The best things come to those who wait.
And so it has proved with The Little Drummer Girl, a television drama I’d written off as languid and meandering the past two episodes, only for it to rope me in again.
Time for me to happily eat a thick slice of humble pie.
The fourth episode of BBC’s adaptation of John Le Carré’s spy thriller was terrific television, packed with tension, constant character beats and even a splash of humour.
Let’s discuss what made Episode 4 of The Little Drummer Girl so riveting.
1. “I’m a woman – I’m used to men pissing me about.”
Come back, Charlie (Florence Pugh) – all is forgiven. Last week, I had a right moan about our protagonist, who seemed to think international terrorism was something of a lark, as long as her shoes matched her dress.
But in Episode 4, the magnitude of her dangerous game of dress-up finally hits home, and we feel for her plight as she is thrust into some serious peril.
Little does she know it yet, but she is about to become one of those shooting ducks she feeds crisps along a Somerset lake at the beginning of this episode.
2. “I’m a spy, not a thief.”
There’s a taste of things to come when Mossad agent Gadi Becker (Alexander Skarsgard), gives Charlie some target practice at beer bottles in a secluded forest.
When a strange guy asks you to “kiss his gun” in deserted woodland, it’s usually the cue to run a mile, but Charlie is beginning to fall hard for sugar daddy Gadi, even though he spends most of his time pretending to be murdered Palestinian terrorist Salim (Amir Khoury).
This is because he wants Charlie to believe the lie that she was Salim’s girlfriend, but it’s becoming clear that Gadi likes playing the role of her lover. He’s beginning to fall hard too.
This gun-kissing scene could have come off as cheesy, but ends up being deliciously weird, helped by the wooded setting – until now, most of The Little Drummer Girl has been claustrophobic, confined to soundproofed rooms. Out here in the wild, the characters are allowed to breathe a little, and the audience with them.
3. “Welcome to the revolution, Charlie.”
Only Le Carré could mine unbearable tension from a caravan park. This is the unlikely location for Charlie’s first meeting with the Israelis’ enemies.
The Palestinian terrorists are represented by the firm of Helga (Katharina Schüttler) and Anton (Jeff Wilbusch) – one’s a psycho gun-toting revolutionary, the other is, well, an actual lawyer. They don’t so much give a petrified Charlie the “good cop/bad cop” routine as the “mentally unhinged cop/slightly less mentally unhinged cop” version.
After they inform Charlie that Salim is dead, they don’t seem quite convinced by her reaction, even though it is partly genuine, given that Gadi withheld that fact before throwing her to the lions.
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This is followed by a superb piece of nerve-jangling levity that would make Tarantino proud, when the lights go out in the mobile home.
“Charlie, do you maybe have 50p, please?” asks a ruffled Anton, before shuffling in the dark to put the money in the electricity meter. Ah, ’70s Britain. When Helga shoves a gun in Charlie’s throat, it looks like it might be the last 50p Charlie ever spends, until she screams: “I kissed his gun!”
And with that, she has passed her first test.
4. “We needed a genuine performance.”
Charlie isn’t happy about Mossad not telling her they murdered Salim, but it may have saved her life. “Her survival depends on her ignorance,” says her spymaster, Marty Kurtz (Michael Shannon).
After a tantalising first episode, then two more of almost nothing but build-up, we are finally into the meat of The Little Drummer Girl, and Charlie has been given a gun-shaped taste of what is in store. Naturally, she begins to waver. It’s time for Gadi to get naugh-di.
He brings Charlie back to his London flat, where she finally exacts some truth – and clothes – from him. “This is me… for now,” he mumbles, making it clear he’s not really talking about his lodgings. He’s finally opening up to Charlie.
She learns he was a soldier, and that he has killed, and that he was married. And then, she turns off the lights, as if she realises she doesn’t want his truth after all. She just wants him. I’ve not seen too many sex scenes directly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but kudos to director Park Chan-wook for delivering one here.
5. “Now the fiction and reality become one.”
Gadi and Charlie are just getting to know each other when they are ripped apart. The Palestinians have big plans for her, and an increasingly ruthless Marty is content to let them play out, even when it means she is snatched by Helga and taken to Beirut, into the lions’ den.
“She is safer in the fiction,” reasons Marty, but Gadi is outraged, worried they’ve rolled up a snowball and tossed it into hell. Marty insists the Palestinians will send her back to them. “As one of us or one of them?” replies Gadi. Forget the bombs and the guns, The Little Drummer Girl is about to become a battle for Charlie’s conscience.
6. “If you live in exile, you don’t have to ask yourself if you’re the bad guy.”
And that battle begins when Charlie emerges from the boot of a car and a blindfold at a house in Lebanon.
She is met by the rather philosophical Captain Tayeh (Adel Bencherif), who brands Helga and Anton “necessary scum”, as he questions Charlie’s motives. It’s time for Charlie – and Pugh – to put in a winning performance.
It’s a wonderful exchange that we think is going to round off a wonderful episode, until we find out who is really in charge. Tayeh is dismissed by the real boss, Salim’s sister, Fatmeh (Lubna Azabal), and Charlie’s quick study of his naked body in the previous episode comes in very handy, as she recalls his birthmark and scars.
Convincing Fatmeh that her brother meant something to her, Charlie channels her real feelings for Gadi. But will she ever see him again? Will she come out of Beirut alive? The stakes in The Little Drummer Girl have finally been raised.
The best things come to those who wait.