Hunted: Our fascination with spies

Thursday 4 October 2012, 11:00

Frank Spotnitz Frank Spotnitz Writer

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My career has been most closely associated with science fiction, which is no surprise given the years I spent writing and producing The X-Files TV series and feature films.

But for Hunted, the new series I created for the BBC, I've moved away from science fiction to the spy genre, which is my favourite in all of film and television.

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Hunted trailer: 'Think about the chaos you've unleashed'

There are some obvious reasons for this.

Spy stories provide plenty of opportunities for action and suspense - things motion pictures can deliver with unique effectiveness.

But I think the real appeal of the spy genre is much deeper.

By definition spies are duplicitous. They appear to be one type of person when they are actually someone else altogether.

They pursue one agenda while pretending to serve another. A spy simply cannot be trusted.

To varying degrees the same can be said of all of us, spies or not.

We all present a face to the world that is not exactly the person we are inside. Because part of us always remains hidden, none of us is truly knowable - not our parents, siblings, spouse or friends.

It's not surprising we all yearn to be surrounded by people we can trust. And fear betrayal.

Sam Hunter (Melissa George) on the set

Melissa George as Sam Hunter during filming

That for me is what spy stories do so well. Spies live in a world of deceit and distrust. Their stories externalise our deepest fears.

By design Hunted plays on these fears in the most intimate way I could imagine.

Sam Hunter suspects that she has been betrayed by the man she loves. She must expose herself to mortal danger, knowing she can't trust him or anyone else.

Of course Sam is more than an embodiment of our collective fears. Brilliantly realised by Melissa George, she is a unique, complex, contradictory character with a dark and troubled past.

I am neither a spy nor a woman and yet I find it very easy to identify with Sam. I suspect many audiences will too.

Complicating Sam's situation is the brave new world in which she we now live.

Over the past few decades espionage has become increasingly privatised. Sam doesn't work for MI5 or MI6 - she works for Byzantium, a private security firm dedicated not to defence of the realm but to serving the interests of its clients.

These clients' identities are not revealed to operatives like Sam which makes identifying who might want her dead - and why - even more difficult.

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Sam runs for her life through the alleyways of Tangier

Researching this world proved less difficult than you might imagine.

Business is booming - there are now thousands of private security firms operating all over the globe.

And while they keep secret their client lists they were very happy to talk (with names withheld) about the work they do.

I collaborated with a team of talented writers for six months on the stories for Hunted.

We devised a complicated web of deception with lots of action, suspense, and plot twists and turns.

But at the heart of it all we tried to never lose sight of the character of Sam, who anchors this dangerous world in a deeper emotional truth.

Frank Spotnitz is the executive producer and lead writer of Hunted.

Hunted begins on Thursday, 4 October at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

More on Hunted
Watch Frank Spotnitz talk to BBC Writersroom and BBC Media Centre.
Melissa George and Adam Rayner interviewed on BBC Breakfast.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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Comments

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    Comment number 81.

    Hmmmmm.... diverse opinions

    So, onto my comment. Good evening Frank. Well done on crafting an espionage series that keeps us asking the questions and wanting more....
    And and provides us with blogoshere fodder to chew over.

    Just watched the 6th installment and waited until now to comment on the series so far in order to absorb the plotline complexity, and mull it over before waxing lyrical. ;-)

    Positive feedback: curious on how the twists will resolve themselves. Some characters chime with a less is more personality leaving enough to our imaginations to make them credible.
    Casting generally good, helped by one or two heavyweights (Stephen Dillane, Patrick Malahide, Meera Syal).

    Neutral feedback: casting a woman in the lead is imaginative. Yet, it shouldn't really matter whether the lead protagonist is male or female as long as they have a story to tell or the narrative behind them is compelling enough. No issue with the apparent imperviousness of Sam to the pounding she receives. After all, we have long been fed a diet of leading men with extraordinary powers of healing. Shock hooror then that this is repeated in female form.

    Not so positive feedback: acting quality (a recurrent theme here) - is for the most part distinctly avaerage (save for those mentioned above). If I can single out one character in particular, it is Aidan Marsh (Adam Rayner) who is so wooden, you kind of expect branches to sprout at any moment. He seems almost disinterested and rattles through his lines through gritted teeth. By extension, his chemistry with Sam (or lack thereof) stetches credultiy.
    Script - at times poorly developed and/or delivered. Whatever happened to the great BBC/British dramatic tradition of saying less and letting the cultured pauses or what is not said tell us more than the actual words themselves.
    Character develpoment - again, poorly handled because it feels like tokenism, where after a revelation I have to pinch myself and sagely admit, 'ah yes..... now I understand the complexity of character x'. Just a bit hammy really meaining I find it hard to want to engage with any of the characters. And not what I have come to expect from BBC productions over my more than 40 years of lauding BBC quality.
    A singular highlight has been the performance of Patrick Malahide as the slightly menacing East end mobster trying to go legit, yet cannot change his spots. Well done.

    Nevertheless, I will continue to be an avid viewer.
    Hope my coments will be viewed constructively.

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    Comment number 82.

    As a patient group representing patients diagnosed with MDS - Myelodysplastic Syndromes - we were both surprised and glad that this condition was featured in episode 6 of Hunter (bedroom scene where escort girl has a nose bleed and bruises and says she suffers from MDS). This condition - MDS - is a rare blood disorder/bone marrow failure and belongs to the group of blood cancers.
    It is almost never mentioned in the media or drama - despite affecting a growing number of people world wide. Nearly 3000 people get diagnosed every year in the UK - and this will be increasing in years to come.
    We congratulate you on including this in your programme - and would like to know why you chose to feature this?
    It would have been good if the BBC had made support information available to people affected by MDS after the programme.
    Some of our members called us to mention the programme and were a bit disappointed that not more details were given in the episode - but we understand this is just a small part of the drama.
    We'd be interested on getting in touch with you and post further details on our website about the programme and the involvement with MDS. Thank you.
    www.mdspatientsupport.org.uk

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    Comment number 83.

    There is a striking resemblance between Jack Turners son Stephen and Michael Vaughan the cricketer.

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    Comment number 84.

    Thank you so much for all the thoughtful comments. They're greatly appreciated. We featured MDS because it fit our storyline. I'd be delighted if the episode in some small way helps lead to a broader awareness of the condition.

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    Comment number 85.

    To answer Christopher's question: it's true that I'm American and Melissa George is from Australia. I still think it's still fair to call this British drama because virtually every other actor, writer, director, producer, cast and crew member on the series was British. I'm delighted you're enjoying the show!

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    Comment number 86.

    Hi Frank, thank you for clearing that up for me. If almost everyone else was British then I guess that is fair, yes. Yes I am enjoying the show, cannot wait for tonight.

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    Comment number 87.

    One hour and 40 mins to go .... What does the corrupt Police Inspector's file say about Sam and does it reference her Mother's murder......?

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    Comment number 88.

    I got lost in the storyline this week. According to the tv papers she was meant to go to Scotland this week and find out why her mother was murdered. It is a riveting series though and I cant wait until next week when it will all unfold.

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    Comment number 89.

    Sorry. Jack Turner and his son having a meeting/confrontation in a Police HQ !!! Surely Not !!! C'Mon !!! Is this commensurate with the story so far ?

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    Comment number 90.

    An Honour to meet you and converse with you Frank,

    I love Hunted just discovered it this week and iplayed them all that led me here. Great job all round as the only 2 other programmes that hold my interest on TV recently and are plausible are Person of Interest and Burn Notice script and acting wise. Have never been one for Spooks or watched it from the clips it looked too badly acted and improbable for one to contemplate watching. Same run of the mill spy by numbers, but this is different it is clever and extremely intelligent writing.
    However this is a breath of fresh air to see the protagonist as a woman Sam, played perfectly by Melissa George. Yes she is petite that's the point unassuming Bruce Lee was also quite petite and similar build. I think her ex Aiden and their relationship is spot on aswell, and brilliantly acted by Adam Rayner. Infact the whole cast is just perfectly acted and casted.
    So perfectly casted and timed that Curson could be a young ringer for the late President of Ghana John atta Mills and likewise Pres.Zazhir a ringer for the late Pres.Benazir Bhutto, am really curious to see the Chinese link and to see if your character resembles the new Pres. Xi Jinping in anyway, please check ahead and have a good chuckle to yourself!

    Anyhow moving on some things to ponder on why did Sams leave the window to be easily seen externally so one could easily discover the false room if she was being watched from outside. Was it because the flat was rented so the external window had to remain, or does she have unlimited funds and time to just buy and sell flats, or did Byzantium arrange this safe house?
    I can understand Sam sleeping sitting up by she would not leave her bed unslept in for the maid to find and report back, can she even trust the maid? Who is the woman in silouhette Sam can see from her bedroom window opposite it is not Georbral, and too petite to be the maid, is it Jack Turners dead wife being held captive unbeknown to him and not really dead for some reason? It also seems improbable there is no security cameras in the lift or the house anywhere.
    Geobral is a very creepy character but old enough to perhaps have played a part in freeing Sam those years ago when she was a child perhaps an assassin who looked over her. Sam also had cupboards of tinned spam as a diet whilst recovering in hiding does she eat this as it was given to her by her captors as a child also? This seems improbable as surely she would have an aversion to it, unless she associates it with the last meal after she saw her mother was killed.
    I also think from sleeping with Jack surely he would recognise a bullet wound on her body from a car accident scar, i liked the way Sam covered her bruises with concealer to wear the dress but surely this would have easily rubbed off aswell on contact.

    I am wondering if Hourglass in the future plot somehow trained Sam from a child age 11 we are told, I hope if she is in hourglass as a sleeper unbeknown to herself she does what her character we have seen will go through with in a way only Sam can.

    I also think the MI6 female protagonist is rather stupid in her questionning and lifestyle and and all round probably accurate character of people who do land such jobs, she is somewhat jealous of Sam and a womans jealousy could lead her to undermine Sam more and Aiden in his humble remorse her shows to gain Sams trust back. Sam has this week encountered this, so i doubt she believes what is in the locker.

    Also workers at Byzantium obviously are well paid and get paid into Swiss bank accounts, we are told.
    The painting of the Ambassadors does have those objects in the painting but the meaning is different and not clear in real life. Was this painting chosen for that reason only?
    Even Sams boss may play a major turning point in it if he is going to die anyway of his brain tumour I'm sure he will lay tracks before he dies, no matter who signs his checks he seems to have no family.

    I cant wait till next week to watch it again, please please make another series this goes very deep. and people here and watching obviously have some connection with the characters youve brought to life. Well done again everyone its a small gem to have found. Please contact me if you need any ideas with future plot turns or outcomes.

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    Comment number 91.

    ps. that sound read Jack turners son, Stephen sorry that would have been an episode of Spooks otherwise!

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    Comment number 92.

    I have enjoyed the series, though you could drive a tank through some of the holes.

    When she first enters the Turner household, she goes into a room (study) and starts placing camera's, considering the security measures the house had in place surely it would have surveillance cameras installed.

    Is it feasible that Sam would leave the police report in her room to be found as, she was capable enough to ensure that she didn't leave her torn tracksuit in her wardrobe.

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    Comment number 93.

    Hi Frank, I'm really enjoying the series. I'm afraid I've got another wardrobe question for you. In episode 7, Sam wore a grey coat with contrasting lapels, my wife is desperate to know where it is from. I hope you can help!

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    Comment number 94.

    Well Mr Spotnitz, your background you say is in science fiction. Well you havent left it really have you? Talk about having to suspend belief.. Are we supposed to believe that a group of supposedly descent human beings murder on a daily basis not to mention kill one of their own, not in the name of national security or any grand belief but for a salary paid by an invisable powerful rich client who's identity or motives they have no idea about? Are these supposed to be the good guys, totally devoid of any morals as long as the money keeps coming in? Talking of morals, besides appearing totally undisturbed by killing and maiming on a daily basis, Sam beds anyone she's instructed to without a qualm. Just how much DOES she get paid? In the first episode alone, in freeing Dr. Hill she takes on and either seriously injures or kills several guards then after getting out of her "pretend lovers" bed that morning and dispensing with the afore mentioned, coyly kisses her real lover and arranges to meet him for a chat. She then cooly kills 3 armed thugs and after being shot herself, kills 2 more. She then goes on through the series, this young woman, to kill several more assailants often in unarmed combat without compunction or trauma. Yet we are supposed to believe that when "blank face" sits astride she is rendered so totally helpless she can't even move her head to avoid being jabbed in the eye! Then it turns out he did it so he could 'talk to her'. What happened to, "excuse me madam". Some of the violence is totally unbelievable. When Sam's ex army buddy can't tell "grey hair" where Sam is, he shoots her. Why? Wouldn't the normal proceedure be "Sorry to disturb you" and leave. When Deacon and Aiden want to talk to Zahir, instead of saying "excuse me" they severely beat up her guards. To make matters even more unbelievable, if such a thing did really happen to a visiting dignatry, it would have caused an international scandal, the two assailants arrested and slung in gaol and questions asked in Parliament. I don't think everyone would carry on as if nothing had happened. But these people who are not police or secret service but private mercinaries appear to be able to leave a trail of bodies and mayhem through London with impunity. Besides being an amoral killer Sam isn't the brightest knife in the box either is she? Minutes after he tells her he will get £100,000 if he kills her she sets Hassan free. Then after Aden suspiciously doesn't turn up for their date (but 5 gunmen do), admitting Aden Marsh isn't his real name, that he was the MI6 mole all along and worst of all he betrayed a fellow agent to protect his own skin, she still goes along with him Incidentally I don't see how giving Hassan up to Jack Turner helps Aden from being exposed as the MI6 mole. Am I missing something? Oh and Lewis waking up and not remembering that he and Sam hadn't actually done anything! It wasn't as if he was drunk or high on drugs. How was it for you? How was what? Bye the way did you have fun with the names? Financial wizard, Vince Cage (Vince Cable?) and Dr. Goebbels? come on. I am wondering if you went into this thinking "I wonder just how much unbelievable rubbish we can get away with?" People like John Le Carre, Robeert Ludlum and Frederick Forsyth who go to meticulous trouble to get their facts right and their plots plausible must wonder, why do we bother. If the public can swallow this they can swallow anything.

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    Comment number 95.

    Mr Spotnitz, I'd be interested in your opinion on "next time" clips being shown at the end of each episode.

    I would think that a writer would expect his audience to be sufficiently intrigued by the cliff-hanger he has crafted at the end of each episode to watch the next. Don't you find it insulting that someone in the BBC considers you so bad at your job that they have to tempt the audience with glimpses of what happens next?

    Who decides which programmes should show these spoilers, and why? Does the screenwriter have a say in this decision or is it, as it appears, down to a media-studies undergraduate on work experience in the promotions department determined to use every gimmick at his disposal?

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    Comment number 96.

    I've been enjoying Hunted so far. However, I was very disappointed with the Hindi/Urdu aspects of the show. Surely, you could have found an actor who spoke these languages convincingly enough for Fatima Zahir's aide, for instance. Further, while the dialogue was accurate enough, it was stilted and did not have the idiomatic quality you would expect of native speakers. It really did feel like the dialogue had been translated by Google translate and fed directly into the script. Only the girl Noura sounded like a native speaker... and she only had a couple of lines! If Hunted is going to continue (and I hope it does), it may be an idea to pay attention to details of this sort, especially if you're going to continue the globe-trotting.

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    Comment number 97.

    Hunted: once agin the BBC delivered a well written beginning and middle, well acted and then a terrible worthless ending. All faith in our house is lost in the BBC. We all feel what a waste of 8 hours and anticipation. We live in hope and that is why we prefer films now.

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    Comment number 98.

    I have watched every epiosode and looked fowards to closure...... but feel after tonight I have none. Was that you're intention? Did she die and her heaven was with her unborn child, or did she have a baby and survive like last time? It was not clear and I felt I still had too many unanswered questions over why she was hunted?? And why her own people decided to kill her, and why, If he wanted her dead somone set out to help her survive only to kill her??

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    Comment number 99.

    I lost the plot in this last episode. Whose was the hand with a missing bit of finger? Did Sam really die? Was baby Morton the baby she would have had if it had not been for the attack on her at the start?

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    Comment number 100.

    Sorry Frank but I didnt get the ending either.Is she dead or alive. Is it her baby.Who is the woman in the Land Rover. Why was her mother killed. I cannot figure it out at all.........unless there is a follow up series, and what happened to my marina estate. Did no one take it away for finger printing after a body being found at the side of it.....there has to be a follow up.At the moment I am lost.

 

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