Before I once again get behind with the reviews, I am going to do a free flow review of BS 2×06, foregoing a second viewing and checking up details. The reason: This is a first response – and as such my honest reaction to the episode. [WARNING: Contains spoilers and senseless silliness]
More Daniel than I thought. Because with the hints dropped by Leland Orser and Berlin Station on Twitter, I thought we might be focussing much more on Robert and Steven’s trip to Norway. As it is, their buddy comedy investigations in Norway only take up half of the episode, interspersed with the plot as it involves the other characters. As there are:
BB Yates is getting ready to leave Berlin, having been recalled to Langley thanks to Ambassador Hanes’ meddling. She gets Valerie on board, though, essentially getting her to go rogue by dismissing her from the team, yet keeping an eye on her protégée, April. In an attempt to keep Lena hidden, Hector has actually lost her. She is intent on wreaking revenge on Katerina Gerhardt. Finding her again, Hector seems to be willing to help her with an assassination attempt. Lastly, Daniel has been traumatised by the failed op. Wrecked by guilty feelings, he is not quite himself, and he seeks solace from Esther.
So let’s jump right in with Daniel. Some very fan-girl compatible scenes here in 2×06 with Daniel taking showers and prancing around in his apartment (not the kip we initially saw him in in 2×01 – which begs the question when did he have time to move into a new flat? Why is he not in his previous apartment in Wedding?). I was already mystified why Daniel – CIA agent, clever man, who has certainly witnessed a good bit of violence already – is sentimental about Otto Ganz, whose photos are still pinned to his wall? Legacy of Ganz – “leader, father, terrorist” – this stuff is making me squirm because I am still finding it way too apologetic for the fate of a neo-Nazi thug. I get that the show is trying to highlight the fact that you need to fear the middle-class, educated neo-Nazis (personified by Katerina Gerhardt, Joseph Emmerich) as much if not more than the dumb neo-Nazi plebs and thugs. Yet painting Otto as the victim of the bad, yet respectable Katerina Gerhardt, is just too simplistic. And downright dangerous. Otto’s actions/plans were deplorable, full stop. Whether he is loving father or a wronged orphan, does not come into this. Remember – the SS officers in Auschwitz were loving fathers, too! So why is Daniel even thinking about Ganz?
His attitude becomes even clearer in a later scene with Esther, when a distraught Daniel turns up at Esther’s house, drunk and desperate. He beats himself up over Otto having been shot – quite literally, by the way – and wishes he had been able to save the man. Purportedly to make him give evidence against Gerhardt and thus get her. But once again, this scene really gives mixed messages on what Daniel really means. It comes across as if he wanted to save the man – rather than nail Katerina
hold your thoughts, ladies – NOT *that* way! I keep thinking back to what RA kept pointing out in the promo interviews – that Trevor’s opinions are not Daniel’s, and that he himself was keen on bringing his *own* politics to bear on the character of Daniel, too. In the light of Daniel’s behaviour in this episode, I am wondering whether RA was unhappy with what he had to portray – and whether that means that Daniel had genuinely warmed towards Otto? I do not like that idea – Otto is bad, and that is that. There is no way to sugarcoat it, and Berlin Station is doing extremely badly by posthumously making Otto an ambiguous character.
And all of this is put into even sharper relief by the fact that for the first time in one and a half seasons of Berlin Station, this is the context where Daniel is shown as a man with some psychological depth behind the beardy veneer. Honestly, at this point, the writing of the series is not just grating on me.
It did that right from season 1 when it became clear that for all the “starring Richard Armitage” Daniel was never developed as the lead character or the figure of identification of the piece. Now it almost looks as if the writers are taking the piss. The formerly ice-cold lead character who didn’t miss a beat when a woman was killed due to his meddling, or scruplelessly sent an (admittedly abominable) Chinese defector to his death in order to force Thomas Shaw’s hand, or who put on a suitably shocked face when his ‘partner’ mercilessly wreaked lynch justice on a criminal yet did *nothing* to stop him, NOW this very same guy is losing sleep over a neo-Nazi thug and killer? Is it deliberate that this makes Daniel look like a closet sympathiser of the PfD? Or is this just shoddy writing?
I mean, FFS, Berlin Station – you have got some class actors there. And you have Armitage who is busting his arse to give Daniel some personality. And yet you come up with clichés that don’t even make sense? Sob stories that are not really in keeping with the characters you created in season 1? Plus consistent overshadowing of the lead character by Hector who is calling the shots (quite literally), telling Daniel to stay put, and mothering him like a flustered hen? Then there is that stupid Hollywood stuff of making people resort to alcohol whenever there is stress. I mean, Daniel has extraordinarily good taste in gin (Hendricks – you can’t go wrong with that), but in the morning, and from a tea-cup? Or later in the day with Vodka, just to get him drunk enough to seek Esther’s compassion? Not to mention Nick Fisher who is fresh out of bed and first thing gets a glass of scotch with ice from his freshly stocked ice-cooler? Pur-lease. Or Daniel getting so enraged about Otto’s Nazi memorabilia that he puts his fist through a picture frame, cutting himself badly? I mean, who *willingly* risks injury just in order to show frustration? Less is more, and BS is really laying it on too thick at this stage.
Whatever was lacking in season 1, BS is now trying to rectify – and going completely overboard on the clichés. Season 1 often felt slightly anaemic to me – not fully fleshed out, despite the convoluted plot. And now there seems to be a surplus of drama. From heavy drinking to honey traps and traumatised operatives – sorry, but a lot of this is actually actively contradicting the characters who are forced to play this plot.
I think I could accept all this – if it weren’t for the super-dodgy way the script is dealing with Otto and the neo-Nazi question. I acknowledge that this may stand out to me more because – like Otto actually pointed out – I have grown up with collective guilt, and I feel personally responsible for never EVER letting something like the Third Reich happen again. But I still think that it is careless to create ambiguity over a subject that is not ambiguous.
What I liked
Rant over and that said – I *did* like some things in this episode. The cinematography was great again, and in that respect, the script is really giving Hagen Bogdanski something to work with: Never mind how silly the story line of the two trenchcoated (!! really, how clichéd can you get???) middle-aged agents escaping by way of a canoe may be
honestly, I find it hard to even write this…, but the majestic fiord as a location certainly gave scope to some fantastic shots. On the other end of the spectrum you get Valerie taking a bath in a big, blacked-out flotation tank (???) and the camera goes onto the same level with her from within the pool; or there is Daniel washing away the dirt from the failed op, being watched by the camera from above – the aesthetics of these shots are brilliant.
Acting wise, there were also performances I really liked – I loved that Mina Tander was Esther (literally) without a mask on. Somehow Esther at home was way more real than polished, high-heeled, smoking-like-a-vamp “official” Esther, and she reacts with feeling to the sight of Daniel falling apart. Armitage as Daniel, OTOH, had a really difficult task in this episode, because he had to say some rather stupid things and to me it looked as if he occasionally struggled to find the right way of playing Daniel. Some of the emotional outburst at Esther’s subsequently is brilliant acting – from the little (drunk) stumble as he turns around to start talking to Esther, to the last bit where his text sounds like a stream of consciousness and he almost speaks faster than his own thoughts, not waiting for Esther’s reply but launching from his rant into a despaired “I can’t do this anymore” in one breath. In between are a couple of moments where I winced – something didn’t quite ring true there for me, and with the words disjointed with my idea of Daniel, I found some acting choices jarring. It begs the question – as mentioned above – whether Armitage himself had qualms about some of the words he had to say for Daniel… Because he is usually so on-point in his acting that over-emphasised gestures or subtly wrong tones of voice are a rarity.
To end on a high note, I do have to say that I am glad to see some sort of emotion happening in BS. Finally they are delivering on their much cited “what it costs to be a spy” (even if it is not quite to my liking). I am interested in seeing Daniel and Esther’s relationship progressing further, and I want to see how Valerie is going to deal with being involved (?) with a man of questionable political beliefs.
and this lucky cap that my Twitter buddies have already seen but which I really love:
PS: If you are the kind of reader who likes and notices silly little inside jokes such as repetitive photo captions that all start on the letter D, then this is your bonus: