Joker Game‘s inherent weakness in characterization becomes apparent in this particular episode, which returns its focus on a specific spy as its central figure in the narrative. The fact that this was about a spy’s worst nightmare — getting caught by the enemy — means it is a very weighty theme that often implies a certain amount of investment in the captured party. In the case of this show, however, that weight could not be felt no thanks to the anonymity of our spy-of-the-week. I can’t even remember his name, and the only thing that I was thinking about when he got caught was “okay, so he’s gonna find a way to escape.”
So much of the episode felt like events happening in succession as a matter of inevitability. Of course he needs to escape. He’s a D-Agency spy. Unfortunately, the mere fact that I had no background on the spy as a character meant that there wasn’t much to infer from his actions whenever he was confronted by conflict. And boy, were there quite a number of over-the-top conflicts in this episode. For one, we were introduced to perhaps one of the most ostentatiously designed “enemy spies” yet — Lieutenant Colonel Howard Marks — whose design is just so obnoxiously overdone it almost runs as a sort of meta joke to how super villains are just downright ugly. But anyway, this alien-looking master spy even goes to the point of bringing out some old school truth serum (which was actually quite common during this era of espionage).
But despite all of these supposed tension-adding variables, none of it seemed to be of any consequence. Much of the time was spent placing all sorts of insurmountable odds against the spy, including a deliberately doctored floor plan that lead the spy to a dead end during his escape. That still didn’t change the fact that I knew he’d find a way to escape. I just needed to see how it happens. And when it did happen, it seemed a little bit contrived — going so far as having a “sleeper spy” miraculously help him out, and the signal for it was some cryptic symbol written in chalk on a random door in enemy territory. I honestly think this sort of setup would’ve passed if only we were emotionally invested in the captured spy. That alone would’ve spelled the difference between “Yes! He made it out! Way to go, man!” and “Oh wow, talk about lucky. I wonder if any of that is even possible.”
And yes, Joker Game episode 5 fell into the latter this week.
It’s a shame. For one, the interrogation sequence was flawlessly directed. The use of claustrophobic shots zoomed in on the insecurities of the captured spy. Small gestures, wayward glances, and pained expressions added tension to the established atmosphere, and the effective use of light flares and slightly bokeh’ed shots gave a palpable sense of heat under the blinding light of an interrogation lamp. The music also brilliantly accompanied the sequences, and the echoing sound effects of clasping door locks and clanging shackles created depth in the environment. Even the disjointed fade in and out of the scenes gave the impression of a loss of time, homing in on the relentlessness of the interrogation to the point that even sound was robbed from the scene, and all that was left was soundless pounding and mouth wailing. It really, really was just a beautifully directed scene.
But for what the episode was trying to accomplish, its grand efforts were rewarded with lukewarm results. This certainly was no “Great Escape”, and it probably could have been served better if only we got to know our escapee a bit more.
Episode grade: C+