Ben Whishaw and Edward Holcroft in London Spy.
Ed Miller—WTTV Limited/BBC
By Daniel D'Addario
January 20, 2016

Imagine: you’re coming off another rough night out and you bump into a jogger—a very good-looking one. After this classic meet-cute, you two end up dating—sure, he’s a little secretive but he’s so nice—until suddenly he disappears.

What’s a lovelorn boy to do? For Danny (Ben Whishaw), the protagonist of BBC America’s five-part miniseries London Spy, the answer is: investigate. The absent Alex (Edward Holcroft) turns out, of course, to have secrets; he’s the owner of a room of pain that may have been planted, in order to discredit him, by those who made Alex disappear.

London Spy, which aired in the U.K. last year and premieres stateside Jan. 21, is provocative and strange. It asks what it takes to be a player in the spy game, and what it means to be gay in a world that would rather one weren’t—Danny’s one ally is a former spook (a brilliant Jim Broadbent) whose career was ruined by homophobia. The survival instinct underpinning both is not so very different.

Danny is out of his depth at first: even at her most delusional, Homeland’s Carrie Mathison would frown on his credulity. But watching him learn to open locked doors is remarkable. He faces off against a subtle gorgon played by Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling—a tradecraft challenge in the show’s world, and an acting challenge in ours. Through a series of these tests, he finds strength that he had all along. The central fact of London Spy, a too-rare show centered around the inner life of a queer person, is that Danny’s been spying his whole life.

Thursdays at 10 p.m. E.T. on BBC America

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