West Germany 1979. The vroom of a motorcycle. A brown leather suitcase passed from person to another. A ring at the door that opens to reveal a smiling young woman on the other side. That's how AMC The Little Drummer Girl , based on an adaptation of John le Carré's novel of the same name, kicks off. To the average TV viewer this all seems pretty harmless, but in less than five minutes, the suitcase explodes, killing a young boy playing in his bed. Just like that, the three-night mini series begins with a bang.
Soon after, we meet Charlie (Florence Pugh), a 20-something-year-old actress in the middle of a rather interesting audition. Unseen casting agents urge her to improvise, and, while confused, Charlie takes a deep breath and obliges, delivering a passionate off-the-cusp monologue.
Elsewhere, a gruff Israeli spymaster Martin Kurtz (Michael Shannon) interviews a traumatized man who, after being charmed by the young woman at the episode's beginning, exited his house only to watch it be blown to bits mere seconds later. Kurtz quickly becomes convinced that the bombing is the work of two brothers – Michel and Khalil – both of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In turn, he persuades his boss to allow him to try a new method for capturing the alleged terrorists. Instead of bombing them, he'll lure them in and capture them using live bait. That's where Charlie comes in.
Charlie is at a community theater performance when she spots a rather intriguing man (Alexander Skarsgård) front and center. Not too long after this, her theater troupe suspiciously gets a gig in Greece, where, of course, Charlie crosses paths with him again. Initially, he introduces himself to her friends as Peter, but Charlie's not buying his innocent tourist routine, though she seems equally parts irritated and intrigued by him. In turn, she starts calling him Joseph and he blankly allows it.
Kurtz still hellbent on capturing the terrorists, tracks down Michel (Amir Khoury) and lures him in by using an attractive spy posing as a hitchhiker. Then Kurtz proceeds to essentially kidnap him and his red car, which turns out to be holding something pretty major.
"Joseph," who's clearly on a mission of his own, invites Charlie to Athens with him for a few days. This should've been a huge red flag for Charlie given she has no idea who this man is, and it's more than a little weird that he's been following her. But I get it. Weird or not, his mysteriousness and incredibly hot, so Charlie joins him. He asks her to wear a bold yellow dress on their "date," and he takes her to the Acropolis, where things start to heat up between them. Unfortunately, just as quickly as their date gets good, it ends and Charlie is left confused wondering if she misread the situation after going in for a kiss and Joseph coldly pulling away.
The two soon end up back in Joseph's car, which is eerily similar to the red Mercedes Michel was driving when he was snatched by Kurtz's team. Charlie grows increasingly fearful on this high-speed car journey, but Joseph refuses to say anything. Disoriented, Charlie staggers from the car as the arrive at their destination. And who's there waiting? Kurtz of course, who tells her that he's the "producer, writer and director of our little show and I’d like to talk to you about your part.”
Total head scratch moment. And thus, episode 1 ends, and episode 2 begins.
Like Charlie, viewers are left wondering what the hell is going on when episode two begins.
In a series of flashbacks we learn that the audition Charlie went on in episode one was a total set-up by Kurtz. Given her interest in Palestinian activism outside of acting, he thought she'd be the perfect person to help them infiltrate the terrorist cell. He's been watching her. He's been studying her. And he's the one who sent Joseph, who's real name is Gadi Becker (well, maybe, because who really knows when it comes to spies) to lure her in.
In present day, Charlie is more confused as ever as she's invited in a house full of strangers who seem incredibly eager to meet her – particularly Kurtz. In the "getting to know her" portion of their meet and greet, she's tricked into spilling her family secrets. According to her, she grew up with a drunk mom and criminal dad, which both ruined her childhood and peaked her interest in radical politics. But soon Kurtz and his band of agents reveal that Charlie is lying about her past. Rather, she grew up in a loving family and only concocted this tragic tale to seem more appealing to casting agents and amongst her acting friends. Nonetheless, Kurtz is in awe with her ability to spin facts and promptly informs her that she's gotten the part.
Meanwhile, Michel, whose real name is Salim, is being held in a sturdy fake cell in Kurtz's safe house. In an effort to squeeze out information about his family and where his next planned attack will be taking place, Kurtz's team dopes Michel up with spiked orange slices. After doling out misinformation at first, Michel eventually cracks and reveals that he was supposed to deliver a supply of explosives (which are in his car) to a train station in Austria.
While Salim was spilling details about his missions and sister, Becker was in full training mode with Charlie. In order to fully execute Kurtz's plane and infiltrate the PLO, Charlie must pose as one of Michel's girlfriends. Becker gets into character as Michel mimicking his voice and wearing similar clothes, which really puts Charlie's improv skills to the test.
Still, Charlie has no time to second-guess her performance. Because just as quickly as Michel gives up the info about his explosives delivery, Charlie is informed by Becker that she now must make the delivery all by herself in Michel's red car.