Here are some of the major changes from John le Carré’s The Night Manager to the finale of this mini-series adaptation:
- Pine has a sexual relationship with Jed in the adaptation, but not in the book.
- Corky is not killed in the book, but is alive and back in Roper’s good graces.
- Roper is not hauled off to his doom, but instead completes the arms deal and escapes a free man.
- Pine and Jed survive and live together in England, but Burr and the Americans are discredited.
The differences between the book and the series are telling. Le Carré spares our intrepid hero and Roper’s embattled mistress, but affirms the systemic corruption of River House, which allows elite criminals like Roper to operate freely and actively obstructs Burr’s attempt to bring him to justice. Maybe it reads cheerier (alas, the series outpaced my reading of the novel), but from a plotting standpoint, that’s a deeply pessimistic conclusion.
David Farr and Susanne Bier’s adaptation, on the other hand, is virtually all silver linings. Corky gets killed. Burr redeems herself from professional embarrassment and finally gets her man. A second big arms deal literally explodes. Roper gets taken away — not by the eminently bribable authorities, but by the vicious buyers who just lost $300 million on the deal. Burr’s foil at River House is brought to justice. Pine and Jed may not live happily ever after, but after Jed reunites with her son, that seems in the cards, too. And for the cherry on top, here’s the final exchange of the series:
Hotel Nefertiti staffer: “Is there anything I can do for you, sir?”
Pine: “No, thank you. Nothing at all.”
Given the choice between sinking into le Carré’s sour ambiguities and delivering the super-happy, fist-pumping ending we probably desired, the makers of The Night Manager have opted for the latter. If the calculation was that viewers would find a just ending hugely satisfying, then the show has succeeded on that front. Corky was a venal sleaze who deserved to die. Roper is an arrogant villain who deserved to get cut down to size. Burr and Pine are people of integrity who risked their reputations and their lives on a dangerous mission, so they deserved to be rewarded. Jed was terrorized and abused, so she deserved a reunion with her son, who’s now a stranger to her. But in the words of William Munny, Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” Le Carré glares skeptically at the likelihood of just outcomes in a corrupt world; Farr and Bier want to leave us on a high.
The sixth episode is a tense, rousing final hour, but it confirms my suspicion that The Night Manager isn’t as smart and sophisticated as it appeared to be at the beginning. Last week, I questioned the seriousness of its intersection with real-world conflict, and this week, its departure with reality is complete. (Though again, not unsatisfying.) It opens with Burr getting dressed-down by her River House superiors for blowing the border raid on Roper’s trucks. That marks the end of her operation — and should mark the end of her career — because she no longer has the resources to lay another trap for Roper. It also leaves Pine exposed, without any hope for extraction. Or does it?
One call from Pine in Cairo and she’s back in business, with the proviso that she and her American cohort will have to get the job done on the sly. (They’re probably paying for that expensive hotel room out of pocket.) It may be a stretch, but it feels great to have Burr in the field, taking a first-hand role in nabbing the elusive subject of her years-long obsession. It also feels great to see Pine gain some leverage over Roper, even after his cover is blown. When Pine uses the smartphone to blow up the weapons trucks, it’s awesome. When the buyers discover that Roper doesn’t have the $300 million for a refund, also due to Pine’s intervention, it’s even better.
But is it good? Is it clever? It it right? The Night Manager lunges toward a happy ending at the expense of its own integrity. Pine gets his revenge on Freddie Hamid and Richard Roper, and perhaps no longer has to worry about Sophie Alekan haunting his dreams. It seems entirely out of character for Burr, a women devoted to the rule of law, to advocate the mob justice of Roper being carted away by men certain to execute him. Both are left apparently sated by everything that has happened, with all loose ends tied up and nothing left to trouble them — not the death of a lover that called Pine to action, not the residue of revenge for either he or Burr. If The Night Manager is Tom Hiddleston’s audition for James Bond, then its makers have accommodated him by engineering le Carré’s book into a dry run.
- One of the benefits of having good old-fashioned villains are the laughs that percolate around their dastardly schemes. When Roper and Hamid’s teams get together at Hamid’s pleasure palace, they’re delighted by their own evil.
- “Losing in daddy’s casino. Gotta be a metaphor for something.” Roper has Hamid’s essential weakness pegged.
- Hiddleston’s performance — and performance-within-a-performance, when he plays the role of Andrew Birch — may be the enduring standout element of The Night Manager. As Pine, he’s so cool and dashing that you could describe him as the center of a love triangle between Roper and Jed, which might account for why Roper trusts him for longer than seems plausible. Not to say that Roper had romantic feelings for him, exactly, but Pine has a presence that’s sophisticated and inviting. He’s not uncouth like Corky.
- Sandy trying to reassure the buyers after the arms trucks blow up (“Our organization is used to dealing with problems like this”) is the funniest moment of the entire series. He should be the next chair of the Republican National Committee.