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If you haven’t seen it already, go watch British spy show MI5 (or, if you are in the UK, it is called Spooks).

I just finished it this past weekend courtesy of Amazon Instant Video and am at a loss as I can’t imagine another TV series taking its place in my life.

The show is, as its name gives away, about Britain’s MI5 spy agency – an analog to America’s FBI in that it deals primarily with domestic threats — and follows the lives and missions of MI5’s Section D. Now, I know what you’re thinking – this is just James Bond in television form. Well, you couldn’t be further from the truth. This is not your usual spy drama. The first episode is about a pro-life terrorist (can you picture even trying to show this in the US?). There is a later episode where MI5 must run counter-intelligence against a Mossad (Israeli’s secret service agency) operation. There is another episode about all the goings on behind the scenes by the CIA and MI5 when the President of the United States makes a visit to the UK. There is one about a British government hit-job on a retired spy who wants to write a tell-all book to clear his conscience. There is even one about making a deal to help the Venezuelan secret service protect their president on a trip to the UK in return for information about a terrorist plot against a British school. These are not topics your run-of-the-mill spy film covers. Combine that with the writers’ willingness to write or kill off everybody (seriously, if you pick any character in Section D there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be killed or written off at some point), great casting, and a chance to see what people in the UK think of the US, and you have a winner :-).

So, without further ado, five things I learned after watching 10 seasons of MI5:

  • Don’t join a secret service: As I pointed out before, chances are, you’ll be killed or sent away. Even if you are not, the work itself is grueling. You don’t control your own schedule, you can’t have normal relationships with people, you spend a ton of time undercover and at risk of being discovered and killed, and your boss is likely a veteran who has, over the years, accrued enough enemies around the world to make dealing with vendettas and having veterans you don’t even know treat you like a pawn a regular occurrence.
  • If you do join the secret service, cut off all ties with family and friends. Seriously, it never goes well. Ever.
  • Don’t become the asset of anyone at a secret service. Its never worth it and there’s also a pretty good chance you or someone you know will be killed.
  • Whenever someone tells you to abandon an area because of a “gas leak” or a “chemical leak”, there’s probably a terrorist plot nearby. That was the most common way the MI5 agents evacuated regions where a bomb was believed.
  • The US and especially the CIA are nothing but bullies. The number of episodes where the CIA comes across as arrogant and pushy (sometimes to the detriment of itself) is staggering. That is apparently all we Americans are good for…

And there you have it: the life lessons of MI5 🙂

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