Tips from MI-5: Bury The Lead…Please!

Richard Armitage, Spooks, MI-5 Season 9
MI-5 leaves us wondering: Who will be next to die?
Lately, fans have been protesting the demise of their favorite TV characters, whether they are being killed off in Game of Thrones or, in the case of Glee, merely graduating from high school. Viewers are threatening to boycott! They swear to never watch again! My reaction? “It’s about time we Americans started killing series regulars.”

I’ve been a fan of the BBC’s MI-5 (the Brits call it Spooks) ever since the first season debuted on A&E ten years ago. The title is rather self-explanatory; the show is about a group of spies in the British Security Service. For whatever reason, A&E stopped airing new episodes a few years ago but that hasn’t stopped me from buying the DVDs, begging contacts in London to send me copies, or trying to find ways to watch online (I’m caught up with all nine available seasons now, thanks). The show is simply the most gripping TV drama/thriller I’ve seen in the last decade. Why? Because on MI-5, everyone is expendable.

Can you imagine Jack Bauer on 24 being blown up in the middle of season two? Or Detective Benson on Law & Order: SVU fatally stabbed by a rapist? How about Detectives Rizzoli and Beckett (on Rizzoli & Isles and Castle, respectively) getting shot and actually dying? That’s the kind of stuff MI-5 does on a regular basis. If the section head gets into a hostage situation, there’s a good chance he won’t survive it. An agent’s apartment is booby-trapped with a bomb? It just might go off as soon as she walks in the door. No one is safe, and that knowledge makes for heart-rushing tension.

And viewers don’t get any bait-and-switches. No “you’re lucky, that bullet is only a flesh wound and missed all major organs” pronouncements from medical personnel. When it looks like someone is dead, they go in the ground. If a producer says someone is going to kick the bucket in the next episode, he’s not talking about a tangential character who only shows up every once in a while (I’m talking to you, Bones, and your Vincent Nigel-Murray murder). It could very well be the dashing lead of the show. Knock off Seeley Booth on Bones and then I’ll be impressed.

This doesn’t mean I want these characters to die. I like Booth and love his chemistry with Temperance Brennan. It’s the main reason I watch the show. But I root for the characters on MI-5, too, who are smart and intrepid and selfless, which makes it more devastating and powerful when they don’t make it. I am crushed every time someone loses the fight. I think, “How will the team go on? Will the show survive?”

But survive it does, even flourishing as it brings in new actors who are as talented and dynamic as (if not more so than) the ones they replace. Surely we can do that, too? No TV actor is irreplaceable. There are other performers who are just as charismatic as David Boreanaz and Angie Harmon should producers want to get brave creative and shake things up a bit. It might be shocking at first but if the actors and writers do their jobs right, we’ll get over it and learn to love the new blood, too.

The cast of MI-5, also known as Spooks
The cast of MI-5, known in the UK as Spooks: Death stalks them.
Now, you might be thinking, “If you know someone’s going to die, isn’t that just as predictable as knowing a beloved character won’t perish?” No, because you don’t know when they’re going to bite the dust. Is it when they’re being tortured? Caught in a terrorist attack? In a sniper’s line of fire? The MI-5 members are put in impossible situations every week and viewers can never be sure which one is going to reunite them with their maker.

And isn’t that truer to life? People who work in dangerous professions don’t have guaranteed safety the way actors are guaranteed a certain number of episodes. When I see a bomb scare on The Closer, I think, “Oh, the team will be fine. Kyra’s contract has her locked in ‘til the end of the season.” I watch, but with a sense of complacency. If producers want to bring viewers to the edge of their seats, they should consider killing off lead characters to breathe new life into their shows.

Elyse is a freelance writer/editor who likes soup and the Bee Gees, but doesn’t enjoy piña coladas or getting caught in the rain. She also blogs at Pop Culture Nerd and tweets as @popculturenerd.


  1. JD Rhoades

    I love Spooks/MI5 for precisely the reasons you state: everyone dangles over the abyss. It started in, IIRC, the second or third episode where someone I thought was a major character got tortured by having her face shoved inot a deep fat fryer then was killed by being shot in the head. It’s not often I go “holy shit, did that really just happen?” while watching a TV show, but I do it all the time with Spooks.

    As for Game of Thrones, I’ve read the books, so I tell people “don’t get too attached to anyone, it’s like the damn Vietnam War in there.”

  2. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    Gosh yes! I’ve been devastated by the loss of a favorite character on MI5, but the flip side is the characters you find insufferable also are likely to be knocked off at any time. To avoid spoilers, I won’t name names, but I’d have taken out one actress myself if the writers hadn’t done it for me.

  3. Elyse Dinh-McCrillis


    Yes! How we can forget that infamous face-in-the-deep-fryer moment? That’s when I knew I was hooked. We don’t see crazy stuff like that on American TV.

    I love your comment about Thrones. Hilarious.

  4. Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

    There’s been so many eliminated, I’m not sure who you mean. Can you tell me the first letter of the actress’s first name? (Less spoilery since the show doesn’t run actors’ names in the credits.)

  5. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    O. It wasn’t her so much as her character.

  6. Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

    Interesting. I had no problem with her character and I liked the actress. I was fine when K left.

  7. Val Nite

    I so totally agree, its as. If we are married to our central character (not a hollywood union,which would only last six months) til death, we won’t part. I remember when I first saw a main character killed off on MI5, I thought the series was over, didn’t bother to watch anymore. Until I happen to catch it on accidently. It was like seeing the show for the first time again. The producer and casting agents really have a knack for casting someone just as charasmatic, slightly flawed, with that throw cautions to the winds attitude, and rugged good looks. They step right into the role and the show never skips a beat. I also like the fact that the female leads aren’t ex victoria secret models. They seem to get more compelling and attractive each week. …..Good to kw that I am alone in my pondering of these important issues.

  8. Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

    You are definitely not alone! I also like how the female leads are strong and smart and look like believable agents, not running around in tight skirts and heels.

  9. frogprof

    Luckily, the local PBS stations [we have two — one for basic cable and one for digital, both from the local football-iversity] run different series of MI-5 here, so while I get to see the latest [well, for me, anyway] season of the show, I also get to catch up with the [very few] ones I missed on the last go-round. I keep hoping that BBC America will start the series from the beginning … but no luck so far.

    On a side note, am I going to have to buy the DVDs of 24 so that I can see the two seasons I missed, or has anyone heard anything about those being rerun?

  10. arvest bank branch locations

    An agent’s apartment is booby-trapped with a bomb? It just might go off as soon as she walks in the door. No one is safe, and that knowledge makes for heart-rushing tension.

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