TV: X Company (Seasons 2 & 3)

Canadian historical espionage drama X Company worked unexpected magic in its first season by mixing nostalgic, mission-of-the-week structure with the escalating narrative rhythms of contemporary long-form TV. The series undergoes a significant transformation in season two, morphing into a more conventional modern “prestige TV” serial. While initially this change robs the show of its throwback charm, ultimately it delivers the series to a satisfying, powerful destination.

The series follows the exploits of the eponymous team, a unit of highly trained allied operatives working behind enemy lines against the Nazis in the European theater. Commanded from Camp X in Ontario by Colonel Duncan Sinclair (Hugh Dillon), the team is led in the field by former resistance agent Aurora Luft (Evelyne Brochu). Aurora has her work cut out for her as season two begins. One of her agents—fast-talking Tom Cummings (Dustin Milligan)—has been seriously wounded, while another—quirky, brilliant Alfred Graves (Jack Laskey)—has fallen into enemy hands. Despite the odds and at great cost, the team sticks together through thick and thin, working together to foil German plans even as their commitment to the greater mission is gradually supplanted by an even stronger commitment to each other.

The whole run of the show is effortlessly watchable, especially for fans enamored of its high-concept premise—it’s basically Mission: Impossible in World War II, and anyone with a fondness for either subject will likely find it addictive. The heavier shift from episodic to serial storytelling, however, does yield bumpy results, especially during the second season. Managing the team’s missions against the historical backdrop requires unlikely logistical contortions, and even more of a stretch is the increased role of a traditional recurring villain, Nazi officer Fritz Faber (Torben Liebrecht), with whom the team becomes increasingly entangled. Faber is a refreshingly nuanced antagonist, and his personal struggles as a cog in the German military machine—along with those of his long-suffering wife Sabine (Livia Mathes)—add a nice B-story texture. But it also lends an air of implausibility to the proceedings, as the team’s continued run-ins with Faber require a fair amount of transparent structural engineering to keep the train rolling. Sometimes it works, feeling like effective secret history; other times, credulity is strained.

That said, X Company recovers its luster during a climactic mission at the end of season two, as the team labors to support the historic Allied raid at Dieppe. Later events jolt the team over to Poland for one of the more interesting stretches of episodes, mining under-explored historical territory as the team cooperates with Polish resistance, and gets an eyeful of callous Nazi plans for Lebensraum. Throughout, Brochu, Laskey, and Warren Brown solidly anchor the Allied heroics while Liebrecht and Mathes are exceptional as their conflicted opponents. The show never quite ascends to the prestigious heights to which it aspires, but it’s still an engaging spy drama with excellent ensemble chemistry, solid production values, and gorgeous location work, and it ends quite well. I suspect I’ll revisit this one some day.

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