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The Game: TV Series Review

The Game, is a BBC spy thriller series set in 1970s London and focussing on MI5’s attempts to prevent a devastating KGB operation. It stars Tom Hughes as Joe Lambe, and Brian Cox as ‘Daddy’, the head of MI5.

The Game: Logline

In 1970s London, a KGB defector warns MI5 of a Soviet plot to destabilise Britain. With MI5 infiltrated by a KGB agent, the service’s operatives must decide who they can trust, discover who is betraying them and somehow stop the plot.

The Game: Plot Summary

Warning: My reviews contain spoilers. Major spoilers are blacked out like this [blackout]secret[/blackout]. To view them, just select/highlight them.

Episode One

It’s 1972, in London. Joe Lambe, an MI5 agent debriefs a defecting KGB officer. The defector tells Joe of a Soviet plot called ‘Operation Glass’, which involves him activating sleeper agents. Joe persuades the defector to stay in place so MI5 can discover and neutralise the sleeper agents. When Joe turns the first sleeper agent, who agrees to help MI5, he discovers the involvement of a Soviet agent known as Odin. Joe has a vendetta against Odin because he killed a Russian woman he was in love with. [blackout]Odin, kills the first sleeper agent before Joe can discover anything more about Operation Glass.[/blackout]

Episode Two

The second sleeper agent works in the Ministry of Defence and has access to the Prime Minister’s orders for the British response to a Soviet nuclear attack. Joe tries to stop the sleeper agent before he can make contact with the KGB and pass the information to them. Joe blackmails the sleeper agent to lure Odin into a trap, [blackout]but instead the sleeper agent warns Odin. Frustrated, Joe kills the sleeper agent.[/blackout]

Episode Three

The third sleeper agent has information on US nuclear weapons and airbases in the UK. But when they pick her up, she turns out to be working for MI6. The head of MI6 warns MI5 to leave her alone.

Despite this warning, MI5 decide the woman is dangerous and continue to investigate her, eventually finding proof that she is a Soviet spy and arresting her,  [blackout]but in the end they realise the proof is fake, the KGB have set her up, and so they must know that MI5 are on to Operation Glass.[/blackout]

Episode Four

Knowing that the KGB is manipulating them, MI5 decide to investigate the defector more thoroughly to discover his true loyalties. It turns out he has a wife and daughter who he is trying to protect, and MI5 pressure them to get information on what Operation Glass really is. The defector contacts a friend in the Soviet embassy and asks for his help.

The defector’s friend [blackout]gets information pointing to a mole in MI5, but then Odin kills him and the defector. [/blackout]

Episode Five

MI5 identify another target, an ex-British Army soldier who is in contact with the IRA and KGB. The IRA supply the soldier with a bomb. MI5 sabotage the bomb’s detonator but then the soldier disappears with the bomb. Joe discovers how the KGB contact the mole in MI5 and sets a trap, [blackout]which catches MI5’s head of surveillance. The bomb goes off at Conservative Party Headquarters, but Joe can’t believe that a single bombing is the point of Operation Glass, and Odin contacts another traitor in MI5 – the surveillance expert’s wife.[/blackout]

Episode Six

The Soviets frame Joe as the mole. He goes on the run. Joe works out that [blackout]the surveillance expert’s wife is the real mole and confronts her. She tells Joe that his Russian lover is still alive and if he does anything to expose the Soviet plot they will kill his lover. Joe acquiesces. MI5 realise that the Soviet plan involves long-term moles in positions of power. The highest ranking of all the moles is the Home Secretary. Operation Glass is a plan to assassinate the Prime Minister, meaning their agent will become Prime Minister, and the KGB have set Joe up as the patsy. Joe goes to the spot where the assassination will take place and meets Odin. When the Prime Minister’s car arrives, the Prime Minister isn’t in it because MI5 managed to warn him. A sniper shoots Odin, but before he dies he tells Joe that his Russian lover was part of the plot and never really cared for him. [/blackout]

The Game: Analysis


The Game has a Playing Defence plot (see spy story ideas). Each episode involves MI5 attempting to discover the KGB’s plans and ends with a cliff-hanger as the viewer realises that the KGB is still one step ahead.

The Playing Defence Plot

The Protagonist:

  1. Is involved in an Inciting Incident caused by the Antagonist.
  2. Makes a plan to stop the Antagonist.
  3. Trains and gathers resources to stop the antagonist.
  4. Involves one or more Allies in their defence (Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies).
  5. Attempts to prevent the Antagonist’s attack, dealing with further Allies and Enemies as they meet them.
  6. Has their plan undercut by the Antagonist attacking differently.
  7. Narrowly fails to stop the Antagonist (or stops the Antagonist who then escapes)
  8. Has a final confrontation with the Antagonist and stops (or fails to stop) them carrying out their plan.

Looking back over The Game as a whole, the plot appears rather episodic. The overarching ‘Operation Glass’ plot is an interesting one, but is mostly set up in the first episode and mostly resolved in the last, where the revelations come thick, fast, and rather too conveniently. Some of the middle episodes are more ‘monster of the week’ as the defector reveals a new sleeper agent and MI5 scramble to stop a plot of little relevance to Operation Glass.

Also, considering what Operation Glass turns out to be, what role some of the sleeper agents played in the Soviet plan seems highly questionable. They seem at best to have been a wild goose chase for MI5 to keep them off the KGB’s back – the Soviets could have carried out Operation Glass with a substantially less convoluted plan and at much less risk of failure.

Characters and Setting

The characters in The Game are well-developed, and each has an episode that mostly focusses on them. Indeed the characters are so good that I could easily see a second series of The Game being commissioned – there’s plenty more room for character growth and some of their stories were not resolved. The seventies setting is also done well, particularly the set for the MI5 headquarters the aesthetic of which reminded me of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. 

Reality: Oleg Lyalin

The KGB defector who warns MI5 about Operation Glass in The Game is similar to Oleg Lyalin, a KGB officer who came to London in the 1960s, under cover as a Soviet Trade Delegation member. He defected to Britain in 1971 after having an affair with his secretary and being arrested for drunk driving.

Lyalin was a KGB sabotage expert involved in KGB plans similar to Operation Glass, and after he defected, he compromised the entire Soviet spy network in the UK, enabling the UK government to expel over a hundred Soviet spies with diplomatic cover.

The Game: My Rating

Spooks in the seventies, and not at all bad for that, with a great cast of characters and good drama. Well worth watching.

Want to Watch It?

Here’s the trailer:

If you are in the UK The Game is available on iPlayer here.

The Game is also available on Amazon US here and Amazon UK here.

Agree? Disagree?

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