Review: Pine Gap

Jacqueline McKenzie in Pine Gap

Pine Gap comes from Australia. It’s a fictionalized TV series about a real place. The real Pine Gap is a joint Australian/United States intelligence gathering installation in the desert near Alice Springs. Some slight spoilers ahead.

This is the type of thriller where you can’t trust anybody. Every person, every government, has their own secrets. While the purpose of the Pine Gap installation is to keep both America and Australia safe, there are undercurrents to the mission.

The people are suspect. The writing purposely makes everyone look suspicious. There’s an unexpected reveal of a secret at the end of the last episode that could be a lead in to a second season.

Jacqueline McKenzie and Steve Toussaint in Pine Gap

In Pine Gap one Australian and one American are the top bosses. They are Kath (Jacqueline McKenzie), the Aussie, and the American Ethan (Steve Toussaint). The two of them are responsible for watching everything that happens in the Pacific around them. When a plane is shot down over Myanmar or when the US and China come to the brink of war over the South China Sea, these two provide the intelligence that is needed by their respective governments.

Parker Sawyers in Pine Gap

Others who work in the facility include Gus (Parker Sawyers). He was the managing director for a while but was demoted after he ordered an air strike that killed several people. He’s an American.

Tess Haubrich in Pine Gap

Gus gets romantically involved with  Jasmina (Tess Haubrich). Jasmina is Australian, but was born in Serbia. The two of them are encouraged to get close by their bosses, who want them to report back what the other is thinking. In many ways, Gus and Jasmina drive the story because they are both superior intelligence analysts. They keep digging into things like the plane over Myanmar that the Australians want to forget about.

When Gus is demoted a new manager named Jacob (Stephen Curry) arrives. He’s an Aussie, who turns out to be Kath’s ex. They are currently paying lawyers to fight over who gets the family cat.

Rudi (Lewis Fitz-Gerald) is another upper level character. He’s not above spying on the people around him.

The brilliant but socially inept Moses (Mark Leonard Winter) discovers a worm in the computer system.  That launches a second concurrent story line. One is about the search for the traitor who planted the worm. The other is about the intelligence work going on with the people who examine all the chatter, images, electronics, and movements of people and things. It’s a tense mix.

In six episodes, there is also time for the series to explore personal stories about the characters and their families.  A few characters take day trips to beautiful spots around Alice Springs. That’s a treat.

Bringing some characters and family members out of the Pine Gap facility allowed for a subplot involving the indigenous people of the area and some Chinese business people. China wanted to mine on the land belonging to the indigenous people.

The fraught and secretive situation in which everyone at Pine Gap worked provided themes about whether an individual would be more loyal to country or family when there was a conflict between them. Do you have to give up your humanity and any chance for normal human relationships in order to work in a top secret government intelligence agency? Will you risk it all for money? Or love?

The same question applied to the subplot about mining the indigenous people’s land. What will you give up for jobs, money? How loyal are you to your heritage, your people?

Pine Gap was created by Greg Haddrick and Felicity Packard. Mat King directed every episode. I should also mention the actors Edwina Wren, Sachin Joab, Jason Chong, Madeleine Madden, Kelton Pelland, and Simone Kessell: all had important roles. It was a large cast.

According to an article in The Guardian, “The show’s main source is David Rosenberg, a 23-year veteran of the US National Security Agency who worked at Pine Gap for 18 years, from 1990 to 2008. He is on set and, while he cannot impart classified information to the show’s producers – such as Pine Gap’s function of monitoring nuclear stockpiles and ballistic weapons – he does provide an authentic measure of how the set should look and which terminology should credibly be deployed by actors.”

Overall, I found the series interesting and engaging. Much of it is subtle and requires paying close attention. There isn’t much going on in the way of exciting action. It’s more about people watching, analyzing, and evaluating everything around them and on the screens and monitors in front of them. It’s about loyalty. It’s about supporting allies on the world stage.

One thing I found irritating about the series was the cinematographic habit of putting faces in the lower third of the frame, with nothing above them but ceiling or sky. Sometimes the actors were almost falling out of the bottom of frame. This habit of composition drew my attention away from the storyline and onto the image.

If you enjoy cerebral stories about government intelligence, Pine Gap should appeal to  you.

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13 thoughts on “Review: Pine Gap”

  1. I have watched this series. I find it fascinating. I think you should place a warning at the beginning of your review: “Spoilers ahead!”

      1. this is the first review ive read in which you forgot to put the warning in. with all of your many reviews, i think we can forgive you one mistake.

  2. i finished watching this one yesterday and was going to write to ask if you had seen it – there are some strong female actors and important female characters which is right up your alley.

    i didnt enjoy this one but i’m not sure why. i think the American/Australian divide among the characters was too stark and seemed unrealistic to me, given the nature of the work. the characters seemed one dimensional and the acting a bit stiff. that could be a result of what i felt was the foundational feeling of the series – the creators clearly have a second season in mind as there are far too many cliffhangers to be satisfactory for viewers who stuck with the series. i liked that there were female and minority characters who had agency (honestly, i dont see America having a Black man in charge of such an important strategic site, and i’ve had friends who worked at NSA for years). and i liked the aboriginal land backstory (would that Americans faced their historical mistreatment of this land’s original people).

    all of that said, i would watch a second season. apparently, the series got top 10 ratings in Australia though viewership diminished over the course of its run, so who knows about Pine Gap 2.

    thank you for reviewing this one.

    1. I agree it isn’t the best series to come out of Australia. There have been so many really excellent ones, this one doesn’t rise to the top.

      I too really liked the diversity. I wondered about the Black man in charge as well as the Aussie woman. I’m glad it was that way, but it does give you pause.

  3. Liked it a lot and there is a basis for Aussie/US tensions ( like Canada, TRumps trade war will cost Aussie plenty of $) . Strong characters , especially the females,help make it look believable.Hard to read any decent review without spoilers, but I value Virginia’s opinion so if I know I will watch it I read her reviews after ( Travellers fan )

  4. I liked the series until it fell into the fallacy of appeasement with regard to the Chinese and advocated treason against the United States by our own intelligence services and dribbled the excrement Obama sowed about America’s decline. Disappointing, really, but after years of experiencing Hollywood’s tripe I was not surprised that Oz went this direction with it. I guess mental midgets tend to follow the same patterns of thought.

  5. I found it very captivating, a spy thriller which gave me a similar feeling as Helen MacInnes’ books had. Australia is feeling the pinch between an increasingly powerful China and the U.S. – the analogy of the games Go and Chess was very apt, as was the comparison between Kerr and the current U.S. president.
    Thanks for the review!

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