In episode 7.1 of Spooks, a new character Lucas North returns from eight years incarceration in a Russian cell with his body covered in prison ink. Emblazoned across his chest is an outline of The Ancient of Days, a famous painting by the English poet and artist William Blake.
Later, in episode 7.2, Lucas is shown adjusting two Blake prints on the wall of his flat (The Ancient of Days and The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun). In the same episode his ex-wife Elisaveta explains Lucas North’s penchant for Blake to FSB agent Arcardy Kachimov – “Blake was a visionary, he distrusted systems, Lucas is the same”.
This is the extent to what we know about Lucas North and his interest in William Blake (forgive me if it’s mentioned in season eight, I’ve only seen it once so far). In this interview on Vulpes Libris Richard Armitage (who is known for a studious approach to his roles) mentions that he was reading a William Blake biography. I’ve always been curious to know what RA learnt about Lucas North’s character from his research on Blake. It may seem like a minor detail about his character, especially considering that it has not been referred to since, but it’s one that’s had me fascinated from day one and my curiosity about it has been reignited after hearing teasers concerning Lucas North in season nine. Consequently the discussion about William Blake in this post will be framed within the question of ‘who is Lucas North?’. In order to do that I need to mention the recent S9 chatter in the press.
In recent interviews for the Sky production Strike Back, Richard Armitage dropped a big dirty teaser about what was in store for Lucas North in series nine of Spooks. Apparently Lucas North “is not who we thought he was”. This omission has lead to considerable speculation that the man we were lead to believe was MI-5 through and through, could be a double agent (for example – since the Strike Back press interviews the Spooks Fan Blog is receiving a lot of traffic from the search words ‘Is Lucas North a double agent?’).
Let’s hold that thought for a moment and think back to other characters who “weren’t who we thought they were”. Two recent examples that come to mind are Juliet Shaw and Connie James. Neither of these women were double agents in the strictest sense. Connie James, as she puts it, was “no friend of the Russians”. Even though she was a mole who leaked information to the FSB (and blew Lucas North’s cover in Moscow that lead to his arrest), her primary motivation for her actions were based on personal ideology that sought greater balance between the world powers, not an affection for Russia per se. In the case of Julie Shaw, we learn that the woman who we thought was an American loving right winger, was actually in “deep cover”, and this was just a smoke screen that masked an alternative agenda.
So when I heard that Lucas North is not who we thought he was, the possibility that he was a double agent is not what immediately sprung to mind. Partly because of the history of characters like Juliet and Connie, and partly because of his affection for William Blake. Let me explain why.
Even though my knowledge of William Blake is relatively scant, from my association with activist circles I was aware that some revere him as an important figure in the history of anarchist thought. Although he is (arguably) not traditionally thought of as a forefather of anarchism, many of his ideas are consistent with modern anarchist ideology. The popular image of anarchism is skewed by depictions in the media of black masked youths throwing objects at police. This is one face of anarchism, but it is not the only one. Anarchism is a philosophy of many different types. Essentially anarchists do not believe in ‘the state’ or institutions of authority. While the common catch cries of anarchists include “abolish government” and “destroy the state” some branches of anarchism embrace the notion of a ‘limited government’.
William Blake was indeed a visionary, as Elisaveta explained. “He distrusted systems”. In anarchism ‘systems” can refer to all manner of social institutions, some obvious ones being government, law and religion. Blake is most well known for his dislike of religious dogmatism and mysticism was a strong element in many of his works. What is less appreciated about Blake is that he also held unfavourable views towards British imperialism, taxation, and believed strongly in racial and sexual equality. He is a man who was socially and politically engaged.
So my reason for intrigue concerning Lucas North’s penchant for Blake, is that his job as a spy, as an MI-5 officer, is essentially to maintain the social order; to support the existing system. The purpose of the security services is not only to prevent terrorist attacks, but to protect the system that rules the country. This makes LN’s interest in Blake fascinating when you consider the job he performs. Does his profession contradict his personal value system? Is Lucas North a latent anarchist? Certainly one does not have to be an anarchist to appreciate Blake, but it would be reasonable to expect that someone who is intently interested in him would also be attracted to his ideas.
It could be that Lucas North is attracted to the “anarchy” of the job. Being an MI-5 officer gives one access to a world in which the fragility of systems is exposed. It is also a world in which the normal rules don’t apply. Lucas is a character who is not adverse to operating independently, outside of the system. In 7.6 Connie makes a comment to this effect.
With this in mind, the question of ‘Who is Lucas North?’ in light of recent teasers could be answered by a “Blake hypothesis” – I’m inclined to think that the “real” Lucas North might be operating according to a personal ideology (like Connie), and his interest in Blake is a clue to what form that ideology might take. Another dimension to the “Blake hypothesis” that I haven’t mentioned is spirituality. William Blake was a mystic and Lucas North’s father was a Methodist minister. It is unclear what LN’s spiritual beliefs are, it’s possible that this may play a part in his value system too. Also worth mentioning is that Lucas North may have an philosophical affection for Marxism and/or communist Russia. He speaks Russian and married a Russian woman. What’s the back story there? Is his affiliation with Russia personal or professional? If it’s personal, is it associated with his admiration of the (almost) anarchist William Blake?
Now that I’m done reading waaaay too much into things, I should add that I doubt I am even remotely close to shedding light on who Lucas North really is. The Spooks writers are too good to be foiled by a fantragic blogger. It’s certainly fun to speculate though. Now it’s your turn….