Sunday, 16 September 2018

Mossad 101

A short while back I recommended a Spanish TV show, Money Heist, to all Night's Black Agents players and Directors. I have something else for you: Mossad 101, an Israeli sypcraft action drama that's been on Netflix since October 2016 and has had a second series release.

The plot features a disparate group of would-be spies who have volunteered for Mossad training, and are put though a grueling series of tests to see whether they have what it takes. Their supervisor, Yona Harari, is a former field agent whose last mission went very bloodily wrong, and in the process two and a half million Euro went missing. The trainees include the wife of the agent who died on that mission, and she suspects Yona knows a lot more than he's telling about that cock-up, and the missing money.

The idea's intriguing, but what really makes it work - and I don't think the producers realized this while they were making it - is a Satanic mix of reality television and spycraft. Because the trainees are being eliminated at a fairly rapid rate, the show has all the evil appeal of an Apprentice or Big Brother with the added draw of slick espionage techniques that border on stage magic. The number of times I was convinced that I had seen X, when it was actually Y with a dash of Z … Penn and Teller would be fooled.

It helps enormously that the actors are all enthusiastic and good at their jobs. There's a lot of people on stage in the first half-dozen episodes, and it would have killed the series stone dead if any of them had been boring. As it is, you'll have a favorite within the first ten minutes of episode one, and then have your heart broken when they get booted.

Which makes the second season an odd duck, because it ditches the reality television idea that made the first season so entertaining. The second season revolves around that same botched operation and the missing millions, but now there are more dead agents, training doesn't seem to be a priority any more, and there are three new characters, taken from one episode in the first season, who basically are the trainees except they're not Mossad, they're criminals. It's not a bad plot; it's very engaging, but it feels as if the writing team either lost its way or was told 'you have to write a traditional spy thriller. No, I don't care. Traditional. With terrorists, drugs, money laundering, the whole bit. Training spies? That's so last season.'

I reiterate: the second season isn't bad. It obviously had more money spent on it, for a start. From a player and Director's POV it's very Dusty, guns kill, and there are plenty of ideas to steal for your campaign or agent. Plus, it's really great to see something set in Kiev rather than the usual suspects, and again, Directors, if you want a city to use in your campaign, here you are. However ditching the central idea that made the first series so much fun to watch feels like a mistake.

It reminded me, oddly enough, of Fauda, another Israeli spy drama that I tried to watch but stopped after the first episode. Fauda's slick and engaging, but I didn't care about any of the characters and didn't know enough about them to want to learn more. That, and it felt like a sausage factory, with female characters getting less than 1% of screen time, and always in a support role. That just killed the show for me. I might go back to it - Fauda's well-executed - but if I do it will be in spite of its flaws, not because I'm intrigued.

Last time I did this I wrote up an achievement, and I'm going to do the same this time.

Yona and Abi. Using only Interpersonal skills like Flattery or similar, plant a surveillance device disguised as jewelry on a person. Just slipping it into their pocket without them seeing doesn't count; they have to see, but not suspect.


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