The world of espionage has been a fascinating one to delve into for decades. We love James Bond’s suave self-assured manner (even if his constant announcement of his real name is counter-intuitive to actual spying), or to hear tales of undercover nefarious behaviour. Netflix’s new series, Spycraft, digs deep into the actual mechanics of spying where truth is often stranger than fiction.
Each episode focuses on a different aspect of this shady world to deep dive into. Surveillance, code-breaking, sexual manipulation (somewhat cringingly referred to as ‘sexpionage’), and poison are just a choice selection. A blend of historical context and modern usage is told through interviews with mostly experts (or the occasional protagonist of their own anecdote) as illustrated with re-enactments or archive footage.
Netflix documentaries come in all flavours and Spycraft is most definitely at the ‘high information – low frills’ side of the scale. The inherently interesting subject and fascinating real-life examples are clearly highly detailed and well researched. Spycraft knows this and so eschews any embellishing high-energy presentation techniques, but this does mean that if you are watching the show late into the evening then the Sandman may pummel you with a pillow until you jog awake when the credits roll.
One issue is that for several episodes there is only a limited number of talking heads. A variance of voices relaying the information or having a mixture of different perspectives is ideal to keep the bounce of a series going but Spycraft’s habit of picking one or two men to do the talking means that the monotonous drone can make even the most clandestine story blur behind slowly closing eyes.
If you have a hot steaming drink beside you and enough energy to power through a presentation that isn’t aiming for wham bam kerpow then Spycraft is chock full of amazing stories. The poison episode is terrifying; there are so many ingenious devices that have been used to assassinate people that it’s a wonder anyone who upsets some governments survive at all.
Similarly the sex episode details that there is much more to this kinky craft than the classic honeytrap, such as a band of ‘Romeos’ tasked with seducing predominately female governmental secretaries and manipulating them into smuggling out secrets.
Spycraft is best watched in single chunks so you can enjoy shaking your head in disbelief at the real-life tales therein. It is hampered by a soporific audio track and limited selection of contributors, but then who’s to say that there isn’t some agent stealing away your secrets whilst you doze off on the sofa? Stranger things have happened, and Spycraft will covertly push a brown envelope stuffed with examples across a park bench at you to prove it.
Words by Michael Record