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article imageReview: X Company 2.09: The spies are pushed to the brink Special

By A.R. Wilson     Mar 24, 2016 in Entertainment
In the penultimate episode of the season, the team attempts two daring missions as Allied forces land on the beaches of Dieppe.
"I'm storming the castle." - Aurora, "Butcher and Bolt"
If the tightly contained tension of last week's instant classic "Fatherland" felt like a can of soda that had been shaken and left to blow, "Butcher and Bolt" — X Company's penultimate episode of the season — is the explosion. Written by Denis McGrath and directed by Jamie Stone, it sends Aurora and Faber back to their respective sides and faces them off again against the backdrop of one of Canada's saddest military chapters, the disastrous Dieppe invasion. Though densely-packed with plot points, historical details, and character moments, it's kept buoyant by brisk pacing, smart dialogue, and ridiculously entertaining action sequences. As is the mandate for most second-to-last episodes, it answers a few key questions — such as the future of Aurora's leadership — but, thankfully, leaves plenty of fizz in the can for the April 6 finale.
Last week's train confrontation between Aurora and Faber deliciously underscored the fact that these two leaders are more alike than they'd care to admit. They both isolated themselves by attempting to protect the ones they love, they both made gut-wrenching personal sacrifices, and they're both top-notch strategists (though Aurora is bold, while Faber is calculating). This insight has a different impact on each character as they separate. Aurora, struggling so much with her role as a team leader this season, is invigorated by her face-off with Faber. Not only did she use past intelligence to come out of the situation alive, she came away smelling blood, thinking she can turn Faber into an Allied spy. Faber, on the other hand, is rattled, knowing he and Sabine could already be tried as spies and realizing that Aurora is even more of a threat than he gave her credit for. These two are in each other's heads and watching the aftermath of their encounter play out over the episode is extremely satisfying, and, again, something that never would have happened if X Company hadn't serialized its storytelling.
While Aurora is riding high as she returns to the team, she is instantly confronted with the fractured mess she left behind. Harry is still piss and vinegar, insisting that Aurora's absence during the German raid on the training camp and the near-bombing of Hydra means she is an unfit leader. Connor Price is great here, giving layers to Harry's demand that Alfred take over by putting fire in his eyes but a nervous swallow in his throat. For all he's been through, Harry is still a kid in desperate need of guidance and stability. That he thinks that could come from Alfred is another sign of the tremendous character growth the show has offered over the last two seasons. Alfred was the liability in Season 1, often overwhelmed by his synesthesia. But he, too, was changed by his encounter with Faber, learning that his condition was more gift than curse. Over the course of the season, he's developed a quiet strength that extends his value as a team member well beyond his remarkable memory. While everyone else has been crumbling, he's been steady. When the team learns he might be leaving (for Bletchley Park, no less), there's a real sense of loss, and Jack Laskey's subtle season-long performance lets the moment sneak up on you. Ultimately, with Alfred's pushing, Aurora's explanation of what happened with René, and the Dieppe invasion looming, the team sets aside its differences and gets down to its dual mission to steal intelligence on Freya, the German early-warning radar system, and the secrets of the Enigma machine.
Which brings us to Faber, who, upon his return to Paris, is hauled off to headquarters for what he is sure is a firing squad. The slow-mo sequence of Faber approaching Oster's door, brushing his fingers over his wedding ring and then his gun, is masterful, as is the unexpected war room chaos that awaits him on the other side. The Dieppe invasion is a nightmare for Oster (the shot of a frazzled Pierre Kiwitt with messy hair is fantastic), but it's a reprieve for Faber. Oster needs him to get out of this mess, and it gives him a chance to shine again as he anticipates the moves of the spy team. But even as he successfully pulls back the Enigma machine and overrides Aurora's bold call to divert the tank trapping the team, Faber looks a bit spooked, like he's seen into Aurora's mind and fears what the team is capable of. After all, he thought he had her on the train and she skillfully turned the tables on him.
Courtesy of CBC Television
That's something to keep in mind as things look bleak for the team at the end. The Dieppe invasion forces are in retreat, Conrad and George are dead, Miri has apparently been captured, and the team is about to embark on what appears to be a suicide mission on a Freya outpost. But Aurora is leading them, finally finding confidence by acknowledging her self-doubt. There is an incredible moment where she runs across a muddy field and hoists herself onto a wounded tank to finish off its crew. The scene works not only as a jaw-dropping action sequence, but as an encapsulation of her character: smart, impulsive, heart-on-her-sleeve. Brave. She tops that tank like she did Faber, and instead of feeling forced or flashy, it feels completely organic to her arc this season. As the team huddles behind cover assessing their chances of taking the outpost, Aurora gives them an out, saying they don't have to follow her on a hopeless mission. But any questions of loyalty were settled by the sight of Aurora atop that fiery tank.
"Ready when you are," says Tom.
"Sergeant," finishes Neil.
X-tra observations
Miri sniping German solidiers from a church tower to protect Alfred was badass. But who captured her?
Had to laugh at the lines "No one believes the BBC" and "Don't shoot, I'm Canadian!"
Alfora shippers get some major feels in this episode, none bigger than Alfred finally saying Aurora's name out loud. Too bad it's seconds before a suicide mission.
"Fifty percent die in the first six weeks, how the hell have we stayed alive this long?" Aurora asks. Because the Germans continue to have terrible aim.
But that doesn't mean I'm not worried about the team taking a loss. Neil and Tom share a nice moment as Tom writes a letter to Krystina — which echoes the Season 1 finale scene where they wrote the "Marianne" letter — and thanks Neil for saving him after he was shot. Goodbye letters and thank yous are never good for a TV character's health.
The mere thought of Faber spying for the Allies in a (still hypothetical) Season 3 fills me with gleeful anticipation. The possibilities are endless, but, in my mind, they all include more interaction between Aurora and Sabine. Yes, please.
The great thing about a show like X Company is that it plants seeds of interest in viewers' minds, gently encouraging them to look up more information on important events. According to Denis McGrath, the team's mission in this episode is partially based on the Dieppe experiences of RAF Flight Sgt. Jack Nissenthall, whose raid on a German radar station provided the Allies with important intelligence. Read more here. Likewise, the lost units Sinclair and Mayhew list off as casualties are real. Read more here.
'X Company' airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC
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