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Series / London Spy

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London Spy was a 2016 BBC mini-series, starring Ben Whishaw. Set in modern day London, London Spy follows the story of a young man named Danny Holt, played by Whishaw, as he is dragged into a world of spies and danger while seeking answers about what happened to his murdered lover, possible intelligence agent Alex, played by Edward Holcroft.

As The Other Wiki describes it: "Danny is gregarious, hedonistic, and romantic and falls in love with Alex, who is asocial, enigmatic, and brilliant. Just as they discover how perfect they are for each other, Alex disappears."

The first episode explores the beginning of their love story. Danny is a down-on-his-luck twentysomething, spending his nights in a haze of drugs and drinking. While stumbling home one night he has a run in with a jogger, who sees he is in distress and lends him his water bottle, before jogging away again. Enamoured with him, Danny returns to the bridge the next few nights, intent on returning the bottle. He eventually finds the jogger again, who introduces himself as ‘Joe'. The pair connect, and start dating. As the episode progresses, we see them fall in love over the course of a few months. Joe eventually reveals his name is really Alex, that he works at a bank, and that his parents are dead. He is often reserved, very lonely, evasive about his job, and clearly a genius.

Near the end of the episode, Alex abruptly disappears. For the next few days, Danny is unable to contact Alex, no matter what he does, until finally one night he is mysteriously led to a key to Alex's flat.

Danny visits the flat, and discovers Alex's dead body locked in a trunk in a hidden attic. He is arrested by the police, who inform him that his DNA was all over the scene, and furthermore that the man he knows as Alex is actually called Alistair, that he does not work at a bank, that his parents are in fact alive, and that he was very likely a spy, throwing their entire relationship into doubt.

Over the course of the next few episodes, along with the help of his aging friend, and ex-MI6 agent, Scottie (Jim Broadbent), Danny must unlock what Alex was working on that got him killed, find out who killed him and why, deal with Alex's deceitful and manipulative mother, evade the Security Services' efforts to completely wreck his life, and most importantly decide whether or not Alex ever really loved him, or if it was all a lie.

Tropes present in this work include:

  • Aborted Arc: A frequent criticism of the series is that characters, plot devices, and storylines would be introduced at a dizzying speed, and then never explored or explained. See What Ever Happened To The Mouse.
  • All Gays are Promiscuous: Well Danny is certainly portrayed as this, though in a decidedly self-destructive light. He may or may not have also been a prostitute.
  • All-Star Cast: Of the English variety, this small miniseries cast includes Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, and Mark Gatiss
  • Ambiguous Ending: Although we do find out how he died, a lot of what happened to Alex, and indeed to Danny, is left unclear, as Danny and Frances drive off into the night. Its not made clear if they're on the run, about to launch a war on MI6, or just simply having to drive away from the burning building behind them.
  • Anyone Can Die: No one should be considered safe on this show.
  • Artifact of Doom: The lie-detection algorithm that Alex invents is treated like this.
  • Body Horror: The glimpse of Alex's decomposed face we see in the trunk is enough to haunt your nightmares.
  • Break the Cutie: London Spy is essentially a 5-episode-long exercise in just how much emotional torture Danny can go through without dying.
    • The love of his life, Alex, is murdered.
    • He is framed for Alex's murder.
    • When he tries to tell the world the truth he and his dead boyfriend are slandered in the press.
    • He finds out Alex lied to him about his identity.
    • He is infected with HIV.
    • Alex cheated on him.
    • One of the reasons Alex was murdered because he would not agree to never see Danny again.
  • British Brevity: Only 5 episodes.
  • Broken Bird: Both Danny and Alex are portrayed as this. Danny of the self destructive and then later deeply traumatised variety, Alex as the neglected, introverted genius variety.
  • Bury Your Gays: Of the three main gay characters, two end up dead, and the other is infected with HIV.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Alex has invented a technology that does this. It's eventually used against him, and then destroyed when all the intelligence services decide it's far too powerful to exist.
  • Cast Full of Gay: Of the four main characters, Danny, Alex, Scottie, and Frances, three of them are gay.
  • Chekhov's Gun: It's a spy series, so it's absolutely full of them, but the most notable are below.
    • The laptop battery that Alex mentions to Danny. When Danny finds it at the crime scene, it's actually a USB drive, and in the later episodes, it turns out to contain Alex's lie detection algorithm.
    • The trunk that Alex is locked in first shows up in the back of his car, full of maps.
    • The pill that Danny finds in the sweet given to him by the American spy turns out to be HIV medication, prompting him to go get tested, where he finds out that he has been infected with HIV.
  • Child Prodigy: Alex has been a mathematical genius since he was an infant.
  • Closet Key: Alex is not so much closeted as he is entirely sexually inactive, until he meets Danny.
  • Club Kid: Danny is portrayed as having been this in his past.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: It seems all the characters have one
    • Danny was a listless and unloved kid who sunk so deep into depression and drug addiction that at one point he instigated an anonymous gang bang on himself, which he was too high to even remember. The first time we meet him he's on a comedown. He's also implied to have been a prostitute in his youth.
    • Scottie was a spy in the 1960's but was caught during a 'gay witchhunt' of the agents in the service, and ended up leaving in disgrace. He also had a very serious boyfriend who died of AIDS at the height of the epidemic.
    • Alex was born a mathematical prodigy, and was taken away from his real mother by an MI5 agent who wanted to make him into the perfect spy. She even hired his real mother to be her housekeeper, all the while raising Alex to be the friendless genius he became later in life.
  • Dead All Along: A lot of people speculated that Alex was really alive the whole time, and had been kidnapped by the SIS. There was a lot of rage when people figured out that he actually was dead the whole time. Even Word of God hasn't silenced some viewers on their beliefs that a lot of the facts about Alex's death don't add up, and that he is really alive.
  • Destroy the Abusive Home: Alex's real mother does this to Frances's home in the last episode.
  • Did Not Die That Way: Alex's murder is set up to look like he died in a BDSM sex scene gone horribly wrong. Danny is adamant that Alex was murdered, and spends most of the show trying to find out how and why. Frances explains it all to him in horrid detail in the final episode.
  • Distressed Dude: Alex is locked in a trunk and interrogated about his work. Unfortunately, he dies during the interrogation.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Frances should not have been so surprised that after the years of mental and emotional torment she put Alex through, it turns out he is lying when he says he loves her.
  • Due to the Dead: Danny isn't allowed to attend Alex's funeral, so he holds his own memorial bonfire on the beach where they had one of their first dates.
  • Evil Matriarch: Frances had been manipulating Alex from the moment she found him.
  • Falling-in-Love Montage: The entire first episode is this for Danny and Alex.
  • Friendless Background: Frances pushed Alex so hard that he found it impossible to make any friends. As he describes it, he was always too old for people his physical age, and too young for people his intellectual age, so he resigned himself to being alone forever.
    • It's implied his ‘mother' and teachers actively encouraged this so he wouldn't be distracted from his work.
  • Flashback: Danny and Scottie both have a few. Seeing as this is a spy mystery, a lot of the plot is revealed through these.
    • Flashback Echo: We see a lot of Danny and Alex's relationship through these.
    • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Frances manipulating Alex as a child was shown through one of these. A chunk of Scottie's past is shown through this too.
  • Gaussian Girl: Alex seems to be a male version of this for Danny. After Alex's death, this wears off a bit as certain aspects about his life come to light, but Danny decides he loves him anyway.
  • Happily Adopted: Averted hardcore. Frances forcibly adopted Alex when he was a young boy after realising he was a genius, believing she could raise him to be the perfect spy. She grew to love him, but he always resented her for the way he treated him.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Frances and Danny team up in the end.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: An unfortunate heroic example for Alex. After he created the ultimate lie detection program, the world intelligence services decided to destroy it out of fear. First though, they used it to interrogate him, and then they killed him for noncompliance.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation:
    • Alex is a math genius, and as a result he has never had a single friend.
    • His colleague from university is much the same, though more of an asshole about it.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Scottie is at least 30 years older than Danny.
  • Knockout Gas: How the SIS kidnaps Scottie, before they kill him.
  • Language of Truth: Alex's algorithm posits that human body language and facial expressions are this.
  • Lie Detector: The spy portion of the plot revolves around Alex having invented the most advanced lie detection algorithm in the world, one that is completely unbeatable, and the rest of the intelligence community wanting to destroy it, out of fear of what it could mean for world security.
  • The Lost Lenore: Alex is implied to become this for Danny.
  • Lost Love Montage: Danny frequently has these of Alex.
  • Lover and Beloved: There is implied to be a bit of this between Danny and Scottie. It's unclear if it ever did become romantic, or if it was just one-sided on Scottie's side.
  • Love Hurts: Hoo-boy, does it ever! Its heavily implied to Danny that one of the contributing reasons to Alex's death is that his handlers felt that Alex's relationship with Danny made him less controllable and unpredictable, and therefore expendable. Falling in love with Danny is what doomed him.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident:
    • Or rather frame the the man with history of depression for suicide...
    • Alex's death is also supposed to look like a BDSM scene gone wrong.
  • May–December Romance: One-sided on Scottie's part, but he even states that he has at times been in love with Danny.
  • MacGuffin: Most of the shadowy spy characters are torturing Danny to get to the USB with Alex's work on it that Alex conveniently left in a place only Danny would look.
  • Meaningful Echo: When Danny and Alex disagree about there being one true love out there for everyone, Alex is firmly on the side of it being illogical, which makes sense for his scientific personality, but annoys romantic Danny. Flash-forward to after Alex's death, and Danny figures out the code that opens the locked USB Alex left for him is 000001, his final message of love to Danny from beyond the grave.
  • My Beloved Smother: Frances to Alex, though there wasn't much love between them.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: How Danny feels about Alex's death, especially as he wasn't even allowed to go to his funeral.
    • Alex is shown to feel the same way, as some of his last words were to cry about how he'd never see Danny again.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Many reviewers pointed out the similarities between fictional spy and genius mathematician Alex's death, and the real world case of Gareth Williams, MI6 employee and mathematical genius discouvered dead in his own gym bag in 2010.
  • Not My Driver: Scottie is kidnapped and murdered by a spy driving a taxi.
  • Older Sidekick: Danny's close friend and confidant Scottie is significantly older he is.
  • One True Love: Danny and Alex discuss whether or not this is true, with the former believing it and the latter not. Danny is very annoyed by this, clearly thinking that Alex is his ‘One'. After Alex dies, Danny finds a coded message that implies in the end, Alex believed Danny was his 'One' as well.
  • Opposites Attract: Outgoing, romantic, aimless Danny falls head over heels in love with introverted, socially awkward, genius Alex, and vice-versa.
  • Parental Abandonment: Both Alex and Danny suffer from this. Danny's parents are neglectful people who largely ignore him unless it benefits them, and Alex hates his controlling parents so much he pretends they're dead. It turns out they're not even his real parents. They stole him from his real parents, and now keep them employed as staff.
  • Parental Betrayal: Frances was present and complicit in Alex's torture.
  • Parental Substitute: Danny sees Scottie as this. Scottie...not so much.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: It's never made clear if Scottie has any blood relatives, but nevertheless he leaves everything to Danny.
  • Posthumous Character: Alex dies towards the end of the first episode, but the plot is mostly about Danny finding out about his life and his past.
  • Shrinking Violet: Alex is so shy and awkward around people that it's painful to watch.
  • Sinister Suffocation: Alex is killed this way, by being stuffed into a vintage trunk suitcase. We are treated not only to the image of his dead face peering out of the gap between the lid, but also numerous flashbacks of his last moments, struggling to get out while slowly asphyxiating.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Alex towards Danny.
  • The Spartan Way: Implied to be the way Frances raised Alex.
  • Speak Ill of the Dead: Most of the series revolves around various people attempting to slander Alex in some way.
  • Was It All a Lie?: Word of God says this is the central question of the plot. Its not really about who killed Alex or why, but more about Danny figuring out if Alex really did love him, or if their relationship was nothing more than a cover story. Turns out it was real, and one of the reasons Alex died is because he would not stop seeing Danny.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: A number of characters are given mysterious or complex one-scene introductions, and then are never seen again. Most notably the American agent who comes out of nowhere, gives Danny an obscure tip of about his HIV and then disappears. It's never shown if he was trying to help Danny, or scare him even more, but we never see him again. See Aborted Arc.