If I could give this a 7.5 I would, but sans .5s I'll give it an 8 because when this series was good it was really good.
For those of us in the states whose main exposure to espionage thrillers was 24, this series is different from that in 2 main ways: 1) the series doesn't revolve around one main character and so main characters do die and 2) the production values/budgets are not as high as 24, especially in the first few seasons, so as sometimes is the case suspense is generated in MI-5 in ways that derive more from actual espionage and cat and mouse games than gun battles or high-tech surveillance.
At least in the first few seasons, which may be difficult for viewers accustomed to fast, perfectly synchronized and action packed 24 type entertainment. (Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of 24, especially the first 3 seasons, but after 9 seasons of one character having literally a 100 lives, one need something a bit more close to reality). Guns are used by the main characters only with absolute necessity, and I don't think they ever used anything above handguns. As the seasons progress though, this series incorporates more and more elements from a 24 template, from a more frenetic pace, prevalence of guns and especially bombs, explosions and big set-pieces, to stories that incorporate conspiracies within conspiracies. although thankfully the number of arcs dealing with corporations pulling the main strings were limited.
The greatest source of suspense in this series is the fact that save for the possible exception of Harry Pearce, no character is safe from exile or death (mostly the latter). Because this series, at least for the majority of the first 8 seasons, is procedural, this is even more important, for in any one shot episode featuring a villain who will not appear again, almost any character can be killed or forced to leave MI-5.
Not that this is a character-centered suspense series. Althoughh we get glimpses into the main characters personal lives for the first 8 seasons, for the most part the characters are seen only as in their importance as officers of MI-5. And the guest characters, mainly villains, are not portrayed as either instanly sympathetic or villainous, but mostly a combination of both. The lack of over-sentimentality is often seen in the officers' use of assets, ie. people who can serve the successful completion of their mission. They are often used and discarded by the MI-5 officers, often with minimal remorse.
Around seasons 5, 6 and 7, this series becomes an amalgalm of its first 3 seasons and a 24 type entertainment. It is here that this series is at its best, where big set-pieces and vast but compelling conspiracies combined with the fact that we know any character can die at any moment create cool and satisfying suspense.
2 things to note: 1) there is a heavy anti-American theme throughout the series that permeates even to the horrific and cringeworthy American accents employed by the English actors. (but to be fair, no one from the Russians to the own British government is safe from being villainous as well). 2) Seasons 9 and 10 are atrocious. Unnecessary and ridiculous backstories are created for the 2 most likable characters simply to generate shock value, and characters are made to do preposterous actions that make no sense either in their character arc or by logic. Despite this, this series overall is very entertaining, especially in its middle seasons, and is well worth a watch for anyone craving smart suspense that is not overly contrived.
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