We like watching movies and shows about spies and espionage because they're fun, thrilling and put us on the edge of our seats. But in adapting Circle of Treason, a real-life account from CIA officer Sandy Grimes of an agency mole that leaked valuable information to the Soviets for nine years, the sense of tension is completely lost, resulting in a weightless re-telling of what should have been a riveting story.
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Set in the 1980s, The Assets follows CIA counter-intelligence officer Grimes (Jodie Whittaker) and her colleague Aldrich Ames (Paul Rhys), who unbeknownst to his peers is passing top secret information to the Soviet Union. When Grimes loses a valuable asset, she learns that this has been a growing problem and that the CIA Director believes they have a mole in the agency. As she commits herself to finding the perpetrator, Ames does his best to prevent capture, while still working for and betraying the CIA.
The Assets might have passed as merely boring, but following on the heels of FX's riveting Cold War series The Americans, it is hopelessly feeble. Because we already know that Ames is the mole, there's very little tension in the race to uproot him. Instead, it feels more like an incompetent dance. This is partially due to the fact that Ames just doesn't seem that clever. While Grimes does, she's constantly in situations where we, the audience, know that she's sharing information with the mole and this greatly undermines her intelligence. Whittaker, who gave a heart-wrenching turn as a mother who lost her child in last year's Broadchurch, can do nothing with the horribly underwritten part she's given. While she has occasional moments of brilliance during the tedious CIA scenes, when the show sends her home to her family, she's forced to utter painfully ragged maternal dialogue, adding bad to boring.
The Assets feels like it's trying to match the quiet, slow-burn brilliance of something like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but what results is a meandering plot with flat characters and little excitement.