The Little Drummer Girl has a lot of stamps on its passport. So far in this sprawling tale, we’ve been to the idyllic Greek island of Naxos and a sleepy street in Germany. Then there was a quaint town square in Austria and a remote road in former Yugoslavia. There was even the Acropolis of Athens – the first time in the monument’s 2,500-year history that a night shoot had been permitted there. All of which is to say that the dreary, drizzly British setting of most of tonight’s episode is something of a damp squib.
We’re now two thirds of the way into BBC One’s brilliant John le Carré spy thriller – which follows Charlie (the ever-mesmeric Florence Pugh), an aspiring actor semi-willingly recruited as a Mossad double agent after a spate of killings are carried out across Europe by Palestinian terrorists – and the show has already lost more than 40 per cent of its audience, falling from 5.2 million viewers to 2.9 million.
It seems a shame. Sure, the show’s slow, snaking narrative style, and staunch refusal to over-explain the hugely complex issue at its centre – the Israel-Palestine conflict – doesn’t always make for easy viewing. But its challenges are also its strengths: its pacing is intoxicating, its refusal to spoon-feed refreshing.
In episode four, having successfully completed her first mission for Martin “Marty” Kurtz (a characteristically unsettling Michael Shannon), Charlie has been left in radio silence. When intelligence officer Gadi Becker (Alexander Skarsgård) finally shows up, she greets him with delicious passive aggression. “I couldn’t come until I was sure you weren’t being watched,” he says in his typically inscrutable tenor. “That’s alright,” she says, “I’m a woman, I’m used to men pissing me about.”
She’s forgiven him before long, though – a passionate actor and compulsive liar, Charlie seems to have fallen in love with both the fiction she is wrapped up in, and with Gadi himself. They end up in bed together once again, with Charlie inspecting the scars that litter his body using a lamp under the bedsheets as he explains how he got each one: “Shrapnel…. Stab wound…My mother’s Pomeranian... He was a little sh*t.”
But when Charlie is kidnapped by the associates of Salim – the Palestinian man with whom she is pretending to be in love, and who, unbeknown to her, was murdered by Marty and his Mossad gang in last week’s episode – her allegiance to the cause, never particularly strong in the first place, starts to waver. The trouble with recruiting someone with such “unfocused rage“ is how easily that focus can be swayed.
I do have a somewhat pedantic grammatical gripe about one of the episode’s key moments. “I thought you were in love,” says one of Salim’s allies mockingly. “Were?’” she says, alarmed. “Has something happened to him? He’s dead, isn’t he?” How on earth did she infer that so quickly, when the alternative would have been, “I thought you are in love”?
But no matter. There is still plenty to admire in tonight’s episode – not least Pugh’s commanding performance, and director Park Chan-wook’s strange visual flourishes. In one particularly trippy moment, a mouth opens to reveal an eye floating inside it, transforming a potentially tedious make-out scene into something far more arresting.
Though it’s the weakest episode so far, those 2.3 million are still missing out.