Anyone who stuck with The Little Drummer Girl until its final episode must have known it was never going to have a blockbuster ending.
The BBC’s big-budget adaptation of John Le Carré’s 1983 novel lost millions of viewers during its run precisely because it liked to take its sweet time.
This was no wham-bam spy thriller, more of an understated spy study – as understated as you can be with a lush late-70s orange sheen.
And while the pace was sometimes a source of frustration (very few will revisit Episodes 2 and 3 for fun), the series had pulled its socks up as it tumbled towards its finale.
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The big question was would actress turned agent Charlie (Florence Pugh) keep playing Israeli infiltrator, or would she find a new role as a Palestinian terrorist?
Let’s find out by taking a look at what happened in the final episode.
WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Episode 6 of The Little Drummer Girl.
1. “Not just a gun trainer then.”
When we left Charlie at the end of the really rather bloody good Episode 5, she was in a wooded clearing (what is it with spies and forests in this show?!), faced with Palestinian terrorist mastermind Khalil (Charif Ghattas). He makes her strip down to her smalls, but it’s all a ruse – he really wants to fiddle with her radio (no, that’s not a euphemism).
It turns out Khalil was hiding in plain sight in the previous episode, teaching Charlie how to fire a gun in a Lebanese training camp. He returns the beautiful blue and gold bracelet given to her by her hands-on Israeli handler Gadi Becker (Alexander Skarsgard), and the pair get cosy in a cabin in the woods. Making a bomb.
Khalil has a few choice words of wisdom for Charlie before she sets off on her mission to kill an Israeli academic giving a lecture at a London college.
“A woman cannot be trusted just because you go to bed with her,” he says, in no way whatsoever foreshadowing events to come. No way. Not. At. All.
2. “When the dust settles, I don’t want a whiff of you.”
Little does Khalil know, however, that the Israelis – and the British – are lying in wait (for a supposed terrorist mastermind, he’s not very mastermindy, is he?).
This gives the audience the chance to indulge in some biting back-and-forth barbs between Mossad’s Marty Kurtz (Michael Shannon) and British intelligence’s Picton (Charles Dance), who put those two old felt codgers from The Muppets to shame with their curmudgeonly critiques.
“The British always have the solution to other countries’ problems,” mutters Marty, only for Picton to lance back: “Perhaps you should try listening for once.”
It’s crackling stuff, so why was Dance’s character held back for just the final two episodes? Had The Little Drummer Girl concentrated more on the politics and less on the dress-up, it might have retained more of its audience.
3. “You think she’s gone over?”
The thing that’s kept me going through this series has been the promise that the show would answer its ultimate question… will Charlie switch sides and carry out an act of terror?
But what we get is really disappointing.
Clad in wig and glasses and rolling a pretty passable Serf Afreeeken accent, Charlie makes her way to the college with the briefcase bomb, manages to talk her way past the police at the door, and then…. Gadi greets her.
The decision is taken entirely out of her hands, as the Israelis and the Brits make her give the briefcase to the intended victim (“Play the scene!” shouts Marty), before evacuating everybody from the room.
Charlie doesn’t get to choose a side. All of her decisions are made for her, which makes this quite a bizarre adaptation for 2018. Yes, it’s a show with a female lead, but a protagonist incapable of saving – or even thinking for – herself.
4. “Have you ever fished in the dark?”
The Brits and the Israelis detonate the bomb (there’s a wonderful tracking shot of its explosion behind Charlie as she speeds off, distressed, on the back of a motorcycle), but only to make it look like Khalil’s mission was a success. They plan to use Charlie as bait once again to get close to Khalil.
“You want me to f**k him!” screams Charlie at Gadi, in no way whatsoever foreshadowing what is to come. No. Way. Whatso – ah, you’ve got it by now.
Mossad tracks Charlie to a cosy country cottage (say what you like about Khalil, the guy knows a good romantic location) and sit tight until she flags that she is in danger by dumping the batteries from her radio/tracking device (“Cutting the signal will be the signal,” Gadi told her).
In a scene that totally catches the audience off guard (ahem), Charlie and Khalil jump into bed together. Gadi picked the wrong night to be Mossad lookout man – will he ever be able to wipe the steam off his binoculars?
5. “You saw the fiction.”
But just like Khalil predicted, women who sleep with you are not to be trusted (or something), and he realises Mossad is closing in on his countryside idyll. His plan to remove the batteries from Charlie’s radio when she was undressing back in the forest was a good one (Gadi later gave her a replacement, with batteries included, alerting Khalil) but his timing is terrible.
He may have found out Charlie has betrayed him, but it’s all too little too late. “So you don’t believe in anything?” he asks her. “I hope it was worth it.”
It looks like curtains for Charlie, which would have been a fantastic ending – and shown the dangers of throwing innocent civilians into terrorist cells – but Gadi bursts into the room in the nick of time, shooting Khalil dead with six more bullets than he actually needed (turns out he could see through those binoculars perfectly).
Charlie is reduced to her emptiest role of all – the helpless damsel in distress. It’s all a bit of a letdown.
6. “You cannot stop the devil.”
All that’s left is for Mossad to wipe out the rest of the terror cell in Goodfellas montage Layla outro style, and for Charlie to catch some sun in a secure retreat in Israel.
But she soon grows sick of her surroundings and the company – she has no truck for Marty, particularly when he hints that, just as Khalil did with his last words, that none of this was really worth it.
And what do you do when your life has no direction and you have some free time? You call in on your old boyfriend, of course.
Charlie answers Gadi’s hidden fag packet instruction to join him back in Europe, and turns up at his door as he’s doing a bit of gardening. “Who are you?” she asks. “Who am I?”
It’s clear these two have lost something of themselves while fighting a fight that has no winners, only losers. It may sound like the tagline of a dreadful romantic comedy, but the only thing they found was each other.
It’s a typical low-key and ambiguous ending for The Little Drummer Girl, a show that often frustrated and sometimes soared, but, whatever its faults, always stuck to its guns.