The Little Drummer Girl Episode 3 was tense and effective while continuing the show’s usual extremely high standard of production and direction.
This recap of The Little Drummer Girl Season 1 Episode 3 contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The Little Drummer Girl Episode 3, aka The Florence Pugh Fashion Variety Hour, was a step up from previous instalments of Park Chan-wook’s adaptation of the John le Carré novel, in that it actually managed to build some legitimate tension rather than relying entirely on extremely good-looking production and a layer of rather smug, faux-sophisticated artifice. It still had those things, obviously; they’re woven into the show’s period and genre DNA. But for the first time, The Little Drummer Girl felt like it might be able to satisfy a broad Sunday night audience, which is a shame because most of it stopped watching after the first two weeks.
Their loss, I suppose. They missed out on Charlie (Pugh – fantastic this week) barrelling down various European motorways and through border checkpoints in a Mercedes packed to the gills with Semtex. One minute she’s singing, next she’s sparking up – whoops! – and then she’s under the keen eyes of security personnel who determine she’s smuggling moonshine. That was a close one.
Charlie’s journey took up a good chunk of the episode, which is fine, as very little actually happening each week is becoming something of a calling card for The Little Drummer Girl. Besides, if there’s any sequence that should feel a little overlong, it’s one in which plastic explosives are smuggled into Austria.
You can tell Charlie is enjoying all this. She even says it outright: “I enjoyed it, I loved it.” Gadi (Alexander Skarsgard) isn’t too keen on this, but then again he’s a weirdly sexless professional spy, so he isn’t really keen on anything. That includes, it seems, master Israeli puppeteer Marty (Michael Shannon), who is only really the leader in the sense that he has the biggest moustache. Gadi seems mostly unconcerned with his instructions, and everyone else follows along dutifully but unenthusiastically, with the exception of his arse-licking disciple, Shimon.
That willingness to show some fissures in what has otherwise been presented as a rather well-oiled espionage crew is part of what elevated The Little Drummer Girl Episode 3; that, and it was willing to get its hands a bit dirtier than usual. Salim (Amir Khoury) finds himself heavily sedated and in the passenger seat of a car “driven” by his psychotic courier Anna (Iben Akerlie), which promptly explodes on a German autobahn. That’s that, then. (Anna was nabbed earlier in the episode, and the whole sequence was filmed sort of disinterestedly from a nearby hillside until we were treated to an extreme close-up of her chewing someone’s ear off. Lovely!)
The greasy engine that keeps this whole enterprise moving continues to be the relationship between Charlie and Gadi, and whether the latter is being his real, Israeli self or his Palestinian alter-ego at any given moment. Lots of the structural flourishes are designed to emphasise this ambiguity, such as when he reads aloud some dopey love letters and the camera keeps cutting to Salim speaking the words. Subtle as ever.
But if subtlety isn’t the stock in trade here, elegance certainly is, and the overriding competence with which the whole thing is put together continues to impress, especially in low-key scenes like the one in a Yugoslav hotel where Charlie and Rachel (Simona Brown) exchanged coded messages over a game of Scrabble. There’s still a bit of a problem with Charlie’s characterisation here; one minute she’s being nervously loaded up with various European currencies, the next she’s singing along to herself like it’s all a big lark, then she’s having a breakdown. You wouldn’t expect her to really take it all in her stride, of course, but some of these beats feel as though they’re in the wrong order; like she’s coming to terms with the situation in reverse.
But she has no choice but to come to terms with it – The Little Drummer Girl Episode 3 leaves her pissed up and lonely, waiting for some terrorists to make contact with her, at which point the real play begins. “Terror is theatre”, after all.