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A Spy Thriller with A Twist, 'The Rook' Makes it to Starz
June 30, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Like its older sister Outlander, Starz’s new drama The Rook doesn’t parlay a supernatural premise into a supernatural show.

The Rook, which launches Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, is based on a popular Daniel O’Malley novel about a young woman who wakes up in a bad situation with no memory of who she is or how she got there. 

Then after that it turns weird. 

FYI, it does not turn into Blindspot, though for that brief moment in the opening scene it seems to have been conjured from the same playbook. 

In The Rook, our confused woman (Emma Greenwell, top) slowly comes to learn she is now Myfanwy Thomas, which at least means she will always be the only one in the room with that particular first name. 

After a series of puzzling and occasionally disturbing encounters, she further learns she has become an agent of Checquy, an ultra-secret arm of British intelligence. 

It’s ultra-secret because, among other things, all its agents have special powers. That’s not a spoiler. That’s the premise. 

This isn’t a Marvel thing, exactly. The powers here are more subtle and more diverse, like the ability to make up awesomely credible lies. When you’re part of an ultra-secret agency, you need one of those every so often. 

Myfanwy’s new boss in this small sub-agency is Lady Farrier (Joely Richardson). Her second-in-command is Conrad Grantchester (Adrian Lester), who is something of a ladies’ man, to dust off that quaint old phrase. 

Unlike some other Starz series, it might be noted here, The Rook doesn’t seem to incorporate particularly graphic love scenes. At least not at first.

Myfanwy joins Checquy reluctantly, and only after electronically receiving an unsettling clue about who she was back in the days she doesn’t remember. 

She joins as a full junior member. Since everyone gets a nickname, she’s “The Rook,” which might seem like “rookie,” but actually refers to the rook in the game of chess, where rooks are pawns, which means they are controlled and manipulated by the more powerful pieces. 

All this unfolds at what might be charitably called a deliberate pace. The rollout happens so slowly that it takes pretty much the whole first episode for viewers to get a reasonably full picture of what’s going on. 

That reflects, logically enough, Myfanwy’s own situation. She doesn’t know what’s going on, so why should we know all that much more? 

The Rook mixes and matches a number of plotlines that have become familiar in recent years on television shows. At its heart, though, it’s a suspense mystery that’s operating on several levels, including the seemingly ominous missions of Checquy and the almost but not quite blind quest of Myfanwy to figure out exactly how she ended up here. 

It’s much less a paranormal drama than an office drama, where our character must somehow figure out where everyone else fits in. And then, if she does figure it out, decide what to do with the information. It’s a tough task, so settle in. This could take a while.

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