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These Days, Spies Are in Good Company

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader


When the television mini-series The Company originally aired earlier this summer on TNT, I almost didn't watch. I guess I figured that this series would be another watered-down program TNT is famous for – be it like the million episodes and counting Law and Order franchise or the recent hit The Closer.

I had only really intended on watching the first hour of The Company to kill time as I waited for something else to come on later that night. As I watched the first episode, though, I found myself so drawn in to the plot that I ended up watching the entire episode, missing what I had originally wanted to see later that night. I liked what I saw so much that I Tivo'd a later airing and watched it again the very next day. Right from the start I was hooked and eagerly awaited the next two episodes of The Company with great delight.

The series The Company follows the character Jack McCauliffe (Chris O'Donnell), a Yale graduate who finds himself recruited by, and eventually becoming an agent for, the CIA beginning in the early 1950s. McCauliffe is trained by the legendary Harvey "The Sorcerer" Torriti (the role Alfred Molina was born to play) and finds himself "manning the gates" against the Communists in the deadly spy game of a Cold War Europe.

McCauliffe has one heck of a career, operating out of places like a WWII wrecked East and West Germany where there are contingency plans for what happens when (note that I didn't say "if") war between the Americans and the Soviet Union breaks out to a freedom starved anti-Communist Hungarian Revolution to the disastrous and bloody Bay of Pigs Invasion right up to the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

McCauliffe is a sort of idealist, not really interesting in combating the Soviets as much as he wants to destroy Communism wherever it might rear its red head. Polar opposite to McCauliffe is KGB agent Yegeny (Rory Cochrane) who operates out of the US and transports secrets back to "Mother Russia." Yegeny has nothing against the American people yet he nonetheless hates Capitalism and everything that it stands for.

Yegeny has a massive advantage over Jack in their spy game as the Communists have an undercover mole operating deep within the CIA who’s been passing secrets to the Soviet Union for decades. CIA operation after operation goes bust while the KGB seems to be able to operate globally with impunity via the one-way flow of secrets via the CIA mole. And this is where the overall story backbone to The Company comes from; who is the mole and who can be trusted when nearly anyone in the organization could be passing information to the other side?

The idea of rooting out moles within the confines of the intelligence community is nothing new. The best television series to tackle this theme to date was the UK mini-series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979). As with The Company, in Tinker, Tailor retired agent George Smiley (Alec Guinness) is brought back into the fold in order to track down a mole in "The Circus" or an arm of the British Intelligence. Tinker, Tailor differs from The Company in that the main story here is about the hunt for the mole whereas The Company is more focused on McCauliffe fighting the Cold War in exotic locals with the hunt for the mole mostly confined to the final episode of the mini-series.

Both The Company and Tinker, Tailor were based in part on the case of real-life spy Harold "Kim" Philby who spied for the Soviet Union in from the 1940s to the 1960s, evaded capture and fled to Russia where he lived out the rest of his life in exile as a traitor. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the follow-up mini-series Smiley's People are currently available on DVD. The Company is due out on DVD October 23. E-mail me at words@dangerousuniverse.com.

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