In “Episode 4,” The Little Drummer Girl essentially lays all its cards out on the proverbial table. It reveals most of its secrets, clarifies character motivations, and explicates the emotional subtext all in one episode. It’s the part of the spy story in which the double agent finally consummates her contentious relationship with her co-conspirator. It’s the part when she dives into the mission for the sake of love. It’s the part when she realizes how far she’s expected to go.
If there’s any overarching problem with the episode, it’s that writer Michael Lesslie tends to rely on a blunter approach to convey these ideas, which stands in sharp contrast to the style of the previous three episodes. The scenes between Charlie and Becker in this hour, especially, feature some overly obvious, ungainly dialogue that sticks out like a sore thumb (“If I love Michel, I have to really love him. Completely,” says Charlie to Becker, in case we couldn’t figure out what or who she’s talking about). It’s the series’ most didactic episode to date, with characters saying exactly how they feel at that very moment. That makes contextual sense given the high-stakes situation and the romantic passion coursing through the series, but it still feels a shade too facile, especially in the scenes between Kurtz and Becker. The pacing also feels particularly rushed in the tail end, as the series must get Charlie all the way to Lebanon in as few moves as possible while conveying the emotional weight of her sacrifice.
With that said, “Episode 4” features two of the best scenes in the series so far, ones that feature stellar writing and direction, and illustrate that, for Charlie and Becker, espionage and romance are intimately entwined. The first is Helga and Anton’s frightening interrogation of Charlie, who is kidnapped from her trailer in Somerset after awaiting contact from the Palestinian network. While Becker, Rachel, and Daniel listen through Charlie’s radio, Helga puts a gun to her head and questions the legitimacy of her relationship with Michel. Her reaction to news of Michel’s death scans as credible because Becker didn’t previously inform her, but when Helga finds the radio in her purse, they’re about two seconds away from killing her. At that moment, Charlie parrots the “final part of the fiction” from Becker, employing both the fake (kissing Michel’s gun) and the real (Becker’s “Fuck your sarcasm” monologue). A moment too late, Rachel would’ve busted open the door and killed two of the operation’s most crucial assets. An even later moment and Charlie’s corpse would be lying on the floor.
Park Chan-wook maintains consistent tension in the scene, especially in the lead up and the aftermath, and he only undercuts it for the sake of comedy, i.e. the power goes out during the interrogation and Anton has to ask Charlie for money to feed the meter. It features simple but effective crosscutting between Charlie in the room and Becker in the van as both brace themselves for the absolute worst. The scene reaches maximum power when Park flashes on Becker’s furtive smile as he realizes Charlie’s ability to weasel out of near-death situations. In the end, Kenny Rogers lightens the mood and Helga invites her into the revolution. When they drop her back at her trailer, Charlie breaks down in tears, lonely and frustrated by how much a revolution can take without giving back.
The second is the intimately surreal sex scene, which all but singlehandedly sells Charlie’s recommitment to Kurtz’s cause. Following Marty’s omission of Michel’s death, Charlie tells him off and swears not to work with them anymore. On Marty’s orders, Becker follows her to convince her otherwise, but that mission ends up falling by the wayside when he brings her to his apartment and opens up to her about his past. Pugh and Skarsgård have gone to great lengths to provide authentic energy to Charlie and Becker’s romance, and their passionate encounter represents the height of their efforts.
Yet, Park forgoes explicit sexuality in favor of suggestive carnal imagery. At first, he shoots Pugh and Skarsgård’s mouths in extreme close-up as they start to become one. Then, he cuts to a close-up of Becker’s mouth opening in ecstasy to reveal Charlie’s eye inside. When Becker’s mouth closes, so does Charlie’s eye. It’s a neat work around basic cable standards (see The Handmaiden for what Park can do without content restrictions), but it also captures the urgency of their shared situation. Becker and Charlie sublimate their shared guilt into sexuality and finally collapse the divide between fiction and reality. The two can no longer pretend they have no attachments. Charlie knows the history of Becker’s every scar, and Becker has another asset he can’t afford to lose.
In the end, Charlie contacts Helga, who kidnaps her again and whisks her away to Lebanon, much to Kurtz’s delight and Becker’s horror. “It was you who pushed her onto that plane, no one else,” Kurtz sneers in Becker’s face. He might want to rub Becker’s moral superiority in his eyes, but in this case, Kurtz is right. Charlie doubles down on the cause because of Becker’s love and confidence, and now she’s in the belly of the beast, reciting Salim’s birthmarks to his sister Fatmeh after being blinded and tossed in a stranger’s trunk. In fact, Charlie might now be Kurtz’s true star because she hasn’t been as immersed in such dirty work like Becker has. “If you live in exile, you don’t have to ask yourself if you’re the bad guy,” Becker tells Kurtz. But if Charlie has learned anything, it’s that the line between “good” and “bad” is almost nonexistent when it comes to this line of work.
- At one point, Charlie reads two poems by famed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish over the radio, as if to twist the knife a little bit more. The poems are “Now, As You Awaken…” and “No More And No Less.”
- A nice character moment: Charlie’s theater friend keenly deduces that that she’s bored by the rest of the troupe, but that her distracted mind makes her a better actress. Charlie responds by saying she could be anyone at the moment. “Your spirits are too bold for your years,” the friend replies, quoting As You Like It yet again.
- Favorite non-sex scene shot: A close-up of the back of Kurtz’s head halving Charlie and Becker as they discuss next steps.
- Sorry, “Love is the antidote to death” is a really corny line.
- Did anyone else find the extreme close-up shots of Charlie and Becker making out similar to the Elinor Carucci’s photograph for Kristen Roupenian’s New Yorker short story “Cat Person”?
- Two music cues this week: Shimon plays Bach’s “English Suites” on the piano, and Charlie’s radio blares “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers. Both are linked below.