We are now entering the last 30 days until the premiere of BS on Epix (October 16). And the PR dept is ramping up their promo efforts. After having introduced us to all major players via individual character videos, as well as a trailer and a full-length preview of the first two episodes, we have now been given a character video for the shadiest characters of all – Thomas Shaw. And let me say this right at the beginning: What two full-length episodes couldn’t do, this trailer has effortlessly done in 60 seconds – I am totally hooked now. Have a look:
— BerlinStation (@BerlinStation) September 15, 2016
My congrats again to the producers of the trailers and promo content. Another fantastic offering that actually excites me more than the actual series. This is great TV promotion – with a mere 60 seconds at their disposal, they manage to tease their show in an exciting, interesting and curiosity-inducing way. So full of facts and ruses, it is a complete sensory overload, demanding the viewer to watch, listen, discern, and interpret all at the same time. It’s pretty amazing how much is in this – and how much you *don’t* see at first viewing. I actually went through this trailer frame by frame, and it is really well-constructed, with *obvious* care and thought behind it.
There are many things which this trailer does very cleverly. First of all, it establishes the location slowly and carefully at the beginning. We get an overhead shot of Glienicker Brücke – the bridge of spies which has recently been back in the public’s consciousness thanks to the eponymously titled Hollywood film featuring Tom Hanks. This is followed by a slow pan across Berlin and some high rises in the foreground and then finished with a shot of the U-Bahn trains crossing the landmark Oberbaumbrücke (bridge) that connects Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain (two very edgy parts of Berlin).
In case the pictures do not work for establishing Berlin in the viewer’s mind, the trailer then makes the location obvious by showing us the name of the city in the next couple of shots of papers: Someone buys the news magazine Spiegel (German equivalent of Time Magazine), beside which a magazine called Berliner is prominently displayed. In the next shot, we see someone picking up a Berliner Zeitung from a newsstand. Hence we have Berlin fully established. The scenes are interspersed with the Shaw graphic, which is really colourful, cool and zeitgeist-y.
And then the show really hits you. No time for leaning back, you barely have time to take a breath in the next 35 seconds. A barrage of images, words and scenes starts flashing across the screen. You blink, and you are out – much like a spy who doesn’t pay attention. Since it has become increasingly clear that there is no coincidence in BS‘s flawless promo material, I took a really close (and slow) look at the sequence of the images – because I am sure there are hints in here. I actually took notes on the sequence because you cannot keep track of it without. This is what you see, and I am deliberately leaving it in this format, (stand-out voice over is written bold):
AGENT • Robert Kirsch • Hector de Jean • Daniel Miller • INSIDER • Kelly Frost • Valerie Edwards • Steven Frost • OPERATIVE • blurred out Ingrid Hollander • hooded unidentifiable man/Shaw • SUBVERSIVE • ENEMY • RADICAL • INFORMANT • PATRIOT • Miller • de Jean • Who is Shaw? • Kelly • TRAITOR • HERO • Frost • Valerie • SYMPATHISER • Who is Shaw? • [now shorter glimpses of obscured characters] Sandra Abe • de Jean • Sandra • LIAR • REBEL • SPY • Kirsch • MASTERMIND • Frost • ANARCHIST • [tiniest glimpse of] Miller • PEACEKEEPER • Who is Shaw? • [blank screen] Valerie: Which fucking side are you on? • [now switching to actual scenes from show] Miller furtively crossing the road • close-up Kirsch What do you want? • TRUST NO ONE • Valerie interrogating Muslim woman • someone eavesdropping • I wanna find Thomas Shaw • blond woman jogging in snow • Kelly untying Frost’s bow tie • TRUST NO ONE • Miller on phone • Miller: Shaw is not just a whistleblower • close-up paper being burnt • TRUST NO ONE • Kelly eavesdropping • computer screen with code • TRUST NO ONE • Frost agitatedly shouting (Richter beside him) • Frost: Get them out of there • Abort • TRUST NO ONE • naked woman getting dressed (Kirsch sitting on sofa back to camera) • Esther Krug smoking beside naked man (Miller) • TRUST NO ONE • Esther: You sound like Thomas Shaw • Esther and Miller having sex • Who is Shaw? • Kirsch frustratedly kicking a table • unknown man looking at mobile and being kidnapped • TRUST NO ONE • frustrated man from behind • Hector: Get out of here now • Ingrid on phone • Kirsch at desk from behind • Who is Shaw? • TRUST NO ONE • Frost in office under water • blank screen • A MISSION TO UNCOVER LIES AND SECRETS
That is almost a piece of creative art in itself, don’t you think? The reason I have put this here, is to illustrate what this trailer does so perfectly: It uses all available media to keep the viewer busy, distracted and confused. It pretends to give information and yet creates ever more confusion. The editing of the trailer is really well done: We have a calm and slow start that gives us the background – Berlin, a whistleblower
is wreaking havoc with his revelations. The trailer picks up pace when we are introduced to the main players. We get to see their faces, but doubt is already cast; they are (literally) shady characters, although the interspersed words are predominantly neutral: agent, operative, insider.
And particularly so when it comes to the journalist who is the whistleblower’s mouthpiece. Ingrid Hollander is not properly shown, she is only a blurred out smudge of beige. A hint? The whistleblower’s depiction – presumably the man in the hoodie – is particularly interesting. We cannot really see his face. Well, hold on. Thanks to digital viewing, we can pause the frame. Not only do we see that “?Shaw?” is wearing the same coat that Daniel puts on when he goes up on the roof (see screenshot right), but thanks to lightening up the shadows, we see hints of familiar stubble, a prominent nose, a piercing stare…
Interesting! What does that mean? I doubt the production had to save money and simply asked Armitage to stand in. “Listen, Rich, can you just step in here? We need a picture of a generic whistleblower/hacker type. Just put on that army coat and give us a creepy stare. Yeah, that’s great. Thanks. No, sorry, there’s no extra fee for standing in. Now, please put that hoodie down, you are scaring me!” Have they given away a major hint here??? Seems almost careless?!
Especially as the interspersed descriptions are now carrying clear negative associations: subversive, enemy, rebel… I won’t go through the whole sequence of characters and the descriptive adages thrown between them; you can see that in the list above – and draw your conclusions. Except for one little snippet, that I nearly overlooked. The question Who is Shaw? is followed by a picture that is shown only for a fraction of a second. And this is actually *very* suspicious:
Brown hair or reflection of tungsten light? Well, let’s lighten up those shadows:
The shape of the head, the familiar upturned collar, the hint of white shirt and tie underneath. Hm. The elf ears give him away, though. That’s Miller. Does it mean anything that his picture pops up just behind the question Who is Shaw? Or is that just to show that that is the question Miller is tasked to answer? Another giveaway then?!?!!
In any case, accelerating into the various characters and the roles they may embody, the trailer gets faster and faster, with images becoming harder to discern, deliberately making it harder for us to keep up with it. As the trailer approaches the 30 second mark, we finally get to take a breather – the screen turns blank and we hear the VO Which fucking side are you on? And now the trailer changes tack again. From the uniform character snapshots we launch into action that describes the characters in scenes taken from the show. Miller walking outside. Valerie interrogating. Kirsch angry. Frost panicky. Like the snapshots earlier, the scenes also become shorter and harder to keep up with, down to a second’s look at a scene. Smut alert: Which is, of course, a particular pity when it comes to the so-called sex scene that has already made the rounds yesterday. Left-field interpretation: This is not a sex scene, but a torture scene where bad girl extraordinaire Esther Krug (clearly identified as the villain of the piece by being shown with a cigarette earlier on!) has stripped down her victim and is obviously hurting Daniel Miller who is writhing and moaning in pain. Hm. Or maybe not?
Joking aside, the snippets accelerate and finally culminate in a showdown that urgently asks Who is Shaw?, implores TRUST NO ONE, and is followed by a potential death scene (Frost). And all is silence. “A mission to uncover lies and secrets.” Wow. All this is set to an industrial, thumping techno-soundtrack that drives the action. As the beat of the music accelerates, so do the scenes. The voice overs are timed perfectly with the music, making this a fully organic, smooth and exciting trailer that raises more questions than it answers. Just as it should be.
I was out of breath after watching this. This trailer is sensory overload. Pictures, people, slogans to be read, snippets of scenes, voice over to process in connection with the accompanying images, indiscernible characters. It all adds up to a big mass of continuous distraction, with a soundtrack that is either a heartbeat under increasing duress, or a hammering headache. Darkness, shade, light, sex, intrigue, danger, death – and the continuously recurring message TRUST NO ONE, hammering home the distrust, paranoia, confusion and uncertainty what we are shown. What looks like facts, are interpretations, questions and speculations. With snippets of speech and extracts of scenes ripped out of context, can we be sure that what we see offers a proper clue? No. It’s all open to interpretation.
So at the end of it, I am hooked because there are so many questions that I can’t wait to find the answers to:
- Why would Miller, if he *is* indeed Shaw, volunteer to investigate the leaks and thus draw attention to himself?
- Is Kelly Frost more than the wife of Steven Frost? Is she possibly sabotaging her husband – in order to get him to retire to Provence, or to take revenge for his infidelity?
- Is Sandra more than just the secretary and lusts for power?
- Are Esther and Miller another iteration of the Lucas North/Sarah Caulfield scenario? Sleeping with the enemy: Who is using pillow talk to spy on whom?
- Who is the blonde in the post-coital sitting room scene with Kirsch? Is that Esther, taking a multi-pronged approach?
- Who is the dude who gets kidnapped?
- And how does Frost drown in the safety of an office?
Berlin Station, you now have me. I’m in. I’m on it. I can’t wait.