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MI-5: Volume 5

Five discs; BBC Video; $79.98

Now that 24 has succumbed to the ultimate terror—a writers strike—fans of spy-thriller action should turn to the DVD release of Season 5 of the British series MI-5 (known in England as Spooks). The crack intelligence operatives at Thames House are just as hair-trigger as Jack Bauer and gang (although a little more conflicted about torture as an interrogation tool) in the war against terrorists, both external and internal (especially those ripe rotters over at rival spy agency MI-6). As is typical of British TV, the show's characters have turned over since MI-5's debut in 2002. Only Harry Pearce (Peter Firth), head of the counterterrorism detail, and Malcolm (Hugh Simon), erudite IT guy, remain from Season 1. As the season begins, senior officer and pasty chick magnet Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones) is still coping with the death of his wife and fellow spy, Fiona (a gorgeous and accommodating young nanny for Adam's son relieves some of the pain) and busy thwarting a government coup engineered by conservative hardliners. Meanwhile, a new operative, Ros (Hermione Norris), joins the team, trailing suspicion behind her—her father was part of the coup cabal. During the course of 10 episodes, one agent will die, one will be disabled in a bombing and another will be disappeared. Unlike 24, which concentrates on America's foreign enemies with the ruthlessness of a Rudy Giuliani campaign ad, MI-5 is smart enough to realize that threats from home-grown terrorists like Christian fundamentalists and eco-extremists are just as chilling. One of the strengths of the show is its frequent declarations that if we sacrifice civil liberties in the face of terror, then we have already lost the battle. The season starts with a sweaty-browed two-parter and ends with an underwater cliffhanger at the mouth of the Thames. The action pacing never lets up, although longtime fans might miss the more nuanced personal lives of the early characters—Ros and Adam's tense flirtation is no substitute for the deeper currents that motivated Zoe and Danny. The package includes some cast interviews and a brief look at Season 6.(Michael S. Gant)

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