner, and back to Daniel’s attempted kidnapping. It seems that after he faked his death in Britain, Pine got a job as a sous chef at a Spanish restaurant known to be loved by Roper. There, he lay in wait. The kidnappers are, in fact, fellow agents working to give Pine his in. Now that the stage is set, Pine takes things one step further, breaking one of the kidnapper/agent’s arms, incurring the wrath of the other. Pine lays waste to them both, causing himself to be beaten to a pulp in the process. Suddenly, he’s almost in.

A grateful Roper rushes Pine off to his private hospital, where Pine’s broken face is fixed and he’s given time to heal. Despite the fact that he’s just saved Daniel’s life, Roper’s men are wary of this newcomer in their midst. Vague threats are made by various men regarding the truth of Pine’s history and his intent. Pine stays quiet, lying in bed to heal over a period of several weeks. Roper, for his part, is willing to trust this potential new ally, but not before some bigger secrets are uncovered. That must wait for another time, however. For now, Pine must rest.

With that, the second chapter in the LeCarre adaptation comes to close. This was a brilliant display of deliberate pacing and guessing games that leaves the audience on the edge of their seats with effortless ease. We’ve no idea what to expect in coming entries into the series, though certainly the stage is set for any number of possible outcomes. The scent of duplicity is in the air, and betrayal is imminent. But who betrays who? Can Burr keep MI6 out of the loop for long? Will Pine be arrested? Is he so deep in the game now that Roper is the least of his dangers? The Night Manager asks all of these questions without ever stating them aloud, leaving the cloud of mystery to hang over its viewership like a foreboding storm building on the horizon. When and where the storm hits is anyone’s guess, but it’ll certainly be fun to watch it roll in.

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