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Monday, April 24, 2023

The Diplomat: West Wing Meets Bond

My wife and I just binged the first season of The Diplomat and loved it.

[Spoilers ahead ... ]

To begin with, it seemed like for most of the first episode -- in fact, until to the very end of that episode -- we were watching an updated, 2023-rendition of West Wing, on a more global scale.  Which would have been very welcome. But the news at the end of this first episode made The Diplomat much more than that.  Almost a James Bond, without the central character being an MI6 agent with a license to kill.   So think The West Wing in politics, and Bond in terms of intrigue bringing the world to the edge of nuclear war, and that's even more welcome than just an updated West Wing.  More welcome, that is, as fiction on the screen, not of course as reality.

Speaking of which, I'd say The Diplomat is the best treatment of world politics in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine I've so far seen on the fiction screen.  The attribution of the attack on the British ship to the Russians instantly moves the whole rest of the story into the dilemma of what can be done to punish the Russians, given that Putin has already threatened, many times, to unleash his nukes on Russia's enemies in our off-screen world.

And then there are the twists, the biggest being the one near very end of final episode of this season, that the attack on the British ship was ordered by the British PM, apparently as way of enabling him to be a Churchill of our time, and show Britain and the world how his country deals with deadly aggressors.  I didn't see that coming -- not at all -- and yet it all makes sense in retrospect.

Before I get, though, to the big question, let me say that the acting was superb, on every level.  Keri Russell as the diplomat, Kate Wyler, US Ambassador to the UK, was outstanding, delivering her lines, her facial expressions, and body language with sheet perfection, exceeding her previous peak performance in The Americans.  And Rufus Sewell as her husband Hal was equally outstanding, though I wouldn't say he exceeded his performance in The Man in the High Castle, because that was in a class of its own.  So what I will say is his Hal in The Diplomat is his best performance, other than as a character added to the TV adaption of a science fiction novel that almost single handedly defined a genre.  And in The Diplomat,  Russell and Sewell, individually but especially together, were a pleasure to see.  And the same for everyone else.

Meanwhile, plotwise, I'm still not 100% convinced that their marriage wasn't working out, even though Kate explained that to Hal and us at least a dozen times.  But maybe that's the point -- that Kate feels the need to say -- most of the time -- that they can't make it as a couple, because she knows how deeply she loves him, and still hasn't really convinced herself that the two need to split.

And let's get to the very ending:  a car bomb in London that may have killed Hal, Stuart (Kate's second in command in the US Embassy), and Ronnie.  There are tears in Kate's eyes when she gets the news in Paris.  This means that at very least all three did not escape unscathed.  If I had to bet, I'd say Ronnie was killed and Hal and Stuart survived, both headed to the hospital.  All three dying would dramatically change the basis of the story -- and that would be more true of Hal dying than Stuart dying, so, of the three, I'd say Hal is the most likely survive.  But I'd put my money on seeing Stuart next season, too.

I also have no idea if a decision has even been made as to who will be returning in Season 2.  All I can tell you for sure is that my wife and I will be watching Season 2 of The Diplomat that day that it comes up on Netflix.

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