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'Mi-5,' Episode Eighteen Recap: 'The Sleeper'

Miss an episode of this spy-centric BBC One series? Then read our 'Mi-5' recaps here!

Previously on Mi-5

With Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) presumed dead and Harry (Peter Firth) wounded, the Joint Intelligence Committee launches an investigation that could end Mi-5 forever. For more, read the full episode recap here.

This Week's Episode: "The Sleeper"

Written by: Howard Brenton
Directed by: Jonny Campbell

An explosion goes off in an East London council house, and Mi-5 knows exactly who set it off: themselves. The first step in a plan called "Operation Flytrap," Section D has cooked up a story that could bring out terrorists interested in getting their hands on nuclear substance, leading them to believe in the sudden existence of the fabled "red mercury" material. Now all Mi-5 needs to do is find a scientist to act as the face and creator of red mercury, and Harry has just the man. Interrupting a college graduation party, Harry corners Professor Fred Roberts (Ian McDiarmid), a Nobel-winning chemist, and strong-arms him into service. Mi-5 aided Roberts' research that led to his Nobel win years earlier, Harry explains, and now it's time to repay the favor. When Roberts refuses, Harry allows Special Forces to storm the house and arrest him.

Kept in a prison cell overnight, Roberts is finally open to hear what Tom, Zoe (Keeley Hawes), and Danny (David Oyelowo) are selling him. They admit to setting off the explosion, then fill him in on the rest of the details. Recently, a teenage boy happened upon some abandoned plutonium and suffered severe radiation burns. Whoever left that plutonium behind wants to blow something up real good, and Roberts is their best chance as to finding out who. Mi-5 has already concocted a backstory for him, one of crippling gambling debt, which would convince any terrorists that Roberts was hard up for money and could go so far as to aid nefarious groups.

Roberts, although still shaken from the potential danger of the operation, shows natural spy prowess when he convinces his own wife Helen (Jessica Turner) of his gambling addiction. As is planned, a furious Helen takes their children and storms out of their house, saying that they'll be at her sister's house in Leeds while she thinks things over. As she leaves, Adam (Rupert Penry-Jones) notices another car staking out the house. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to have an Mi-5 team watching over the Leeds house, too. Watching this all through surveillance back at headquarters, Tom is happy to be back at work, although his coworkers aren't sure if he's ready to be gatekeeper again after the being-framed-as-an-assassin hell he just went through.

With nothing to do but sit and wait, Professor Roberts continues lecturing at Queen's College (with Danny posing as a student) until one day he is approached after class by Lawrence Sayle (Jalaal Hartley), who has noticed that Mi-5 seems to be following Roberts around campus. "I am a messenger from the Al-F Command," he tells Roberts. "We want to buy red mercury from you." When Roberts gains his trust by admitting responsibility for the explosion, the deal is set: $5 million for 5 grams of red mercury. Still, Sayle recites the address of the Leeds house where Roberts' family is staying, just to show that Al-F means business.

As Mi-5 learns of Sayle's connection to terrorists in Kyrgyzstan, Roberts begins expressing his doubts to Tom about the operation. How does Tom handle having to always pretend to be somebody else for the good of his country? "You have to put your real self in a box," Tom explains, "And only when you come home do you open the box and say, 'Hello, real me," a sentiment Roberts finds clinically insane. As Roberts passes out from drinking, Tom pleads with HQ, via the surveillance cameras, to move Roberts' family away from the Leeds house. Harry refuses, as Special Forces are already at the Leeds house waiting for any terrorist movement, but tells Tom to lie to Roberts for the sake of the case. Morally conflicted, Tom nevertheless does as he's commanded.

Sayle meets with Roberts again and gives him details of how to access an account in the Cayman Islands. The money will be in the account one hour before they collect the red mercury, a delivery that Roberts must make in person. Convinced that the mission can still fail at any moment and cause Roberts to lose his family, Tom storms into Harry's office and demands that they stop Operation Flytrap. "We're tearing this man apart." Harry, rightfully concerned that Tom is unraveling, sends him home for the evening to get some sleep, then has a private word with Adam.

His conscience getting the best of him, Tom runs to the chem lab and tells Roberts that the operation is canceled. While Roberts, who is still very much game to do his part in the mission, refuses, Tom tells him the truth about Mi-5 not relocating his family, then throws him in a car headed for the Leeds house. With Mi-5 knowing exactly what he's up to, Tom's journey is cut short when a helicopter carrying Harry, Adam, Danny, and Zoe blocks his path. As Roberts gets into the helicopter to be taken back to the lab, a stern Harry makes the ultimate decision: Tom is henceforth decommissioned from Mi-5, no longer an officer of the service. Tom's spy career is over.

Back at the college, Sayle and Roberts complete their transaction when Special Forces, headed by Adam, bust into the chem lab and arrests the terrorist. But there are still loose ends, and when Sayle refuses to answer his ringing cell phone, a call from his comrades staking out the Leeds house, all seems lost. Luckily, the Special Forces already at the Leeds house swiftly take out the terrorists. Finally able to speak to his wife again, Roberts lets her in on the details of Operation Flytrap. But Helen, furious that her husband would put his family in so much danger, cannot forgive him.

Back at headquarters, Tom has finished packing up his desk (including a passport of his Matthew Archer alias) and goes to Harry, wanting to know how the rest of the operation went. Alas, Tom is no longer privy to such classified information. Harry assures Tom that he will be given a handsome settlement and receive no punishment for his insubordination. "And of course," Harry says sadly, "you realize we'll never meet again." Giving a farewell nod to Zoe, Tom walks out of Thames House and waves goodbye to the security camera behind him.

Hey! I Know That Actor!

Despite a decades-spanning career of over 60 plays, 25 television shows, and 15 films, Ian McDiarmid (Professor Fred Roberts) will forever be known as the nefarious Emperor Palpatine in the "Star Wars" films.

Marcus Gorman is the author of the novel "Triceratops" and the editor of the film blog Ten Years Ago: Films in Retrospective.


About the Author

Marcus Gorman is a pop culture writer and the author of the novel triceratops.
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