The Little Drummer Girl
With the Semtex-filled Mercedes successfully delivered — and the Palestinian terrorist Khalil on the hook — it’s time for Charlie to embark on the next and most difficult part of her mission: falling in love with Salim, Khalil’s late brother, whom she barely knew in real life.
And while Charlie is a talented actress, this isn’t quite as simple as faking it. Early in the episode, Charlie explains her very Method-y style of acting: In order to play someone who loved Salim, she needs to actually fall in love with him. And since the real Salim is dead, Charlie needs to make do with what she has: a series of love letters and her interactions with Becker, playing Salim, as he describes the most intimate part of their relationship.
This is a continuation of a process that Charlie and Becker began in the previous episode, but their interactions here are more dramatic and intense. Becker, role-playing Salim, takes Charlie out to the woods and teaches her how to fire a gun, requiring her to kiss the gun after in a warped display of allegiance. Becker-as-Salim goes on to describe the horrors that the Israeli army inflicted on the Palestinian people: Barrels of gasoline rolled down hills to set fires to villages. Men’s hands chopped off, women raped, children blinded. And when Charlie warns Becker that these role-playing exercises are making her unsure which side she should be fighting for, Becker is pleased, telling her the uncertainty will make her performance more “genuine.”
If there’s a case to be made that Charlie should actually switch sides, no one is making it more forcefully than Becker. And it can’t help that Charlie and Becker’s love story is equally ensnared in the role Charlie is being asked to play as Salim’s ex-lover. Charlie has spent at least as much time with Becker-as-Salim as she has with the actual Becker. When Charlie and Becker finally hook up in “Episode 4,” Charlie carries the baggage of both relationships into it — even as Becker lets down his guard for the first time and tells her about his own past.
When you’re living in so many realities simultaneously, how can you ever find firm footing? In The Little Drummer Girl, Charlie’s entry into spy-craft doubles as a kind of schizophrenia, blurring the lines between her actual feelings and the feelings she needs to pretend she always had. And as Kurtz warns her, the stakes literally couldn’t be higher.
Charlie learns that firsthand when Khalil’s representatives finally make contact. It begins with a gift: a bottle of the same brand of vodka that she and Salim were purported to have shared as they fell in love. But just as Kurtz initially disguised his true nature with gifts and flattery, Khalil’s representatives quickly shift to a rougher approach. At gunpoint, Charlie is interrogated by Helga and Anton, who reveal that Salim has been killed.
And this is where Kurtz’s unconventional methods begin to bear fruit. It’s possible that Charlie is a good enough actress to sell her surprise — but her actual surprise, because Salim’s murder had been deliberately withheld from her, is enough to seal the deal. As she unspools the details of her “romance” with Salim — the same stories that she and Becker play-acted, which she can now recount in true-to-life detail — Helga drops the gun and gives her a warm hug: “Welcome to the revolution.”
All the preparation paid off; Charlie is in. But Khalil isn’t naïve enough to give up all his secrets at once. Via an elaborate process — and again at gunpoint — Charlie is shuttled from London to Paris to Beirut, where she’s blindfolded, tossed into the trunk of a car, and led into a room for questioning by a gruff military captain.
And while the grilling is intense, it’s just a preamble for what Charlie must endure at the hands of her true interrogator, who lingers quietly in a corner of the room: Fatmeh, Salim’s sister, who was previously mentioned when Salim wrote a letter to her in his jail cell. Fatmeh wants proof that Charlie was intimately involved with her brother. Once again, the ugliness and detail-focused aspect of Kurtz’s plan pays off; because he ordered Charlie to study Salim’s nude and unconscious body before he was killed, Charlie can describe his scars, his birthmark, and his penis in convincing detail.
So what have we learned as the episode ends? For starters, Fatmeh seems to be running the show in Lebanon. Maybe Khalil doesn’t even exist. It would certainly fit the M.O. of the Palestinian cell, which has endured, despite Kurtz’s best efforts, because of a diffuse, secretive, and extremely careful system based largely on misdirection and misinformation.
Now, Charlie is all the way inside — and while her entrance to the group could hardly have been more harrowing, it’ll be interesting to see if the Palestinians are any more honest or generous with her than the Kurtz and his team. Given Charlie’s ever-more-fractured mental state, it probably wouldn’t take much to shift her sympathies to the other side.
And maybe that was the plan all along. At this point, the most interesting thing about Kurtz’s plan is that he doesn’t really care if Charlie, while pretending to be a radical, actually becomes radicalized. Either way, Charlie will eventually return from Lebanon with a head full of new information Kurtz can use. And if, at that point, she refused to talk? Well, we’ve also seen the methods Kurtz would be willing to employ to change that.
For Your Eyes Only:
• Becker is so secretive and stoic that it’s hard to read exactly how much he cares about Charlie — particularly since Kurtz specifically orders him to do whatever it takes to keep Charlie working for them. That said, Becker seems concerned enough about Charlie, even in situations where she isn’t around to see it, that I think he’s actually falling for her. Your mileage may vary.
• The poem Charlie reads is “Now, As You Awaken,” by the Palestinian “resistance poet” Mahmoud Darwish. You can read it (and many of his other poems) here.
• The full list of sources for Becker’s scars: a fire, a bullet, shrapnel, a stab wound, his mom’s Pomeranian.
• Charlie revises a casually hedonistic statement she made early in the season. As it turns out, pleasure isn’t the antidote to death; love is. And while she says that in the context of her night with Becker, it also resonates with something she tells Fatmeh she learned from Salim: “Hate is for Zionists. He said to fight, we must love.”
• Becker tells Charlie to wear her bracelet on her right wrist so he’ll know she’s okay. So it’s probably not a great sign that she spends the rest of the episode wearing it on her left wrist.
• This week’s Most Park Chan-wook-ian Moment: The sex scene includes one tight, surreal close-up of Becker’s moaning mouth, with Charlie’s eye floating out of it.