Spies who walk it like they talk it

There was a time when the phrase "fast-paced dialogue" referred to exchanges spiked unsparingly with witticism and fiery riposte. But ER, and, later, The West Wing, changed all that. "Fast-paced dialogue" became, quite literally, a dialogue between two or more characters moving through endless right-angled networks of corridors at an improbably fast pace. Corners signified a change of subject, doors, a change of scene; and anything resembling a conversation held over five metres away from a freshly-kicked hornet's nest could be translated freely as news of the relevant character's impending demise.

But with Spooks, you get pace of another order altogether. For if what you're getting resembles traditional dialogue - with questions, answers, follow-ups - you'll probably find you've been sitting on the remote and are now watching one of Ronnie Barker's attempts to enter Nurse Gladys' Morris Minor. The action - laced with fragments of colloquy to which James Joyce would be hard-pressed to ascribe narrative coherence - proceeds at such a rate that there seems to be no distinction between the intentionally compressed "last week's episode in a 20-second nutshell" introductions and the rest of a given episode. Blink and not only have you missed it, but everyone in EC1 has been blown up, chief suspects interrogated and alibis confirmed, and all of a sudden it turns out some trusted insider you've only met for 10 seconds (in 10 different scenes) has masterminded the entire thing using only a toothpick and iMac...

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