Well, that was some strenuous exercise for the brain, wasn’t it? The second episode of the BBC’s The Little Drummer Girl hopped through time and space at will, in order to set up Charlie’s entrance into the Israeli plan to capture an elusive Palestinian bomber, Khalil. Listen: we’re not all at our sharpest of a Sunday evening, brains clouded by a stomach full of Yorkshire puddings. So if the adaptation of John le Carré’s twisty spy thriller lost you a little, don’t panic: here’s a recap of what happens in The Little Drummer Girl, episode two.
Let’s get into it: the episode begins with Martin Kurtz (Michael Shannon) in Tel Aviv, listening to tapes from a Solidarity Against Imperialism forum held in Dorset. It’s these tapes Gadi Becker (Alexander Skarsgård) will use throughout the episode to rehearse his role as Michel; it’s also the forum Charlie attended, we learn later in the episode, and the supposed meeting place of Charlie and Michel in their fictional romance. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
We see Kurtz attempting to persuade Becker out of retirement (he’s studying architecture now!) and back into the field, the tape of Charlie’s staged “audition” from the first episode playing in the background. Becker has reservations — a previous operation, it would seem, resulted in a girl’s death. “We will do it right this time,” Kurtz assures him. And, as we know from the first episode, his assurances were successful; this scene presumably takes place before Becker attends Charlie’s play, and subsequently meets her in Naxos.
Becker brings Charlie to a luxurious villa in which Kurtz, Shimon (Michael Moshonov), Rachel (Simona Brown), and Rose (Kate Sumpter) are waiting. “Who are we?” Kurtz tells a mystified Charlie. “We are friends. Non-sectarian, non-aligned friends, deeply concerned — like you — with the many wrong directions the world is taking. Yes, friends who must do the unavoidable from time to time, but friends nonetheless.” That’s…not really an answer, Kurtz?
Kurtz studies an entire briefcase of glasses, Shimon seemingly standing by to prevent a fashion disaster, before selecting the pair he’ll sport to wear down Charlie. “We are mounting a production. There will be no cut, no curtain — constant improvisation,” he tells her. “Well, shit,” Charlie retorts. “I’ve been kidnapped by an experimental theatre company.”
In Munich’s Olympic Village, meanwhile, Israeli agents are holding Michel (Amir Khoury), a suspected perpetrator of last episode’s bombing in Germany, in a padded cell. One agent (Claire Holman), plays a faux-sympathetic role: she offers him an orange (laced with some sort of narcotic), calls him by his real name, Salim, and claims to have his best interests at heart. The combination of captivity, interrogation, and secretly administered drugs begins to break Salim, and he reveals that he typically contacts his sister, Fatmeh, every three days.
To Kurtz and the other agents, Charlie spins a devastating tale of a childhood destroyed by her father’s criminal activities. She talks of bailiffs ransacking their home, her mum applying for benefits. “That sort of thing didn’t happen to people like us,” she says. Charlie! You’re making it extremely difficult to have sympathy for you! Her father died in prison, she says, while she waited at a bus shelter, drenched by the July rain.
The agents, however, slowly begin to punctuate Charlie’s persona, from her childhood woes to her political beliefs. “I don’t want the world wiped out in some dick-swinging contest between some fascist demagogue —” she begins, before Kurtz cuts her off with a disinterested “We’ve heard all your rehearsed quotations.” Shimon points out the potential legal ramifications of a forum she repeatedly attended, which offered weapons training; Charlie’s staunchly held beliefs begin to look a little hollow, as she declares in panic, “I don’t have a stated position!”
Then, the finale: Becker steps in to tell her the agents know her childhood story is a lie: that she was expelled from school for sleeping with a local boy, that she loved her father, who died of a stroke, and that she created her elaborate backstory to distinguish herself from her “ordinary, suburban reality.” Charlie slaps Becker and collapses, weeping, to the floor. “You did great, kid,” Kurtz tells her. “You got the part.”
Becker explains that she’ll be posing as Michel’s girlfriend, while Becker will play Michel himself. Rachel rips some lingerie (but it looks so expensive!) and strews it across the bed, then carefully organises some grape seeds on a plate, setting the stage for their performance. “This is the secret world, Charlie,” says Becker. “Are you in or out?” She’s in, she decides — though with limited information available to her — and the pair begin a trip across Europe, leaving a very conspicuous paper trail of “Michel” and Charlie’s presence.
In Munich, Salim is close to telling the agents what they want to hear: where he intended to take the red Mercedes. A forged letter purportedly from his sister, Fatmeh, plus a doctored photo of his brother, Khalil — who the agents claim to have captured — ultimately does the trick. Salim tells Shimon (who, like Kurtz, puts on his interrogation glasses) that the Mercedes was headed for Austria: specifically, the Salzburg train station. Cut to a slightly perplexing scene, in which the agents line up Salim’s movements across Europe with Charlie’s — while they each, inexplicably, enjoy a delicious ice lolly.
Becker offers Charlie the keys to a familiar red Mercedes, which she gleefully accepts, only for the agent to incrementally reveal his plans for Charlie and the car. The duo meet Rachel and Rose, and Charlie is instructed to switch into an identical car for the rest of her journey to the Salzburg train station. “There’s just papers in there, love — nothing sinister,” Rachel reassures her. But Becker, apparently, has no time for sugar-coating. “It’s Russian semtex, divided into bricks,” he tells Charlie, over Rose’s objections. “Enough for a dozen bombs.”
Throughout the episode, Charlie demonstrates an increasing inability to distinguish between Becker, the agent, and Michel, his character who’s deeply in love with her. And it looks like it’s this conflation that will lead her into danger, as she’s beguiled by Becker-as-Michel’s speech. “I ask you to do this, Charlie — for me, for love, for our great revolution,” he says. “To prove that you are as special as I believe.”
“This is your debut in the theatre of the real.”