MI-5 (titled Spooks outside of North America) is a different sort of espionage series than American viewers are accustomed to. MI-5 is a counter-intelligence and security agency charged with foiling threats on British soil. Most of those threats, in this release anyway, are abetted by powerful neoconservatives within the British and American governments. Thus, any previously unknown official featured in an episode will undoubtedly be revealed to be a Neocon villain before the credits roll.
Previous seasons of this series have been hit or miss with DVDTalk reviewers. After Volume 1 received a rave review from Matthew Millheiser as "a smart, thrilling series that pulls no punches and maintains a consistent level of quality and intelligence throughout its running time", subsequent reviews of Volume 2 by Holly E. Ordway and Volume 4 by Paul Mavis went from bad to worse. Ordway specifically complained about the "cheesy dialogue and wooden acting," and Mavis took note of the show's "almost pathological need to slam the United States of America every five minutes." Both reviews marked MI-5 down for stereotypical characters, pokey development with little action, and an overly simplified world view.
Critics of prior volumes of MI-5 are going to find nothing to change their opinions in Volume 5. Conservative government officials and industry leaders continue to be portrayed largely as villains. Additionally, MI-5 officers appear reluctant to carry guns or engage in high speed pursuits, thus many of the elements inherent in American action shows are missing. Finally, though the plots may be convoluted at times, it's always fairly easy to determine who the bad guy on the inside is (hint, it's the government official who appears out of the blue for the single episode).
On the other hand, existing fans of the show will probably continue to find the show appealing. The first two episodes in this ten-episode release wrap up a story arc from Volume 4 concerning a plot by a cabal of men from government, media and big oil to quietly take control of the country through the implementation of new security laws that would effectively outlaw political dissent in Great Britain. The parallels between the security laws at issue and the U.S. Patriot Act are immediately apparent.
There's a good bit of drama in the first two episodes including the murder of one of the show's few remaining original characters, and the sidelining of another for at least the rest of the season by a crippling assassination attempt. Though the villains are ultimately undone by mistakes that nobody would ever be foolish enough to make in the real world, the episodes work. Viewers who have been watching the series for some time get the payoff they were expecting, new viewers are brought up to speed, and the series manages to smoothly transition some characters out and others in.
The remaining eight episodes in Volume 5 are all one-offs with a situation being presented, tackled and resolved before the credits roll. All but one of these eight episodes concerns threats which are at least abetted if not staged by officials within the British government, most often from the right. After seeing MI-5 foil a half dozen threats from the right resulting in numerous Neocon officials being killed or compelled to resign, it's a wonder that there's anybody left on the Right to organize new plots.
Despite the one-off nature of the threats each episode, the characters do enjoy continuing personal arcs which will appeal to fans that watch the series as much for the melodrama as the action. The most involved of these concerns Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones) whose wife, fellow MI-5 officer Fiona (Olga Sosnovska), was killed in the line of duty in the previous season. Volume 5 has Adam dealing with the trials of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), single parenting, and widower sex. A second continuing personal arc which comes to a head this season concerns the fumbling attraction between MI-5 head Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) and his deputy Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker).
MI-5 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The image is anamorphically enhanced, but suffers from a poor PAL to NTSC conversion resulting in ghosting. Removable English subtitles are adequately sized, paced, and placed.
Audio is available in 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes. The audio sounds good throughout though the audio levels on the disc intro and menus and 2.0 option play too loudly in comparison to the 5.1 mix or other DVDs generally.
Fans will be disappointed that the extras on Volume 5 are less than those on any previous volume. The extras consist simply of writer/producer commentaries on the final two episodes, a 12-minute spoiler-laden featurette of cast interviews best saved until after viewing the episodes, and a one-minute sneak peek behind the set of season six.
An MI-5 viewer is never in doubt about the producers' politics. In the world of MI-5, the biggest threat to a free Britain comes from the Right. The target audience for this series is viewers that enjoy spy thrillers but distrust Neocons.
Viewers who have previously found MI-5 not to their liking will find nothing here to change their opinions. People who have never seen the series may wish to start with Volume 1 which received a strong recommendation by DVDTalk. Since on American television each episode is cut by nearly ten minutes to accommodate commercials, no doubt fans of the show will want to view Volume 5 on DVD to see what they've been missing.
For fans of the show, MI-5: Volume 5 is recommended though viewers able to play Region 2 PAL-encoded DVDs will probably do better to purchase the British version to avoid the PAL-to-NTSC issues with the image on the North American release.