If one were to compare Hugo Blick with an animal, then a spider would have to be the obvious choice; for just as the arachnid spins its web, so does he. The twists in the thread emulate the red herrings and wrong turns of Blick’s slow-burning narrative. While the strength of the silk corresponds to the robust will of the creator’s commanding set of characters. The flies meanwhile, who are ensnared by the spider’s trap… they represent us, the audience, unable to tear ourselves away from the power of Blick’s maze.
Even trying to summarise the labyrinth of subplots amalgamated within The Honourable Woman would feel like an injustice towards Blick’s vision. Operating as writer, director, editor & producer, his stories are entirely of his own creation and deserve to be told organically.
Building every element of his world with intricate precision, Blick exhibits a tremendous air of confidence in his architectural approach. Each episode is designed to add another strand of mystery to his web of secrets. Characters are not forced to develop too hastily, but instead have the opportunity to mature over time. While the narrative is pushed forward at a meticulously subtle pace, adding greater impact to the story’s sudden and often devastating revelations. Blick’s discreet application of a noir-like aesthetic is notably beneficial here, instilling the show’s atmosphere with an enigmatic aura that is effortlessly underscored by Martin Phipps’ instrumentally ominous symphonies.
This creative poise further extends to the writer/director’s handling of the show’s timely subject matter. In lesser hands, a drama that took the Israeli/Palestine conflict as one of its central themes would likely be too eager to pass judgment one way or another. Blick however, remains intelligently muted in his method by refusing to take a side. He instead observes how devastating the conflict has been and continues to be for all who are connected to either side of the border, no matter how far away they are from it.
Then there are the performances, which add layers of depth to the show’s tightly wound narrative. Maggie Gyllenhaal is astutely balanced as the eponymous Nessa Stein. Her steely gaze and dulcet tones – spoken with a pitch-perfect English accent throughout – mask the inner turmoil and emotional fragility that perpetually haunts Nessa’s psyche. She, like every character in Blick’s story, is successful in asserting her loyalties while maintaining a manner of unreliability. This is something that many other members of the cast have a great time sinking their teeth in to; particularly Janet McTeer, whose ballsy MI6 director is a notable highlight. Although many of the best scenes belong to Stephen Rea, playing an incongruous secret agent who channels both the understated intensity and dry wit of George Smiley.
Pulsing through the veins of The Honourable Woman is a question on the nature of trust. Every episode begins with a brooding monologue from Nessa that concludes with her wondering why we trust anyone at all. The irony being of course, that thanks to Blick’s methodically devious script, there is no one for us to trust in this world of liars and conspirators. That’s what makes the show so intense, so involving, and so mysterious. It’s brilliant, trust me…
The Honourable Woman is currently showing on BBC2 every Thursday at 9pm. Catch-up is available for the whole series on the BBC iPlayer.