#BerlinStation Season 2, Episode 2 – Dangerous Dynamics [Review/Spoilers]

Both episode 1 and episode 2 were published by Epix in advance of the season premiere. Two amuse bouche to whet the appetite for the second season of BS. And boy, is my appetite whetted! A proper treat, because for the whole of episode 2 we find ourselves with Trevor – and Hector – in Spain. The fan girl rejoices – will my hopes come true and Daniel finally come into his own in BS?

Setting the scene

Well, it initially looks like that. Having roped Hector in as arms dealer Andrew Chevalier – the big reveal at the end of episode 1 – under pressure from Ganz, Daniel’s intention was only to use Hector as the supposed puppet master behind the scenes, yet not involve him any further. But things do not go to plan. Ganz insists on doing business with the boss only. That neither fits Daniel’s plan for his op, nor does it delight Hector who had retired from the spying game. But the two men have to work together again – at least for now, if they do not want to be killed by Otto and his henchman.

“Look who’s coming for breakfast.” Daniel shows up at Hector’s door.

Jaysis, Daniel! Manners! Don’t stare at people! Daniel spots Hector’s girlfriend exhibiting her wares in full glory at the window.

The show very cleverly transitions into episode 2 by restarting the action before we left off in episode 2. We see the run-up to Hector opening the door to Daniel, establishing him as the retiree agent living a life of luxury in a fancy house, with a pretty woman with whom he has obviously just engaged in some exciting indoor sports in broad daylight.

Hector is understandably annoyed that Daniel has a) found him and b) is involving him in an op. Thus, the two men quickly confront each other: After having made introductions to Otto and Co., they convene under a pretext and Daniel gets to fill Hector in. And hooray, Daniel now seems much more assertive with his dubious ‘friend’ Hector, feeling confident to call in the favour he is owed by Hector for letting him go after identifying him as Thomas Shaw.

Acting with distinction

Chin up – make way for a more assertive Daniel.

The scene also establishes one of the major acting difficulties now posed for Armitage: While now outwardly looking like Trevor, Armitage will have to make a clear distinction between Trevor and his *real* character, Daniel. If they look identical – how can he make sure that the viewers do not get confused over the two personas? And Armitage rises to the challenge beautifully. Acting Daniel in this first scene alone with Hector, he gives the character a slightly softer tone of voice. He speaks Daniel with less of an edge, but smoother and almost imperceptibly higher in pitch. He also gives Daniel the typical gestures from the Armitage repertoire of mannerisms: the bowed head, the slightly submissive look from under the brows, the little head shake). Trevor, OTOH, looks taller, with squared shoulders and his chin higher, as well as a slightly aggressive glint in his eye. Trevor’s face looks more tensed – am I imagining it or is the fold between his brows more pronounced when he is acting Trevor? And Armitage is absolutely on point with his distinctions between the two roles, which he also keeps very clear in a difficult comforting scene with Lena, where the lines between Daniel and Trevor could easily become very blurry.

Armitage has plenty of opportunity for showing his acting prowess in this episode – playing Trevor to Otto and companions, being Daniel when alone with Hector. It’s the kind of challenge I would expect for the lead actor in a show – and the lead character. And Armitage is very good at distinguishing clearly between the two characters. As befits the leading role, Daniel comes across as much more in charge of the plot until here – he is the main agent tasked with infiltrating the Nazis, he has shown himself capable of that, playing the weapons dealer and general racist sympathiser strategically and sensitively.

Upstaged?

Always doomed to be passive-reactive? Hector tells Daniel what is to be done.

That, however, is only a passing occurrence. And unfortunately BS season 2 slips right back into the dynamics that had been established in season 1. If you think that forcing Hector into retirement has put the character on the back foot and allows Daniel to shine, you are wrong. Despite the strength of the Daniel/Trevor dichotomy in 2×01, bringing Hector in as Trevor’s big boss in the background, now takes a lot of power away from Trevor/Daniel. Which once again meddles with the expectation that Daniel should be the main character to follow and identify with in this show. Instead, Hector’s re-emergence relegates Daniel onto the back bench, just like Trevor is relegated to the role of the lackey by Andrew Chevalier.

And sure enough, BS turns out to actually rehash the positioning of the characters from season 1. It is happening again, Hector is easily stealing the thunder from Daniel – or the limelight, in the context of a show. He consistently gets all the good lines in the episode. From angry comments like “I don’t feature in this fucking shit show” or his wry reply to the question whether he is enjoying his retirement “up until 20 minutes ago I was fucking ecstatic”, to quips like “that Hitler Youth guy is in there, taking a crap”, Hector is amusing to watch – while Daniel gets to play the angsty side-kick. He gets to beg Hector “You and me. We get a win out of this. You and me. I know you haven’t forgotten how good that feels.” Yeah, well, it feels more like an ex-lover turning up at the door, hoping to get back into the bed. And a reactive-passive Daniel feels just plain wrong for a lead character. 

Pondering his fate on the sidelines? Trevor/Daniel seeks answers in the flames of the burning Porsche.

Once again I am wondering what the rationale behind such plot developments are. Hector as the *real* hero of the show? I find that disappointing in more than one respect, not only for the obvious mistakes the character made in season 1 (torturing and killing in the name of his whistleblowing mission), but also in terms of exposure for the *other* actor who is consistently being pushed into the background. Armitage does so well in playing the nuanced distinction between Daniel/Trevor, something I do not see in Ifans. When Ifans plays Hector acting Andrew Chevalier, he is still Hector. Hector is, however, very good at goading Otto – and thus propelling the action.

Understating is good; normalising is bad

Talking of Otto – I really like what Thomas Kretschmann is doing with this role. He is really understated as Otto Ganz, keeps a poker face and acts quietly and coldly to the point of silliness. Otto’s reaction to Hector’s priest anecdote? A dead-pan “Funny. Very funny.” – Very funny indeed, that kind of German humour. However, I am not quite sure about the not-very-subtle attempt at painting the evil neo-Nazi backroom dealer as a kindly family man. Reaffirming how much “Mama” and he himself love/d Lena, complete with the tender kiss to the forehead; shopping for ingredients and then carefully cooking a meal. Especially in light of the interview with show runner Brad Winters, I am absolutely and vehemently opposed to trivialising the threat that is embodied by these people. Otto Ganz – sadistic, scrupleless, evil right-wing extremist and murderer, yet loving father and wizard in the kitchen? Well, in the next step, we might as well also point out that Adolf Hitler had a heart for animals and acted the  kindly “Uncle Adi” to his niece. Even if this is meant as an attempt at putting Otto’s brutality and questionable beliefs into sharp relief, I deeply resent the way this is muddying the waters, or “graying it up”, as Winters calls it. Yes, it is true that in the RL German political landscape there is an attempt by the “new Right” to present themselves as ordinary, middle-class, educated people. People like you and me. However, their politics are *not* ordinary, they are not “educated” in the sense that they are informed by rational thought. Graying that up, is normalising and relativising something that is out of the ordinary, and wrong!

Maybe it is unfair to bring my own interest in politics and my own nationality (which both mean that I know more about the political context than the average viewer) to the show. Maybe it is not fair to let the opinion of one member of the crew have an influence on my verdict on BS. However, it is undeniable that the context of this year’s season of BS makes it very difficult to watch for me. I’m trying not to get worked up about even just hearing a *character* spew crap about foreigners taking our land/women/jobs/traditions/country. I am also trying not to be too critical of bits and pieces in the plot that I had questions about. All I want, is to see my favourite actor in a leading role in an *intelligent* spy thriller. I do hope that I do not have to resort to “watching for the plot”…

No bed for lackeys in Hector’s house, so Trevor has to sleep on the couch. “Plot” bonus: What’s going on with Armitage’s biceps?

The verdict

Having preached said all that, on the whole I *did* find episode 2 suspenseful and driven by constantly changing developments in the plot (despite resenting Hector’s growing role). The two main plot strands in this episode – Daniel’s attempt at winning/maintaining Otto’s trust, and the surprising reinvolvement of Hector that is like a ticking time-bomb – made for a lot of suspense while not feeling too convoluted or difficult to follow. There were twists that I had not foreseen, and some scope for great acting that make the show much more interesting to watch than season 1. I just hope that Hector is not going to upstage Daniel for the rest of the show.

22 thoughts on “#BerlinStation Season 2, Episode 2 – Dangerous Dynamics [Review/Spoilers]

  1. I finally subscribed dad to EPIX again last night so I saw the full version of Brad Winters’ “explanation” of the episode. He explicitly says, we had these great characters / actors and didn’t want to write them out. That said, I still can’t get interested in caring about Hector, so I kind of shrugged. If you say so, Brad. I thought that the episode was fairly balanced between the two, but I imagine that episode 3, which goes back to Berlin, is going to have much less Daniel, just from the preview. I’m sort of starting to think of this show more as I did about Spooks now, i.e., there isn’t really a main character.

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    • Sounds as if your conclusion is right: BS as an ensemble piece, not driven by a lead. Fair enough – even if that disappoints the fangirl in me.
      Couldn’t resist reading your recap of episode 3, and am already disappointed again.

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      • I can at least see the argument for Hector being a great character, although he leaves me yawning. But Steven Frost? They just think that people are watching because Jenkins is said to be a good actor. (I don’t see it here, if so.)

        This episode was super disappointing. And no way is any watcher going to think this show *doesn’t*have a left wing agenda after this week. I suspect, though, that the neo-Nazi character who will be normalized is Emmerich / French — as Valerie will fall in love with him. Small consolation.

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        • Not having seen the latest episode yet – but just from season 1 I had already lost all interest in Steven Frost. Continuous whining and sobbing – not an interesting character at all. Bringing him back almost seems like an after-thought to me. His storyline had pretty much finished last season. But yeah, maybe Jenkins had an opening in his schedule… As for how good he is an actor – no idea, can’t remember in any other film/show. I wasn’t big into him in season 1 either – capable actor, but then so was the whole ensemble.
          And meh – predictable: Two opponents falling for each other. (Ehm. Didn’t we already have that in S1? Esther and Daniel?) Ok, slightly more interesting re. the neo-Nazi involvement of Emmerich. But there are only two options here: Either he completely turns politically; or the relationship will fail. Since I like Ferch, I am happy to watch either way.

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      • me too. I am tempted to skip it, but that would be cheating. I already miss Armando and this tattoos, and now a whole episode with nothing but a glimpse of RA. I don’t want BS to be an ensemble piece. (stamps foot and has tantrum.)

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  2. Well, at least Hector and Daniel are more equal in the American accent department this season. I do wonder who will wind up with more screen time and lines of dialog. I am rooting for Daniel but Hector does seem to suck the oxygen out of the room with the best lines. Daniel seems limited to more than his share of reaction shots But It’s only two episodes in, there can be lots of Daniel drama in store. I am trying to stay positive.

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    • Ah, good to have my own impression confirmed – I also thought that RA sounded much better as an American in this episode. You hit it right on the head with “Hector sucks the oxygen out of the room”. So much more interesting as a character. We’ll see how that pans out in the future. (I have seen a list of episode recaps, and I do know that there will be more Daniel in other episodes, too.)

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  3. True on the accent, it is indeed much more natural because i’ve stopped noticing it or thinking about it which means it just flows effortless, well done RA.
    I actually like the dynamic between the 2, it works with very little effort from both sides which means they play really really well against each other. I feel RA has really good on screen chemistry with RI. The power balance might be irritating at times but it works on screen. And it actually creates interesting contrasts. Whereas in S1 we might have thought it is mainly due to the level of experience in time it has become obvious that it’s not just the experience but the nature of the person which sets the dynamic. Hector and Daniel have different shaded views of what the right thing is. And they are more effective together and Daniel knows it. As a spy his scruples hold Daniel back sometimes or make him more hesitant which can be quite dangerous. On the other hand Hector tends to be rather unhinged and risk taking but he’s also more prepared to take the hard decisions quickly. I think what the episode reminded us of is that they understand and know each other well, both in terms of strengths and weaknesses which makes the duo quite effective.

    I rather like the fact that Daniel is not yet so blase about taking a life or acting with violence, that something holds him back, even if it means taking a risk with his own life. Makes him less effective and ‘good’ at spying but more human and moral in ways in which Hector can no longer be.
    It’s an interesting contrast between how Hector interacts with him and how Esther does. I think they both understand Daniel quite well. But what in Esther’s eyes creates a bit of respect makes Hector look down on him a bit or see him as weak; both know Daniel works inside the system and believes the system can do the right thing. Esther does too but Hector hasn’t for a while. Hector is back at it because in some ways he’s addicted to the adrenaline of it, to the power it makes him feel while Daniel is in it to do the right thing.

    Otherwise well paces with hair raising twists, didn’t expect for the poor agent to die like that 😦 How will Daniel explain that to Esther? I guess that will be a big load on the thin thread of trust there… Hector and him go way back so i don’t think he’s going to volunteer that bit of information… Even trickier since he had saved his life before they killed him to save their skins.

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    • I admit – my criticism of RI and of Hector is strongly influenced by jealousy – why the heck is Hector getting the good lines and the interesting personality, while Daniel has to tag along like a little Robin to Hector’s Batman??? So yeah, RI definitely embodies Hector very well. I am just peeved that he is taking over so effortlessly. I want Daniel to be more prominent in the show.
      I really liked this episode – while a lot of people thought this was very slow. That never occurred to me. Sure, there was only that bit of action in the end, but I really enjoyed the psychological posturing, the mutual sussing out of each other, the power-play between Daniel and Hector, Hector and Otto, Otto and Trevor etc. The episode did not bore me at all – I was quite engrossed by watching Daniel manipulate the whole operation.

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      • wow… if this was slow i hesitate to think what do people watch usually for this to feel slow? I thought it was really tense and think in things happening even if it was just conversation, i really enjoyed it too 🙂 And RI def enjoys the hogging 😉

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        • I watch almost no TV, and I thought it was slow. Much slower than episode 1. Then the second time i watched it, I liked it better and didn’t find it so tedious (although I still didn’t see why they needed to spend five minutes of the episode staring furtively at each other over the market). But then after seeing ep 3 and 4, it felt like part of a trajectory to me. Ep 1 started at an exciting tempo, and it’s just gotten slower, and slower, and slower.

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        • I didn’t think it was slow, either. The psychological drama of the whole set-up was suspenseful, and I was not bored by it at all. It would be interesting to actually go through this episode and mark down all the little climaxes of suspense on a chart just to see how this episode differs from others.

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            • Not really interested that much in Hector. But while I am annoyed that he was brought in (and in such a way that he comes out with the upper hand in the power structure of the Andrew/Trevor pairing), I do think that the power struggle between Hector and Daniel added to the suspense. Looking forward from ep 2 to eps 4/5 (which I have now seen), I also cannot fathom why Hector is afforded so much freedom and power by the station…

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              • That’s what I was trying to say. I’m not interested in Hector, so I’m maybe 50 percent as interested in the power struggle as someone who is. I get that the writers thought this would be suspenseful but in the end it only is if I care about the outcome. All I want from episode 2 is for Daniel to get out alive, so all the stuff about Hector trying to get Ganz to say what he’s doing and so on, all the macho posturing, is kind of like meh to me. It advances the plot, but it doesn’t really draw me in.

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