Jun 10, 2010

Lucas North and William Blake

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….

60 Comments

  • Great speculations indeed! Unfortunately I have nothing to add of my own, yet. Just for clarification, is the Ancient Of Days the painting on the right as I guessed?

    • Thanks! The Ancient Of Days is on the left (and LN’s chest), the Dragon one is on the right.

  • The Ancient of Days is the painting on the left, showing God creating the world.

    • According to Wikipedia (all knowing…!), the Russian Orthodox Church declared in c.17 that the Ancient of Days referred to the SON of God. As he was in a Russian prison for 8 years, could that have some significance?

      Skully: just a minor correction…Armitage was Blake’s mother’s original surname.

      • Thanks for the explanation. I learnt at school that this picture depicted God using his might to create the world. Could Blake have been confused when he named the picture? This makes me want to delve into Blake’s life and ideology? Another avenue of research inspired by an RA cahracter!

        • From what I understand Blake’s ‘The Ancient of Days’ is a deliberate reference to the ‘ancient of days’ in the book of daniel. Blake was a person of faith (a mystic), he just did not go for organised religion and it’s dogma. He is indeed fascinating.. and would have been quite radical for his time. I love a rebellious thinker!

      • Thanks Picard, will have to double check that! My source (not wikipedia) says something different. Bloody internet!

        I wonder if there is Russian connection to the methodist thang.. I don’t know my religious history. Also the crosses on Lucas’ back – I recall that they had a specific meaning / representation but I can’t remember what that was.

        • I have understood that they are Russian orthodox church cupolas(onions domes as in Moscow)and represent each year of Lucas’ Russian incarceration.

          Skully, I have a very interesting development to report on the dream front. Last night my dreams revolved around posting on your blog. Mulubinba was somehow also present. Is invading Dreamworld the new custom from Oz?

          • Ahh I thought they were symbols of an orthodox church.. thanks for clarifying that. The plot thickens! These crosses strike an odd cord when you consider his affection for Blake…. who is into mysticism (which is completely unorthodox). Does this make LN a literal walking contradiction… at least where his tattoos are concerned? Although the crosses are associated with the Russian orthodox church, that does not necessarily mean that they have the same meaning for LN. I hope they explain all this at some point… I’m becoming more and more intriged by it all! I will definitely have to tease out the religious angle some more in another post.

            A Spooks fan blog dream? Fascinating! I think I had one about composing a post, but that’s it so far.

            • I think there are two themes at play here: the Eastern (Russain) Orthodox church, and Lucas’s affinity with Blake.

              I double checked the Ancient of Days thing and it is ONLY the Russian Orthodox church, it seems, that regards the Ancient of Days as God the SON, not God the Father. So, even though Blake painted the AoD as an image of God (father), to the Russians with whom Lucas was incarcerated, it had a different meaning.

              In the scene where Lucas is cleaning up in the toilets and Harry walks in to talk to him, Lucas says something about the tattoo culture in Russian camps: you’re in with it or you die…not sure of the exact quote but I’m sure all you Lucas fans will put me right!! So, even though Lucas may be a gnostic like Blake, he may have gone along with the prevailing culture to stay alive.

              I’d like to know what the words across his belly mean,though!

              • Yes that’s a good point picard.. so it’s a question of whether his tatts have a personal meaning or he chose symbols that would help his survival in prison. His interest in Blake pre-dates his incarceration so that one was is personal at least (apparently!).

            • I just did a little research about mysticism and the Orthodox Church and it seems that they don’t look at it as being a contradiction. And there are definitely recognized mystics within the Catholic Church (e.g. Therese of Avila, who has even been canonized), so Blake as a mystic and other Christian denomiations to me seem to more like two sides of the same coin.

              By the way, weren’t the words to that wonderful song “Jerusalem” (one of Britains unofficial national anthems) written by Blake?

              • Thanks for the info on that LadyNorth, I figured there had to be some sort of link between blake/mysticism and russian orthodox that was as not discordant as it seems… otherwise Lucas North’s collection of tatts would make no sense!

              • Yes, Blake did write the poem “And did those feet in ancient time”, which was later put to music and became “Jerusalem”. One interpretation has it that Blake believed that Jesus visited Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea. Another interpretation is that Blake was saying that if Jesus were to visit England, it would create a heaven on earth (and that the “dark satanic mills” referred to the organised church). All very deep. I just like the hymn.

  • Had definitely thought of Lucas as one who has his personal idealogy, which might not always conform to upholding the Systems, and as a “maverick”, could go his own way if the System proved inimical to his beliefs.

    And we already know/sense that he, personally, has been betrayed by the system. Which could add fuel to possible divergence.

    Congrats on tying in Blake and Methodism (Non-Confirmists).

    • Yes, about being betrayed… it did cross my mind that Harry’s comment to Lucas about Kachimov trying to use personal revenge as a motive for Lucas to turn, may be relevant.

      Having thought about it some more I think the Blake/Methodist angel is probably of greater significance than the anarchist one. I probably shied away from exploring that further because I’m an atheist and are more familiar with anarchism than religion/spirituality. Might have to write another post!

  • Whoops, that’s Non-conformists. Which brings us back to Mr. Hale – but that’s just an aside!

    • Mr. Hale – ha! The “North & South hypothesis” Lucas North was Thornton in a past life and has absorbed Mr. Hale’s teachings into his current life?

  • Oh! I forgot to mention this fun fact – The maiden name of William Blake’s first wife is Armitage :)

  • Since the William Blake angle has not been brought up since Lucas was introduced to us, could it have been part of his disguise/cover to convince FSB that he was one of theirs, his distrust of MI5/Britain’s systems emblazoned on his chest and displayed on his walls?
    I don’t recall seeing the Blake paintings on the walls at his new flat in s8 – but I wasn’t really looking.
    Just a thought…

    • That’s a good point, but Elisaveta’s comments to Kachimov imply that his interest in Blake existed when they were married, which would pre-date his arrest. However, your point remains, it could still be part of a cover. Will have to give his S8 flat a closer look!

      • Note to self…finish full cup of tea before hitting post!
        Duh – of course Elisaveta’s comment re Lucas’ interest in WB pre-dates years in Russian cell – *headslap*

        • It could still be a cover though!

  • As always, I am amazed how far the writers of Spooks (MI-5) are ahead of me in thinking of ways to spin the storyline of the series. From the sound of it, Richard Armitage will be written out of the series before the season is out (or at the cliffhanger ending). Guess I will have to read up on Blake to even get an idea of what the scenario will be.

    I just know I will miss the “Ros – Lucas” banter this season, hopefully the writers have written in someone who is equal to Ros in that area.

    • Yes I hope Lucas has a good new sparing partner in the banter department, too. It’s one of my favourite parts of the show.

    • Welcome to the Spooks Fan Blog, btw, DRS ALA!

    • In a radio interview two weeks ago RA was asked if he would be involved in the cliffhanger at the end of the season and if he would be in a possible series 10 and his answer was that he honestly didn’t know. From that you could conclude that at least LN won’t be killed off during the series and even if he should be involved in the cliffhanger it doesn’t mean he won’t survive. I mean, what’s the point in having a cliffhanger when you tell everybody what the outcome will be?

      • Oooo I would be very happy if LN survives another series .. or if Spooks survives another series for that matter!

        • Cum spiro spero – I so much hope he survives!

          But having a storyline so similar to the one in season 7 with the only difference that this time they tell everybody in advance who the traitor will be – that would be rather disappointing, wouldn’t it?

          • That’s assuming that Lucas is involved in something treacherous.. which is not necessarily the case. I agree though, that its arguable whether it was wise to release this teaser about Lucas.

            • Personally I don’t think Lucas is involved in anything treacherous. RA would be in a lot of trouble if he really gave away any decisive part of the plot. He probably made his remarks to keep us all guessing (in agreement with the BBC) – but in the end they are likely to mean something completely different to what he seemed to imply.

  • Now that you refer to it, Skully, love that theory of LN being Thornton in a previous life! Was probably thinking more in terms of an actor absorbing his previous characters and applying relevant elements to a new character.

    What about Lucas as a 21st century familial descendant of either the Hales or the Thorntons?!

    • I seem to have an inclination towards cross-over TV program fantasy! … putting characters from different TV shows together. How about Ros on the Torchwood team? How would she deal with ALIENS? :)

  • Thanks for the post I learned a lot! To me the fact that RA mentioned reading a Blake book in the interview you mention points to there being a connection there. Good job. Can’t wait for S9!

    • Thanks Sandra, glad you found it informative. From what I understand RA has a tendency to do research for his major roles.. I’m not sure when that interview was conducted so it’s unclear whether he was reading it in preparation for season seven or for what is to come in season nine. I can’t wait either!

  • Thanks so much for all the information! This was all very fascinating and it will be interesting to see, if Blake will come up again in season nine and if there will be a connection with all the rumours there have been lately.

    When it comes to Blake and Lucas and his not being who we thought he was – I’m not quite sure what to think. !
    If we say that Lucas distrusts systems then he can’t really have any sympathy towards communist Russia as there is hardly a stricter system imaginable than a communist one. He probably just has an interest for Russian culture and literature. And with Blake being opposed to religious doctrine Lucas couldn’t sympathize with any terrorist from Muslim countries either.
    As Britain today is a country where most of Blake’s visions have come true it would be more likely for Lucas to do everything to try and protect that than being any kind of traitor.

    In another interview a few weeks ago RA said that there were “big surprises in store for Lucas”. This doesn’t sound like him being a double agent or following his own agenda! Because in this case he should know about it…
    In some forums there were a number of interesting ideas about that, e.g. that he finds out that Harry is his real father.

    • Thanks Lady North! I didn’t mean to imply that Lucas admired communist Russia in a straightforward sense, perhaps the “theory” behind the communist era, more so than the “practice” … who knows? Unfortunately.. no communist state that I’m aware of has operated under a ‘limited government’ (an anarchist ideal) but nonetheless there are some shared values between anarchism and communism. Both systems (in theory/spirit) emphasise equality and desire a flatter, less hierarchical model of governance.

      I think Harry being Lucas’ father would be a bit pedestrian for Spooks.. will file it under the “star wars hypothesis” though.. Luke/Lucas… there could be a connection ;)

  • @Skully, the “time travel” thingy does have its seductions. (Haven’t read or seen The Time Traveler’s Wife yet)

    btw, of course, Lucas and Elisaveta married in London, before he went to Russia! How could I have missed such an obvious clue! Just call me a blinkered horse….

    Just can’t leave the backstory alone. Was Lucas’ marriage part of the cover in going to Russia – as in an “arranged marriage”? If so, he seems to have fallen in love along the way.

    If not “arranged”, is the marriage to a Russian woman an element in the initial distrust of the Grid people, in addition to the potential “turning” while in the Russian cell?

    All right, leave it alone. It’s Friday, and time to attend to S7 E3!!

    • Maybe Elisaveta was his Russian language tutor and Lucas was simply “hot for teacher” :)

  • Really interesting post and great comments! I think it is possible that Lucas might rebel from both MI-5, CIA and FSB (…any system that might be percieved as autocratic and controlling) – I wish we had more of a backstory. I’m also interested his relationship with Harry – I really hope S9 ties up some of the loose ends with regard to Lucas.Will the writers bring his liking for Blake back into his story?

    • They better! They can’t put a tantalising detail like Blake out there and not use it.. it’s a goldmine.. so many possibilities!

      There’s probably some similarities between Lucas and Ros actually… Ros has been portrayed as a character who works in a system she’s not 100% confident in.. yet ultimately she is “true” to MI-5 (as far as we know…!). So Lucas could have doubts but be true as well…

  • @Skully,

    Wow. You have connected some really interesting dots. I can’t wait to read the comments and also rewatch those episodes and reread some interviews. LOL!

    • Thanks RAFrenzy! If season nine opens with Lucas North reading Noam Chomsky while wearing a black hoodie we’ll know that my anarchist theory was right!

  • Very thought provoking thread. Although I am obviously not familiar with Blake’s work it brought me back to my youth when i was heavy duty into Eastern Philosphy and other alternative philosphy. I’m hoping our curiosity will get satisfied. Its making me fantragic in anticipation for S9. I am assuming we’ll rewatch S8 as well to fill in the days between?

    @skully: fantragic is my new fave word and new in my book.

    • Thanks iz4spunk! Glad to have introduced a new word to your vocab. Will probably do a season 8 rewatch when it airs in Australia in a couple of months.

  • Very interesting thoughts here in your post, Skully, and in the comments. I almost think I ought to read a book about Blake as well to give an adequate reply.

    I think Lucas is on his own. He might be no double agent (contradicting myself, see comment review 7.2), but he is calculating risks.

    Skully, there are two more Blake-like paintings/pictures on the mantle piece in S7.2.

    • Thanks Violet. He could be on his own, or involved with a group.. like Ros was with ‘Yalta’.

  • Hallo.I looked through a forum of phantoms. Under the reference has got to your blog. Very interesting information.
    I can translate article about a tattoo for Russian fans RА?

  • By the way about domes.Quantity of domes – years in bondage

    Dialogue of the man and the woman on a traffic light … the Man has turned to help me to deliver a carriage on a border … I has thanked, he has confusedly smiled, has reddened, and I could not constrain a smile ….His woman have noticed and have blurted out jealously:
    -JUra, what you to road a back? On a nape of eyes is not present, you do not take care …
    – Domes on a back protect me …. – he has thrown shortly, without having looked at all at it, and, without having waited green, has stepped on проезжую a part …
    The woman, through clenched teeth:
    – Has found, than to be proud….
    Stars on shoulders – symbolise honour and advantage of the person, mean that he lives under the foundations, principles.

    • Should look so

      … Though it is doubtful that Lukas has accepted Orthodoxy. Also that has made it voluntary. Though against the will pin a little bit another.
      By the way 5 points on a hand – sat in imprisonment places. (Has made out when it wetted the sponsor in pool, in an episode about hostages).

  • Great forum!
    Love Spooks
    I feel terrible everytime they get rid of one of the characters…Adam was a great lost.
    Just in case nobody has answered yet:
    Dum Spiro spero- While I breath, I hope (meaning there´s hope while we are alive, or something like that. It is latin)
    I wonder if the tatoos were made voluntary or imposed.

  • Sorry! Belly tatoo reads “Gnothi Seauton” Greek for “Know thyself” or get to know yourself.
    I´m afraid English is not my mother language so I apologise if grammar is not correct, I hope the meaning is.

  • […] Post contains inane S9 teaser ** You heard it here first! Back in July in a post on Lucas North and William Blake I suggested, almost in jest, that Lucas North was a latent anarchist. In a comment to RA Frenzy on […]

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