In John le Carré’s novel, Major Lance Corkoran is described as Richard Roper’s chief henchman for many reasons — his loyalty and his viciousness, most obviously, but perhaps his most important function within Roper’s operation is to sign his name on the documents. None of Roper’s shadier dealings can be traced back to him, but endless successive prison sentences await “Corky,” whose dirty pawprints are all over the paper trail. Corky’s commitment to doing harm to the world is absolute — he’s a dedicated minion, with a more readily apparent zest for evil than his nefarious boss. For an unknown like Jonathan Pine to supersede him within the organization is a stretch, and it’s questionable whether the show pulls it off convincingly in such a short time.
This episode does, however, offer a good argument for Corky as the most unnerving presence on the show, given his instant and unshakable skepticism toward Pine from the start. Some of that may be professional jealousy, a concern that the “second-worst man in the world” might pair up better with the first, despite Corky’s longstanding relationship with Roper. But much of it is pure instinct, a bad guy’s uncanny ability to perceive the legitimacy of one of his own, and Pine’s narrative seems too convenient by half. You might recognize the actor who plays Corky, Tom Hollander, from his performances in costume pieces like Pride & Prejudice or Pirates of the Caribbean — or, if you dig deep for good television, the lovable British sitcom Rev., which he co-created and which also stars The Night Manager’s Olivia Colman. But the pertinent entry on Hollander’s résumé is In the Loop, Armando Iannucci’s lacerating political satire.
As Corky, Hollander pulls off a reversal on his In the Loop character, a government functionary who sparks an international incident by allowing the word “unforeseeable” to escape his lips in a press interview. Corky is more like Peter Capaldi’s ornately vulgar politico, a creature of delicious malevolence. Though asserting his toughness is important, Pine has to be careful not to antagonize Corky, if only for fear of blowing up the operation. That puts him in a defensive position, which Corky exploits ruthlessly. He asks Pine to bring him back “one of those darling serrated knives” on his trip to town. When Pine announces that he’s going for a walk along the beach, he advises him to “fill [his] pockets with stone, walk into the sea, and keep going.” And when it comes to Roper’s beautiful wife, Jed, who dangles her legs provocatively in the pool, he makes himself clear: “If you lay one hand on that precious fruit, like the Belgians in the Congo, I’ll chop it off — and I don’t mean the hand.”
Jed doesn’t make such restraint easy. With Pine now penned in the gilded cage along with her, their mutual attraction becomes an immediate, palpable tension and danger. She parades herself in front of him shamelessly, and true intimacy follows: “I don’t care who sees me naked,” she says. “I do care who sees me crying.” The previous episode established Jed’s tragic confinement as Roper’s girlfriend, terrorized into a life of leisure at his side. Though we haven’t seen Jed and Roper spend much time alone, her misery seems of little concern to him, just as the miseries of those on the receiving end of his illegally traded arms are not under consideration. She’s a prize he’s happy to display and abuse at his convenience.
The episode makes a strong theme out of women suffering at the hands of powerful men. The opening has Roper and company at a decadent birthday party in Madrid, the backdrop for a massive deal involving Juan Apostol (Antonio de la Torre), but the merriment ends when the birthday girl, Apostol’s daughter, hangs herself in the bathroom. Roper acts more put out than shocked (“She caused a lot of other people pain, too”) and Corky jokes about the canapés, but the death sets the tone for an hour of Roper and his associates bringing anguish and terror to the women closest to them.
Back in Mallorca, Sandy Langbourne (Alistair Petrie), a key Roper business partner, brazenly sleeps with the nanny without doing much to prevent his wife Caroline (Natasha Little) from finding out. As Pine lends a sympathetic ear, she lets slips that the men are planning an arms deal with Apostol’s Lebanese friend, giving Operation Limpet the sting opportunity it needs. “I just want to be honest with someone in the world,” Caroline says. Roper may have trouble seeing through Pine’s ruse, but Caroline and Jed are able to sense an ally, and they feed him good information.
Though perhaps not as good as Roper’s son, however. In one ridiculous scene, little Danny tells Pine all about dad’s secret study, the one key needed to open it, and the alarm system that will go off should he open the door for whatever reason. And earlier, Danny doesn’t notice the bizarre conversation Pine is having with a tourist about the “ancient Egyptians.” He’s too excited about his pistachio ice cream. The kid is sweet, open, innocent — maybe the only person on the Roper compound to escape his father’s influence.
- Cutting back and forth (and back and forth, and back and forth) from shots of Apostol’s daughter hanging in the shower to the super-wealthy sleazebags partying outside puts too fine a point on the human costs of decadence.
- Hugh Laurie and Hiddleston finally get a face-to-face conversation and they’re terrific sparring partners. Where Corky snarls and threatens, Laurie’s Roper delivers the line, “If you step out of line, I’ll make you howl for your mother” like a host telling his guest to take his shoes off at the door. He’s chillingly relaxed.
- Angela Burr’s concerns about River House updating her operation turn out to be fully justified. Pine already has to overcome intense suspicion to stay alive in Roper’s company, but now the threat from outside is every bit as dangerous.
- Does The Night Manager’s file-sharing service, ZitterZatter, exist in the same fake-Internet world as ChumHum, the search engine from The Good Wife? I’ll log onto WeezleWuzzle and get back to you.