Spy/Master

Spy/Master

This Romanian Cold War thriller is stylish, moody, and genuinely gripping

7.3

TV Show

Hungary, Romania
English, German, Romanian
Action & Adventure, Drama, History, Thriller
2023
CHRISTOPHER SMITH
Aidan McArdle, Alec Secareanu, Ana Ularu
50 min

TLDR

Eat your heart out James Bond, there’s a new heartbreaker in the spy thriller cannon!

What it's about

In Cold War Europe, a top general in Communist Romania doubles as a spy for the KGB in Russia; to protect his cover, he decides to defect to the USA with the help of a CIA agent.

The take

Stylishly shot and perfectly paced, Spy/Master is the kind of political thriller that will have you pressing play on the next episode as soon as possible. It starts in media res, losing no time in backgrounders (the artful opening credits efficiently fills you in on Romania’s role in the Cold War) as we follow Victor Godeanu (Alec Secareanu) simultaneously serve the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, work with the KGB behind his back, and cooperate with the CIA behind their backs. There is a lot going on, but by keeping the focus on Godeanu, the series remains gripping through and through. I just wish that, at least in the first three episodes screened for review, the show delved deeper into Godeanu’s motivations for double-crossing and defecting. I get that it’s aiming for a brooding anti-hero in Godeanu, but there don’t seem to be enough heroic traits to justify that title. The show hints that he had a poor upbringing, leading him to learn how “game the system” at a young age: this is a potentially rich backstory that hopefully gets explored more in the future.

What stands out

Secareanu (God's Own Country, Ammonite) is a rising international star who continues to impress in Spy/Master. Here, he’s self-possessed and debonair, never allowing the sometimes-cartoonish twists to break his ice-cold demeanor. Godeanu switches languages, breaks into action, commands negotiations, and woos women with ease, but Secareanu never forgets to imbue his role with the sort of dread, guilt, and fear that humanizes men like Godeanu. The characterization is admittedly lacking, but Secareanu is still captivating to watch as he makes wonderful do with what he has.

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