Previously, on The Night Manager: “Episode 1”
A little slower and a bit more muddled, our second helping of The Night Manager begins to test whether our eyes were actually larger than our stomachs, but the expert storytelling going on here manages to up the suspense and reel the loose threads right back into the warm blanket we covered ourselves with last week; it’s time we loosen our belt and settle in for the long haul because there are four more courses to this meal.
First things first, we’re going to get the not-so-great out of the way. Tom Hiddleston is still doing a great job; the best he can do with the currently flat character he’s ended up with. Jonathan Pine is an extremely intriguing character, when he’s the night manager of a hotel; there’s a feeling of urgency and purpose visible just beneath its surface (which I mentioned last week). The problem is, this episode removes that veneer from Pine’s character, leaving him as this exposed nerve flailing in the wind. In this episode, all of that potential you felt Pine struggling to find a use for has been realized. Angela Burr, more on her in a moment, completes her recruitment of Pine as an undercover agent; he is now who he should be… seemingly. That means Hiddleston spends the majority of this episode going through some rather rudimentary motions that don’t actually feel like they’re taking Jonathan Pine anywhere. The good thing is this is an issue you expect with a story like this, and it feels like it’s all been contained within this single episode. Next week, Pine will likely be back to having some layers. I’d also like to think we’ll go at least a couple episodes before he beds yet another woman; he’s veering a bit too closely to some Bondian womanizer territory, but that’s what you get with espionage thrillers, I suppose.
Now, that’s all of the bad over and done with–and it wasn’t even really all that bad; I mean, he’s still Tom Hiddleston–and now we can get to the meat of what was fantastic about this episode: the aforementioned Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) and Jed Marshall (Elizabeth Debicki). This was the episode to showcase the ladies of the series, and they shine brilliantly. You want to talk about layers? Debicki’s performance as Jed Marshall, Richard Roper’s girlfriend, was very one-note last week, but she is shown here to be a troubled, conflicted, and complicated person. Angela Burr, on the other hand, seems to have a strong handle on her life and her self; she’s obsessed with catching Roper, but hey, we all have our hobbies. The Angela scene here that I love, absolutely love, is when she’s nervously, frantically, and sternly preparing Pine for the undercover duty he is about to undertake. At once, Olivia Colman seems excited and terrified; she’s a child on Christmas morning who isn’t sure if she’s received the gift she wanted or not. By the end, I was prepared to go in Pine’s place.
What of Hugh Laurie? There simply has not been much there, yet. As a huge fan of Hugh Laurie, that is certainly disappointing, but it’s not disappointing in any kind of way that reflects badly on the series; I just, frankly, would like to see him more (although, HBO’s Veep did return this week, so I have that to fall back on for my Hugh Laurie fix). I should reiterate this is not a bad thing, at all, and it is actually quite good. For two weeks now, a full third of this miniseries, Laurie’s Richard Roper has been talked about more than he’s actually spoken himself. In the sparse moments he has been present, Roper is an affable gentleman, for the most part. In fact, the first 10-15 minutes of this episode are dedicated to making you like Roper and his cohorts; the terrific thing is, it absolutely works. To this point, Roper, Jed, and his friends would be right at home in the next installment of Richard Linklater’s Before film series with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. They’re rich globetrotters who take holidays on the island of Mallorca, Spain. It’s perfectly mundane (you know, for rich people). That’s what feels like the brilliance of this decision: Richard Roper has effectively been made into the boogeyman. Now, the rest of these episodes just need to pay that off, and we’ll be good.
The plot continues to twist itself into all kinds of intriguing knots, and this episode’s nonlinear path proved to accelerate the story to the point where it’s all folding in on itself; in a world where this miniseries is a pizza, we’re currently at the stage right before the dough gets its toppings. To that end, Susanne Bier continues to knead that dough just enough. I talked last week about this being a writer’s series, and boy does this episode affirm that. With all of these moving parts, the best thing a director can do is get out of their own way, and Bier does an amazing job of that. However, she did manage to throw another director’s moment or two in this episode, and these are just enough to give the series flair without overwhelming the story. Bier’s one indulgence this week comes right at the beginning, as we watch Jed dress, call her mother, and crying–all to the soundtrack of Nina Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring”. Now, if you listen to the lyrics of “Plain Gold Ring”, you may just see why it is she is crying. (or you may think she is Becky with the good hair; who knows?)
The final thing I would like to mention about this episode is the introduction of David Harewood! Harewood is a veteran actor who has done several things in his career, many of which I have seen and enjoyed, but you know what he also is? The Martian Goddamn Manhunter on CBS’ Supergirl. For the rest of David Harewood’s career, he will be able to count me as a fan of every damn thing he does, and it is all thanks to how amazing it has been to see J’onn J’onzz brought to life on that show. Here, he plays a colleague of Angela Burr, Joel Steadman, but I have taken to calling him The American Manhunter; you can go ahead and call him that, too.
Steadman looks to play a significant part in the future of Angela Burr’s plans with Jonathan Pine–plans which will almost certainly find a way to go awry–so we’ll see what next week brings for him and the rest of this superb miniseries.
The Night Manager - Episode 2
As the plot continues to unfold and refold, Tom Hiddleston’s Jonathan Pine settles a bit too much, but this is compensated for excellently by both Olivia Colman’s Angela Burr and Elizabeth Debicki’s Jed Marshall to continue the miniseries on its path to greatness.