'Deep State' review: 'Old Habits' indeed die hard as episode 1 feels stale and predictable

'Deep State' gives you the feeling that you've seen it all before, but the sense of mystery it maintains means there's hope yet

                            'Deep State' review: 'Old Habits' indeed die hard as episode 1 feels stale and predictable
(Source: IMDb)

'Deep State,' Fox Networks Group's first-ever commissioned script outside the United States, finally aired in US shores on Epix this past Sunday.

The espionage thriller series stars Mark Strong as Max Easton, a former field agent for British Intelligence Service MI6 who had shunned his old life to start a family in France, but finds himself pulled back into the muck after unseen forces conspire to trick him into 'one last mission.'

Recap of Episode 1: 'Old Habits'

The pilot left us with a cliffhanger (Source: IMDb)

'Old Habits' opens with Easton, now 10 years removed from his life as an MI6 Agent, cooking pancakes for his two daughters at an idyllic home in the outer reaches of France.

Always wearing a stern expression on his face, Easton seems a little uneasy, if not disillusioned with his current life, as if he knows it'll all get taken away from him at the snap of a finger and so it does, as his former boss George White (Alistair Petrie) decides he needs Easton for one last job, threatening Easton's family to ensure he complies to orders. 

In Tehran, a story unfolds in parallel. Agents on the ground are tasked with eliminating prominent government scientists after it's revealed that they were developing their nuclear weapons program in secret, ignoring sanctions and warnings from world powers. Amongst these are Alexander Said (Zubin Varla), supposed protege, Leyla Toumi (Karima McAdams), and Harry Clarke (Joe Dempsie), who we come to learn later in the episode is also Easton's son.

But, they soon realize they've been compromised by an asset, with headquarters oddly quiet and tight-lipped about the supposed betrayal. Little do they know, they've had targets painted on their back at the behest of powers that they can neither see nor comprehend.

Easton is informed that Harry was killed by Said and that his mission will be to eliminate these 'rogue agents' in Tehran because they were responsible for a sensitive leak and compromising the operation; and of course, as revenge for his son's death.

However, when he finally does make his way to them after leveraging his previous contacts and effective persuasion methods, he realizes there's more to this mission than meets the eye. If Harry is alive, why was he told he had been shot and killed? What is the true reason behind the sudden revival of his MI6 career? And most importantly, why him?

Review of Episode 1:

Mark Strong's acting was one of the highlights of the show (Source: IMDb)

'Deep State' has been a kind of a buzzword used primarily by the alt-right and nationalist forces to describe these influential, shadowy figures within a governmental body who are responsible for all the big decisions and to whom politicians are nothing but mere puppets. It reached a point where this proverbial 'Deep State' were responsible for everything, be it terrorist attacks, school shootings, recessions, or even the most recent government shutdown.

The term has become stale and overused, almost a parody of itself. In a similar vein, 'Deep State' promises to stray from the overused tropes that have become a common theme in espionage series but fails to deliver.

How many different iterations of Max Easton's character have we seen in the past? The ruthless, coldblooded killer who left his previous life behind to start a family only to be told that his work isn't over it is practically the basis of every other such show on television.

Easton's character and the family arc is equally generic. His wife, like every other in the genre, inexplicably has no clue what her husband's past life was like and decides to dig into a hoard of his belongings — which, of course, he has left lying around in plain sight — and finds a videotape. As expected, in this footage, he confesses regretting about killing an innocent person but insists he only did so because he was the 'good employee' following orders. It's all been done hundreds of times before.

Petrie as the shady boss who seems to have motives on his own and conspires to have his agents killed as a part of a grand scheme is something we have seen on numerous occasions as well. It's an altogether uninspiring and unexciting plot but with undoubted potential, if the cliffhanger at the episode's end is any indication of how the rest of the season unspools.

There are positives from what turned out to be a mixed pilot. For one, Strong's acting was exemplary. The initial impression one gets is that he's cold and expressionless, which is questionable when he's trying to bond with his family. But in a way, it had its own charm and was to be expected of someone who has been hardened by decades in an unforgiving field.

Each of the supporting cast put in commendable performances of their own, and the cinematography was equally impeccable.

The acute attention to detail that is prevalent throughout the episode is refreshing to see as well, with the showrunners not relying too heavily on just the blood-pumping action sequences and explosions to provide audiences their fix.  

'Old Habits' had numerous plots unfolding within one another, which would explain why so much of it felt a bit vague and confusing. There's nothing worse than revealing all the cards in your hand at the very beginning, and in keeping a sense of mystery about what exactly is happening in the show, at least a modicum of unpredictability still remains.