The Night Manager, whose fifth episode airs on AMC Tuesday night, is actually based on a book by that other great interpreter of British spycraft, John le Carré. Published in 1993, the tale of a soldier turned hotel employee who’s swept into the orbit of a roguish arms dealer was le Carré’s first novel not set during the Cold War, and in many ways it seems inspired by Ian Fleming’s star creation. Consider how the book’s hero is introduced in chapter three:
Jonathan Pine, orphaned only son of a cancer-ridden German beauty and a British sergeant of infantry killed in one of his country’s many postcolonial wars, graduate of a rainy archipelago of orphanages, foster homes, half-mothers, cadet units, and training camps, sometimes army wolf-child with a special unit in even rainer Northern Ireland, caterer, chef, itinerant hotelier, perpetual escapee from emotional entanglements, volunteer, collector of other people’s languages, self-exiled creature of the night and sailor without a destination, sat in his sanitary Swiss office behind reception, smoking his third unusual cigarette ...
In the series, Pine (Hiddleston) is first introduced as the night manager of a Cairo hotel struggling to make his way to work during the Arab Spring in 2011. He’s preternaturally calm amid the chaos, soothing customers, and pushing them smoothly to the ground when gunshots ring out outside. Later a woman, Sophie (Aure Atika), sashays through the lobby; another hotel employee tells Pine she’s the mistress of Freddie Hamid, whose family owns half the city, and is described as “everything the protesters hate. Incredibly wealthy. Corrupt to the core.”
Sophie asks Pine to make a photocopy of a document that’s come into her possession detailing arms purchases between Hamid and Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), a British businessman seen in the opening minutes of the series delivering a bland TED-style talk about philanthropy. Contrary to his public face as a savior of refugees and orphans, Roper is a peddler of everything from napalm to nerve gas, and is described by Sophie as “the worst man in the world.” Pine sneaks a copy of the document to an English friend of his at the embassy, and before long Sophie is murdered in retribution (but not before the two sleep together in an Egyptian hideaway when he tries to help her escape).
Four years later, Pine is working in a hotel in Switzerland when he first encounters Roper face to face, newly arrived with his entourage: a fixer named Major Corkoran (Tom Hollander), two armed security guards, and his gamine American girlfriend, Jed (Elizabeth Debicki). Still haunted by Sophie’s murder (literally—the show’s hammiest scenes feature her ashen corpse entreating him to act), Pine retrieves sim cards from Roper’s trash and delivers them to the last contact he had at MI6, Angela Burr (the outstanding Olivia Colman). Soon, and rather improbably, Burr decides to plant him inside Roper’s operation, staging a kidnapping in Spain that makes Pine a trusted new member of his inner circle.