TV Review: Alex Rider (Season 2)

This isn’t my first time talking about the Alex Rider TV series, and you can check out my thoughts on season 1 by clicking here. But for the uninitiated Alex Rider is a British spy thriller series, which aired on Amazon Prime Video, and is based on the book series of the same name by prominent British author, Anthony Horowitz. I was actually lucky enough to interview him a few years ago while in college and you can check that out here

The series was adapted for television by Guy Burt, an English author and screenwriter, whose debut novel ‘After the Hole’ won a Betty Trask Award. 

It stars Otto Farrant (noted for his roles in Clash of the Titans, The White Queen and War & Peace) as Alex Rider, Brenock O’Connor (noted for his roles in Game of Thrones, Dickensian and Living the Dream) as Tom Harris, Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo (noted for her roles in Christopher Robin and Doctor Who) as Jack Starbright, Thomas Levin (noted for his roles in Smother, Strike Back and Sthlm Rekviem) as Yassen Gregorovitch, Stephen Dillane (noted for his roles in The Hours, Game of Thrones and John Adams) as Alan Blunt, Vicky McClure (noted for her roles in Line of Duty, This is England and Broadchurch) as Mrs Jones, Marli Siu (noted for her roles in Dixi) as Kyra Vashenko-Chao, Rakie Ayola (noted for her roles in Black Mirror, Noughts + Crosses, Doctor Who, Silent Witness and EastEnders) as Jo Bryne, Gwyneth Keyworth (noted for her roles in Misfits, Wasted and The Great Outdoors) as Evelyn, Charithra Chandran (noted for her role in Bridgerton) as Sabina Pleasance and Toby Stephens (noted as his roles in Die Another Day, Jane Eyre and Black Sails) as Damian Cray.

Okay, now that I’ve got that out of the way let’s move on. Firstly, I’ve talked quite a bit about Alex Rider lately. I also recently discussed the movie adaptation of the first book in the Alex Rider series, which predated this TV series by several years. You can check that out here if you are interested, but I was so excited that the first season of Alex Rider avoided the pitfalls of the movie enough to get a second season in the first place. 

So here’s a fun little tidbit. I loved Point Blanc, the second book in the Alex Rider series, it was by far my favourite of all of the books, and because Stormbreaker, the first book in the series, was already made into a movie, as I mentioned above. They chose to make the plot of season 1 of the TV series follow the plot of the second book. And while I liked all of the Alex Rider books, Eagle Strike, was probably my least favourite. I could never really place why, because objectively it was really interesting but nonetheless it was not my personal favourite. And yet, despite loving Point Blanc, and liking Eagle Strike considerably less. I actually found myself liking the second season of the TV series a lot more than the first. That being said, we are talking about a very subjective spectrum of good and bad, liking and disliking, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the Alex Rider books, and so far have thoroughly enjoyed the TV series.

Using that as the perfect jumping off, let’s talk about what I thought of season 2.

Episode 1
So firstly, this kicks off strongly, it has Alex dealing with PTSD from the events of the previous season, which considering what he went through is totally understandable. It’s done really well, and is even used as a tool in subsequent episodes to make MI6 doubt Alex, so that when he’s inevitably drawn into an adventure he’s mostly on his own. Because that’s more entertaining than having an entire team of adult agents do the same job. I had my doubts about Otto Farrant initially, mainly because I think somewhere in the back of my head I still wanted Alex Rider to be played by Alex Pettyfer, but also because I hadn’t really seen him in anything to sort of get a baseline for his skills but honestly I was sold on him maybe ten minutes into the first episode of the first season, and so by the time of the second season he’d firmly cemented himself as Alex Rider in my mind. Likewise, I think I mentioned in my review of the first season that for some reason I hadn’t really taken a shine to Brenock O’Connor, I mean there was nothing massively wrong but he just didn’t strike a chord, but he really had a chance to shine in this season, he had more agency and more to do, and so I really liked him, to the point where I was genuinely surprised to find out he wasn’t secretly the world ranked gamer ‘K7’. I particularly liked Sabina, I cannot say she was in keeping with the book version of the character, but honestly she was far more likeable. In the books she was feisty and flirtatious, confident and very self possessed, whereas the TV version was far more vulnerable, still charming and confident and intelligent, but far more innocent. I particularly liked the scene where Alex saves Sabrina’s dad, Edward Pleasure from the fire at his holiday home. I really liked that scene in the book, and it lived up to how I imagined it, although obviously in the TV series it happened in Cornwall, while in the book it happened in France. Something else I liked was that this continues to evolve the personalities at MI6, we see them watch Alex struggling, and the way they respond to that informs and solidifies our opinion of their character. I think I’ll give this episode a 4/5 and say that it firmly set me up for a whopper of a second season. 

Episode 2
As I mentioned above, I feel that this season really allowed Tom to grow as a character, and the way he helps his friend is a really rewarding part of this episode. The whole sequence with the GoPro was excellent, striking the balance between something suspenseful, and something with a sense of levity. I also loved the scenes where Alex visits David Friend, not only is it a callback to the previous season, but it’s one which never appeared in the books, and yet added a lot by its addition. Not only did it flesh out Blunt even more, by giving us David’s opinion of him, but seeing Alex so self possessed and sassy was thoroughly enjoyable. Overall it was a really strong episode but I did feel that things were still heating up, which is saying something since the first episode has a bombing in it. That being said, it still totally earns a 4/5.

Episode 3
Things really begin to escalate in this episode, there’s some awesome fight scenes, and the finale is brutal and exciting. I already liked Yassen, Thomas Levin really brings the character to life, he’s not quite as spry and graceful as the Yassen of the books but he brings the perfect level of menace and danger to the role. I will say, I really loved the Mr. Smithers of the books, he was awesome, and every single time he appeared it was a highlight for me, so I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like this version of him, as they are enormously different characters, but once you get past the differences you really begin to like Nyasha Hatendi’s portrayal, he is empathetic and intelligent, savvy but he doesn’t have the same detached spy energy as Blunt does. He gives off good vibes, and doesn’t seem incompetent, which unfortunately can be a common consequence for adults in a world where younger people need to have great agency or competency. The best part of this episode though was definitely the finale, it shows why Yassen was such a feared assassin, and it further shows the complicated dynamic at play between Yassen and Alex. This episode also secures a 4/5.

Episode 4
Being completely honest I didn’t really care for the whole Smoking Mirror thing, It felt like an unnecessary element to stretch out the story. I mean the actor wasn’t bad, and having another person who knows about Damian Cray is interesting, but the season could easily have done without him and the whole side plot. Speaking of which, I haven’t really talked about him yet, but oh my god, he was amazing, I think one of the reasons I didn’t like Eagle Strike as much as the other books is that something rubbed me the wrong way about the book version of the character but Toby Stephens really brought him to life, he’s energetic and animated, and honestly his slightly boyish energy doesn’t come across as a sad, pathetic attempt to avoid growing old but rather he seems like someone who has been through an immense trauma in his youth and has become stunted emotionally at the age at which the trauma happened. Two highlights to this episode were the scene where Alex attempts to tell Sabina about his past, and his job as an asset for MI6, which felt very realistic because she explodes at him, and this coupled with the police suspicion as to whether Alex caused the fire in episode one, all plays together to make Alex appear attention seeking, mental or both. The other standout scene was towards the end where Alex, posing as ‘K7’, is pitted directly against Damian Cray for the first time, as he attempts to beat Cray’s augmented reality game, which he is surprised to learn causes real physical damage to the user. It really seems like it’s going to beat him too, now I won’t spoil exactly what happens but it’s really badass. Plus it featured the return of Marli Siu as Kyra Vashenko-Chao, who was a particular highlight of season 1. I think this episode easily earns a 5/5.

Episode 5
Much like the first two episodes, this episode dips in intensity somewhat, it’s by no means a bad episode, but it’s the culmination of the first half of the narrative, where they are in possession of some of the facts and are starting to put together their own plan of attack. It’s by no means filler, but it didn’t contain as much substance as some of the other episodes so it’s just a touch weaker overall. I think though, it gets a pass from me, firstly because it gives Kyra even more opportunity to shine, even if they begin to stretch credulity with both what hacking can do in general, and especially what a child, even a prodigy can do. I mean they essentially create an internet backspot to a specific postcode area. Impressive computer skills aside, I liked that it gave Alex, Tom and Kyra a chance to breathe and interact, and it began to build on the dynamic between Krya and Tom. A particular highlight for me was Alex removing all of the tracking devices on his person, and in a super fun scene, has them disseminated across London so that MI6 have no way of tracking him as he heads off to Amsterdam to infiltrate Craystar Headquarters. Overall though this episode gets a 3/5.

Episode 6
So after a slight dip in the overall tension, this one kicks things back up into high gear by having the gang actually breaking into Cray’s base of operations. It’s also not without fun moments either, the way they acquire a card machine to clone a key card, and Tom interacting with the guard at the entrance to the complex are both entertaining. But perhaps the best part of this episode is hearing Cray monologue like a Bond villain (which is actually really funny as he previously played a Bond villain) about his plans to exterminate 1 million people, in an effort to purge drugs from the face of the earth and by proxy save the lives of hundreds of millions of people. I think the worst part is that they make a concerted effort to show that Cray genuinely believes he’s doing the right thing. Even when he kills one of his employee’s, Charlie, who had previously leaked intel to Sabina’s Dad, precipitating the bombing in the first episode, he doesn’t seem to enjoy it, but he does it because his ultimate goal, at least in his own mind is totally justified. He’s not a wholly bad person. And that actually adds an element of depth to the whole thing. I think this episode easily earns a 5/5.

Episode 7
As much as the story would be far less entertaining if the bad guys just killed their enemies straight away, I do have to raise a small issue with the fact that after Cray captures Alex in his HQ, he keeps them alive. Sure it’s to extract any information he might have, about why he’s there and who else knows what’s going on. But a bullet in the head solved his last big problem, namely Charlie, and while I was just espousing the fact that Cray isn’t entirely void of morals and humanity, so shooting a child, or two children rather in cold blood might just be that little bit harder, I kinda wish he’d actually tried and Alex had managed to escape anyway rather than him just locking them up to easily escape later. Anyway moving on from advocating for the murder of children, I think this was a really strong episode, it manages to rope Jack back in, she helps to put a kink in Cray’s plans for his game, Feathered Serpent 2, although it does cost her job, as well as her burgeoning relationship with a colleague. I think perhaps my favourite part of this episode was the drone sequence, where Alex, Kyra and Tom flee the Craystar headquarters, and Damien pursues them via armed drone, because not only was it a really exciting and engaging scene but it develops the relationship between Tom and Kyra further. Sadly, Cray kidnaps Sabina to force Alex to return something he stole from Cray’s office, and this forces his hand. Again, I don’t want children to die, but I wish once the ‘hero’ would observe the ‘Greater Good’ concept and choose not to save one person at the cost of the many. But yeah, this was another strong episode and earns a 4/5.

Episode 8
So following hot off the heels of the previous episode, Alex obviously does the right thing and returns what he took from Cray. We also find out the last few elements of Cray’s plan, specifically that he is going to use America’s nuclear arsenal to bomb various drug hotspots throughout the globe, killing over 1 million people to root out the menace of drugs and by extension save the lives of all the people who directly or indirectly would have lost their lives to drugs. I think having Cray dedicating his life to this goal because his brother died from drugs is both very believable and also as I said above humanises him. Not enough that I wanted him to succeed but it’s a layer of complexity. Especially since, if I’m not mistaken, while his book counterpart had the same overall goal, he had no real reason to want it beyond just having a distaste for drugs. This episode not only further connects Yassen and Alex, but also sends him on the path to meeting SCORPIA, which I’m super excited about. This was a great episode, and earns a strong 5/5.

So that’s what I thought of the second season of Alex Rider, and you can expect the third season to be released some time in Fall 2022. If you would like to watch Alex Rider for yourself then you can check it out either on Amazon Prime Video or on Amazon’s IMDb TV (if you are based in America). Why not follow the show on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with the show.

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