They’re complemented by Anna Maxwell Martin as Lily Thomas in the interloper role. Nicholas and Kim have been friends for 23 years, part of the British aristocracy that believes itself incapable of doing wrong. Lily, meanwhile, is part of the lowly MI5, which lets in commoners and threatens both men and their machinations with oversight. She’s of a different gender, class, generation, and agency than the men she’s investigating, and “A Spy Among Friends” further signals her otherness by showing her in a bright blue overcoat more than once, marking her with a rare bit of color. But different is not always good or even real, so clever watchers will have to untangle what her true significance is in this story of men and their friendships.
Lastly, the spy craft itself is strong. There are disappearing messages, dead drops, and double-crosses aplenty. The plot twists through multiple reveals, establishing one set of facts and then questioning them. It’s a smart storytelling device, putting the viewer in the spy’s (expensive) shoes by making us ask if we can ever really know these characters, ever truly understand their actions. The answer is perhaps not.
But the other question is, do we care? “A Spy Among Friends” tries to reach above its espionage trappings by asking questions about the value of friendship. It’s not just in the title but also in an opening quote, which reads, “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” But here, the show works less well because the experience of picking between “country” and “friendship” is so rarified as to be largely unrelatable.
“A Spy Among Friends” is about the exceptional, not the universal. The presumption is that we all remain interested in this kind of oft-depicted anomaly of the historical record, another moment when empires joined forces to stop evil in their midst, told via the same demographic eyes as always. As well-told as it is here, I’m not so sure it needs to be told again in the first place.
Full series screened for review. “A Spy Among Friends” will be available on MGM+ Sunday, March 12th.