Gripping until the very end, Hunted starring Melissa George is a fast-paced spy drama that will leave you hanging on tenterhooks at the conclusion of each episode. With impeccable acting, particularly from George, for much of the eight episode series it is easy to forget that it's only a TV show.
Hunted takes its name from a terrible pun, as it centres around a spy named Sam Hunter, who is trying to determine who ordered an attempt on her life and why. She knows the only way she will find out is by returning to Byzantium, her former employer, and finding out who on the team betrayed her.
While the viewer knows more than any of the characters, there are plenty of mysteries that emerge over the course of the series. Some are resolved and others remain puzzling while some questions that nobody asked are answered.
Hunted is not one for the kids, with a liberal dose of violence and mainly female nudity. However, the themes running through the show are not particularly highbrow. Questions of trust and identity are central to the plot, as can be expected in a spy drama.
What struck me as different about Hunted was the way in which female characters, despite being in the minority, were constructed to be strong, independent, snarky and not overly emotional. Sam, the most capable spy on Byzantine's payroll, kicked some serious butt in every episode. While she was able to make rational decisions not ruled by her emotions, she was not presented as a brittle caricature.
Sam dies twice in the first episode, and that's only the start. However, killing off the main character in the first five minutes is hardly the way to begin a series, so thankfully she does not really die in either instance.
Opening in an exotic location, the first episode delineates the plot of the entire show. Sam survives an attempt on her life in Tangier although suffers a miscarriage in the process. With no idea who wants her dead, she deduces that the only way to find out is to put herself firmly in harm's way. She returns to private spy company Byzantium, where she is able to trust nobody, least not her colleague and former lover Aiden.
While at Byzantium, Sam is occupied by being assigned to go undercover at the mansion of a rich Cockney thug Jack Turner to derail his business plan to buy the Khyber Dam in Pakistan. Little changes for the rest of the series- while more mysteries are unravelled and introduced in each episode, the main settings have all been introduced.
Episode two- LB
Twist after twist ensued in the fast-paced second episode. One of Sam's colleagues, Hasan, is captured by the Turner household and subjected to torture; the spy team makes the call to kill the captured spy before he is tortured to death. Sam is assigned this task, but he tells her that if she kills him, she will never know the information he has about who tried to kill her.
While Hasan is instrumental to the plot, this episode is never really about him. Rather it uses him as a fulcrum for the more psychological elements of the show. Hasan's fate makes it clear that there is a mole on the Byzantine team, to whom not even the viewer is privy. Trust figures heavily; as does the nature of abusive relationships as exemplified by Jack Turner and his adult son.
What is Hourglass?" seems to be the question on everyone's lips by the third episode, in which Sam endeavours to find out what this mysterious organisation is and how they're connected to the attempt on her life. Hourglass is rife with symbolism- and the name ties in nicely with the hourglass images in the title sequence. The episode has an underlying theme of reality. Real psychological harms have been inflicted by a staged event. It becomes difficult to separate Sam's dual identities and determine how much of her is an act.
The mole on the team is revealed, but this mystery is replaced by an even bigger one as Sam investigates Hourglass.
Episode four- Kismet
More is revealed about Turner's business misadventures in the fourth episode, in which Sam discovers the shocking way in which he is rorting the stock market. With a human cost, it is not surprising that Turner's business is dodgy as he has been presented as the quintessential villain throughout the show. Pure evil, he manipulates those around him and needs to make money at all costs. Despite it being halfway through the series, Turner's motive is still obscured from the viewer at this stage.
Kismet is possibly the most gruesome episode of the series, with a blood motif and plenty of violence. Some of the less glamorous aspects of being a spy are shown in this episode, with Sam doing some of her spying by bicycle.
The episode ends dramatically with an explosion and the gratuitously disgusting image of a needle to the eyeball.
Episode five- Ambassadors
Nobody can be trusted in Ambassadors. A man professing to be an ally to Sam turns out to be an impostor- but is he still on her side? While Sam doesn't know, she is able to glean some information of him which leads her closer to finding out who wants her dead. She is lead to a secluded location which figures prominently in her flashbacks, which are as consistent and confusing as ever.
Using cheesy symbolism such as birds and a briefcase, Ambassadors does not solve much of the mystery but instead creates more confusion.
Polyhedrus takes the viewer away from London and into Pakistan, where a fight scene culminating in murder breaks out within the first few minutes. It's a case of kill first, explain later as the viewer has no idea why they're in Pakistan. It is soon revealed that a Pakistani presidential candidate may be murdered for her role in getting in the way of Turner's plan to purchase the Khyber Dam. The episode is a race to save her, only for Byzantine to discover that their operation is faced with bigger problems.
Episode seven- Khyber
The mysteries underpinning Turner's dodgy business practises are mostly explained and tied up in the second last episode of the series. Barring Sam's intense flashbacks, however, not many developments are made in resolving her personal mission to find out why she was nearly killed.
More character development ensues in Khyber, possibly the slowest-paced episode of the series. The personal lives and problems of Sam's colleagues are explored. It is a pity their characters only enjoy this well-roundedness so close to the conclusion of the series.
Episode eight- Snow Maiden
Sam is the master of her own fate in Snow Maiden, where she is faced with some tough decisions and only a split-second to make them. Without giving too much away, the ending was unexpected and a little weird. Up until then the show had been almost believable despite the dramatic elements, however the ending was a jolting reminder that it's fiction. At least the ending wasn't a cliché, as much as that might have been more satisfying.
The final episode in the series seemed more constructed than the rest of the show. Rather than just telling a story, it reminded the viewer that it's a construction through its strong use of allegory and symbolism.
Overall Hunted is an enjoyable series with strong characters and an addictive storyline at its heart. While it is sometimes confusing and rife with literary devices to remind you it's fiction, it is definitely worth a watch when you need to chill out with some easy entertainment.