Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) is, by all accounts on "The Night Manager," the "worst person in the world." A ruthless arms dealer, he preys on humanity's worst aspects, trading things "that no one should be trading," per one character on the show, and with no regard for who he hurts along the way. That point is made a bit too finely in episode 3's opening scene, in which a birthday party for the daughter of associate Juan Apostol (Antonio de la Torre) serves as the backdrop for a deal, only to be interrupted by the girl's tragic suicide. Director Susanne Bier cuts back and forth between the decadent party carrying on and Roper and Apostol trying to save the girl to suggest — nay, to hammer the point home — that there are human consequences to their deals reaching to their own loved ones. Like the show's James Bond-esque opening credits, it's a bit much.
But while Roper and right-hand man Maj. Lance "Corky" Corkoran (Tom Hollander) may be monsters (Roper focuses only on the pain the dead girl caused while Corky makes a mordant joke about the canapes), they're also wildly entertaining, and episode 3 is "The Night Manager's" first solid hour-and-change because it spends more time in their presence than setting up the background of protagonist Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston). As written, Pine (or "Thomas Quince," as he goes by in Roper's company) isn't much of a character, at least on the show. He's a bit of a stock haunted European, and Hiddleston's opacity as an actor isn't the kind that allows us to easily project ourselves onto him. As a window into the deliciously decadent world of Roper, however, he's good enough.
We get a sense of that in his first extended scene with Roper and Corky, who see a "cool cucumber" but try to get him to budge. Roper's looking to see if he has another confidant; Corky's territorial and quick to assume "Quince" is up to no good (or, erm, good). Together, they're a terrific team, with Laurie projecting relaxed malevolence while Hollander is more openly venomous. The two bring John le Carre's signature wit (largely missing in the previous episodes) in both their dialogue ("I met a girl in Devon," Quince says. "Didn't we all?" replies Roper, with Corky spitting out an especially sarcastic "I knoooow, charmant!") and their posture. Laurie rests easy and smirks, knowing he's in full control.
Corky, by comparison, snaps about, turning a point-in-the-right-direction gesture into a threat while suggesting that "Quince" "fill [his] pockets with stones, walk into the sea, and keep going." His dry threats grow more violent later while watching our hero's clear interest in Roper's girlfriend, Jed (Elizabeth Debicki), and remarking that "if you lay one hand on that precious fruit, like the Belgians in the Congo, I'll chop it off — and I don't mean the hand." Corky is both the show's nastiest and most fun figure, and the one that Bier and writer David Farr come closest to delving beneath the surface of. He's the man who does the dirty work and ties himself to it, the signature on Roper's papers so his boss has a respectable appearance. He's also a massive drunk, something British Intelligence exploits when Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) approaches the grieving Apostal and convinces him to sew seeds of doubt regarding Corky. Things move a bit too quickly in Pine's ascendancy in Roper's organization (by the end, he's the new man to sign the papers for Roper), but perhaps when you urinate off the edge of the balcony during a party, your boss starts to second guess your reliability.
Meanwhile, we get a better look at the interior lives of the women in "The Night Manager" in episode 3, learning that Jed has a son that she's kept secret from Roper and that she's been mostly kept outside the loop by her dangerous boyfriend. Caroline (Natasha Little), wife to Roper's business partner Sandy, has open eyes, in part because her husband is an idiot who drinks too much, keeps secrets badly and sleeps with the nanny without hiding it. She, then, turns to "Quince," admitting that "I just want to be honest with someone in the world." That's also something Burr is able to do while waiting for news from Pine about Roper's dealings: she's pregnant, but she doesn't love the father, something she's open about with American agent Joel (David Harewood), whom she does love. But like Caroline, she's resigned herself to unhappiness. "You make your bed and you die in it."
Jed, for her part, isn't completely honest with anyone, hiding both her son and her deep sadness. Up to this point, Debicki hasn't been called on to do much more than look fabulous in elegant gowns (which she does), but episode 3 shows more of the dissatisfaction, the isolation; "Quince" sees that, and more, when he walks in on her, and she later demands that he tell no one. "You shouldn't have seen me like that today," she says, clarifying that she doesn't care who sees her naked (right before going skinny dipping in front of "Quince"), but that she doesn't want anyone seeing her crying. But she can't keep the mask on for long, especially if she gets sloppy: her anger towards Roper comes out in a late-episode phone call, and when Pine goes into Roper's alarm-guarded office, he finds a strand of blonde hair on his desk. By choice or lack thereof, she's going to have to be honest with him in the future if she's going to stay alive.
-Roper asks "Quince" if he's a communist, as it's one of Corky's bugbears. "He seems to have a few," Hiddleston remarks. "...yeah."
-Roper's speech about how kids think the world is grand, that it's actually rotten, and that one should celebrate that rottenness is a bit purple for my tastes, but Laurie's casual delivery is aces.
-Best line-reading of the night, however, goes to Hollander regarding how his friend is going to dig up "the whole truth" on "Quince": "Because heeee's my bud-dy."
-There's some inter-organizational wrangling between corrupt intelligence officers and the honest Rex (Douglas Hodge), something that's good when shown but under-explored.
-Bier's direction is still a sticking point, I'm afraid. At one point she obliterates an eyeline between Burr and Apostal so badly that I'm genuinely unsure about what side of Apostal's face we were supposed to be seeing. As for why she shoots reflections of Roper during the last scene rather than the character himself, your guess is as good as mine.