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.
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
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.
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.
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”…
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.