A year later Berlin Station returns to our screens. Before I launch into episode 1, here’s a little recap of my thoughts after season 1.
We left the show not with cliffhangers, but not exactly with tied-up character arcs, either. After uncovering the secret of the Berlin Station mole and the rather fishy involvement of the German secret service in the goings-on, Daniel Miller ultimately lets the culprit – colleague and friend Hector de Jean – go, yet suffers gunshot injuries in the final show down of the series. Luckily, he survives, as we see in the very last scene. But Berlin Station is in disarray, not least because station chief Steven Frost has been sacked over losing an agent, the latter a fact that has deeply affected Valerie Edwards. – The show did not fully convince me when watching it the first time around – I was disappointed by the lack of depth to some characters (especially Daniel Miller) and felt somewhat frustrated by the way the show prioritised some plot lines (and characters) over others. It didn’t feel balanced in that respect, even though the general themes were interesting even if not necessarily new – the price of being a spy, their (often-cited by the actors) moral compass, the battle against IS, the in-house competition between men and women, and the cat-and-mouse game between competing secret services. BUT – with Richard Armitage back on board and some well-timed trailers that gave us glimpses of characters old and new, I had resolved to be back on board for season 2.
And to jump ahead – I actually *am* fully on board, because season 2 pretty much gripped me from the first minute. No, not only because the Richard Armitage fangirl is delighted to see her favourite actor in the opening scene, but because we jump right in. Sure, season 1 “jumped right in”, too – but with a spoilerish coda. Now season 2 opens a new chapter, and it starts by reacquainting us with a pre-loved character and the mystery of his new name and look.
Season 2, episode 1
So Daniel is back in Berlin. And not only that – he is also back in league (not “bed”! – yet?) with Esther Krug. The ex-casual lovers – Esther now advanced to a higher position in BfV – are working together on a deep-cover mission that Daniel has been sent on. He is to infiltrate the German neo-Nazi scene.
Sorry, I am really disturbed by the continuous use of describing the German neo-Nazis as the “alt-right”. That adage for me is connected to US-American white supremacists, not with Germany. And Esther is helping him with a way in. The emotional tension between the two of them is still there – now, there is a plot line from season 1 that might be interesting to continue, especially that now dynamics are changed and complicated with Esther at the helm of the German spy operations… Cleverly, the show doesn’t waste much time in explaining how Daniel and Esther get back to work – we are immediately introduced to Daniel’s cover, arms dealer Trevor Price, by way of his explanation to Esther. The new “fake character” is right there from the start, and BS wastes no time with protracted set-ups. It may be at the cost of explaining what happened to Daniel (and his cousin and nephew?) since the end of season 1, but as it is, the mystery of the new mission is far more interesting. Boom, and Daniel is in the neo-Nazi lair (ok, just a bar) but he gets the ball rolling, pretends to become indebted to his targets in order to be credible as someone who wants to do *them* a favour in return.
No time for long arrival scenes of the new station chief, BB Yates, either. We meet her in the station, explaining the next general mission, which is discovering the intents of a pre-eminent right-wing politician who is rumoured to be colluding with neo-Nazi extremists in order to swing the election in her favour. BS very cleverly pits the two women against each other – BB rallying her troops for the mission at hand, and Katerina Gerhardt rallying her neo-Nazi sympathisers. To be honest, I get goose-pimples watching Natalia Wörner making her speech. It is so close to the reality of demagogues and bourgeois fascists currently poisoning the German political scene, I find it difficult not to be affected by it.
So for a change, the plot of the season is quickly set up: The CIA and the BfV are working together to implicate a neo-Nazi politician in a planned terrorist attack. And the action is absolutely absorbing. Following Daniel/Trevor around as he is worming his way near neo-Nazi bad boy Otto Ganz by way of daughter Lena, is told quickly, deftly, concisely, including little plot surprises here and there: Armando (weird name, btw?), Trevor’s deft handling of guns, and then a massive surprise at the end of the episode where we catch up with Hector. It is these surprising twists as well as the obvious conflict in Daniel who has to be convincing as a racist/fascist, that provide the suspense in this episode. While the first season of BS took a long time setting everything up, this feels much fresher, much faster – and much more compelling than before. Maybe that is due to the series and its characters now already being established. But maybe there is also better writing at play here, with a script that gives opportunity for exciting action.
Since season 1, the makers of BS have been blowing their own trumpet with regard to the topicality of the show. Last season’s variation on the Assange/Snowden whistleblower problem was in fact less original and up-to-the-minute than the writers trumpeted around. Now, however, they are right on it, and with the RL German elections culminating in a resounding success for the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), Berlin Station’s writers room have been spot on with their focus. BS2 is topical – and difficult in a non-convoluted way. I find scenes like the attack on the Turkish grocery very difficult to watch – it’s Reichskristallnacht on a small scale, and it hits me deep in my stomach. But that’s what BS needs to do – not hold back and imply but actually show the nastiness of it all. Scenes like that bring Daniel’s dilemma to the fore – posing as a neo-Nazi sympathiser, he is required to play along. Yet he thinks on the spot and prevents carnage by distracting his new friends. His morals and beliefs as an agent are tested – and that brings another layer of suspense to the show. We are now not only following the story – uncovering/preventing a plot – but we are also getting invested with a character who remained rather vague in season 1. However, Daniel is still predominantly “agent” rather than Daniel. He is all Trevor now, and I would really like to see more of his character to shine through, especially as other supporting characters are getting so much more insight into their bio and minds – even the neo-Nazi fixer, Otto Ganz (played with chilling precision by Thomas Kretschmann) and his daughter Lena (Emilia Schüle – the big surprise for me; imbues her character with a fascinating mix of daddy’s little confidante and manipulatrix) are given more background info than our lead character. I still cannot fathom the reasoning behind that, and I do not think that the sob story of little Daniel provoking his dad to beat him in order to numb the pain, is sufficient enough.
However, niggles aside – BS 2×01 has delivered for me. It is fast paced with much suspense and interesting new characters and character developments which would all allow for fascinating subplots in this season. How will the dynamics change with a new and female station chief at the helm who is not afraid to go off the books with a mission? How will Valerie Edwards fare under the new chief? How is old hand Robert Kirsch going to cope with being back as number 2? Will his loyalties and professionalism be tested with a new boss and his old boss also meddling in the spying business? (At least he is still his straight-talking self, a welcome, familiar sight.) Where will newcomer April Lewis fit in? And biggest spoiler of all: How will the old duo of Daniel and Hector get on?
Other incoherent observations:
- I loved the new intro – it has been updated not only with the new characters in the show, but also shows the returning characters in new scenes and new look (hello, beardy Daniel). The shots of Berlin remain, providing the continuity to season 1, as does the intro music by David Bowie, which I love even more now, a year later.
- Trevor Price’s look and habitus is – much to my surprise – doing things to me
or my ovaries. Has Armitage worked out? His biceps in the scene with Esther Krug makes my mouth water, as did some other shots that showed Trevor on an escalator from behind (long, lean legs) or his thin wrists when handing his passport to the border patrol. I am trying to put my finger on it (on my changed perception that is, not his wrists) – shouldn’t I be repelled by the neo-Nazi look with the slightly-negligent-definitely-aggressive haircut, the military boots, the bog standard t-shirt/jeans look, and the constant intense, guarded facial expression not to mention the beard!!!??? Trevor is definitely less of a pretty boy than Daniel who always looked like a “freshly peeled egg” as we call it in German (spick and span). Yet despite beard and harsh look, I am reminded of SAS-hard man John Porter, exuding testosterone no matter what he wore. It must be the dark triad, working their magic on me.
- Fangirl observations:
- The German cast is doing a great job. Natalia Wörner chilled me with her speech, especially when she screams at the rally “Deutschland – wach auf” (Germany wake up). (An obvious and synonymous play on the Nazi slogan from the 1930s, Deutschland erwache, which was embroidered on banners, part of Nazi propaganda and the chorus of an SA anthem/battle song.) I particularly liked Thomas Kretschmann – who looks the part of a man who can’t be trusted, and who is equally good at embodying the chilling, scrupleless neo-Nazi fixer as the volatile, dangerous killer. Just a couple of short scenes, but I have high hopes for Heino Ferch (playing PfD party strategist Joseph Emmerich) who looks less teddy bear here but more danger with his closely shaved head. How is that going to play out with Valerie? Emilia Schüle was great, too (see above), and I liked the ambiguity and casual sleaziness she has given Lena. – It’s great to see the German actors on an international stage.
- Am I wrong or simply used to it, but Armitage’s US accent sounds less jarring now?
- Of the US newcomers I liked April Lewis as the fresh, young and very conscientious new recruit. I somehow expected her to be different, but I liked what Keke Palmer is doing. Ashley Judd: I have no preconceived ideas re. her political activism, and I don’t remember seeing her in any other role, but while I find the character of BB as such interesting – strong female lead etc. – I was wondering whether we will get to see more than just one facial expression from BB. Her stone-cold demeanor and immediate launch into unsanctioned activities makes me wonder how trustworthy and altruistic she is, despite her assurance that she wants to give Berlin station a win. Career woman who will stop at nothing?
- Fabulous cliffhanger at the end of the episode!
So a big thumbs up from me, with a lot of expectations and anticipation of a Berlin station that will come into its own.