A “slow burn” is defined as “a gradual building up of anger, as opposed to an immediate outburst.” This definition works as a rather apt descriptor for the five-part BBC America miniseries, London Spy. Why? Because unlike prototypical British spy franchise head James Bond, Danny (Ben Whishaw of Skyfall and Spectre fame, no less) doesn’t have the faintest idea as to what is happening around him. Danny isn’t a spy, a secret agent or a figure anyone else would consider a hero with extraordinary abilities, and since he is the series’ focus, those watching London Spy must be willing to sit idly by and wait, a task that can test the patience of even the most genial audience. Television like this still exists today, but with the Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services dropping popular original programming simultaneously and altering people’s viewing practices, viewers are becoming more accustomed to a much different style of storytelling, one in which the narrative isn’t always teased or twisted for extended periods of time. London Spy is not that kind of story.
When we first meet Danny, he’s a young man looking for a good night in London. Said night includes cigarettes, night clubs, and, presumably, excessive amounts of drugs — or at least that’s what the audience is led to believe after watching Danny stumble out an establishment’s front door the next morning. He wanders around the city for a bit, attempting to call his friends for comfort on his cell phone, which he drops near the Thames River. That’s when he meets a nameless runner (Edward Holcroft) who helps him recover the phone and gives him a water bottle before heading off into the distance. Once Danny recovers, he sets out to find the runner in order to return the bottle. That, and because he begins to fall for the man.
Sounds less like a thrilling bout of espionage and more like a jokeless romantic comedy, right? The first 10 minutes or so fit such a description, especially when the two finally reconnect and exchange names. The runner’s name is Joe, he’s an investment banker, and he’d like to get to know Danny over breakfast, but he needs to shower and change first. The encounter is awkward, but sweet. Yet London Spy‘s otherwise pleasant pretenses drop and reveal a very different kind of story, one in which Joe is actually named Alex, and despite opening up to Danny, remains highly secretive about himself. He shows up at Danny’s door, even though Danny never told him where he lived, and reveals his real name during an impromptu country drive. Over the next eight months, Alex and Danny become quite comfortable with one another, and their romance sweeps away all the other minor eccentricities and weird occurrences that Danny or anyone else would have picked up on.