The reason it has taken me so long to get to the finale and a final review? The excessive number of screenshots I took during BS 2×09. Took a while to crop them, resize them, label them, upload them. The final conclusion of the series, OTOH, was quickly drawn: Berlin Station is dead. Long live Berlin Station.
The double meaning is deliberate. I am referring to the fact that after the demise of season 2, we have now heard that BS will be renewed for a third season. However, I am also meaning it in a slightly more metaphorical sense. As in: BS 1 left a good bit to be desired and was replaced with season 2 which also left something to be desired. And chances are that season 3… Well, that is presumptuous, I should give the third season at least the benefit of the doubt. There is always hope.
But based on what we saw in the last instalment I am not that sure. I have already voiced my main gripes with the show in the previous reviews: Where season 1 was overcomplicated and convoluted, throwing an onslaught of intertwined plotlines and a large number of characters at the audience, season 2 became sluggish, stereotypical and simplistic. It reduced many characters to caricatures, most of all the alleged lead of the show, and worked on an entirely unrealistic premise with regard to the political background of the show.
I don’t want to turn this into a review of the whole season but concentrate on the final episode only.
A review of the season as a whole, like I did with season 1, may be forthcoming at a later date. These are my thoughts on episode 2×09 only, helped along by the massive screenshot loot.
As is custom for a final episode of a season, 2×09 is where the writers of BS are attempting to provide a solution to the previously presented plotlines. With several reminders from characters of the show how thickly woven the whole plot was (eh, really?), the denouement consisted of three final conclusions. While CIA Norway agent Nick Fischer turns out to be the big baddie of the piece – but manages to escape into the sunset. Ambassador Hanes gets away lightly (because he had been duped, too, poor dear). Valerie’s lover Josef Emmerich initially looks to be the nasty villain who had contracted Otto Ganz to kill Katherina Gerhardt, but – big reveal – [whiny voice on] he never wanted her to get huuuuuuurt *sniffs* [whiny voice off]. It was only ever meant to be a ruse to rid the party of unsavoury extremists like Ganz himself. So Josef gets away lightly, too – by actually being forced into collaborating with the CIA rather than receiving his comeuppance via public exposure. And Hector, having been involuntarily drawn into the machinations of season 2 and wanting nothing better than to leave the CIA for good, is given not one but three exits: One by handing him over to the German authorities as the suspected assassin; two for being killed in the process; and three for being resurrected – but finally *thank God* sent on his way to far away South Africa, happily gazing into the sunset.
Berlin Station is dead
Looks exciting without context – but effectively was only what is described in German as a Rohrkrepierer [barrel burst] (aside: I would love to hear Armitage try his tongue on the various voiced uvular fricatives… rrrrrrrrroar krrrrrrray pee rrrrrrrrah. Might take a little practice, and is definitely only for advanced learners). Having known since the Norway episode that Fischer was – well, fishy…, it comes as no surprise that he had his fingers in the assassination of Katherina Gerhardt. But the whole spiel about doing it all for the “Vaterland”? Honestly? My chin dropped to the floor when I heard that. That is a deus ex machina if there ever was one.
Or maybe we should call it a fuehrer ex machina, given the allusion to a world-wide conspiracy of radical fascists? In one fell swoop, everything is explained by a vague group of evil masterminds that are attempting to take over the world. Lame. Cf. “Nightingale”, anyone? Spooks already did it – and better.
The tying up of the Josef Emmerich plot – with various detours from career-obsessed right-winger to evil wire-drawer behind the assassination of his party leader, only to be emasculated as “the boy who selfishly wanted more but got in with a bad lot”, was a denouement without catharsis. Forcing him into collaboration as an act of revenge appeals on the surface – but is ultimately unsatisfactory as Josef thus escapes the justice he deserves. And Hector de Jean? He was really given the most time – which befits his role as the secret star of the show, I guess. Leaving aside that I am totally begrudging him that (go team Daniel!), the plot resolution was unoriginal, essentially a lame repeat of the ending of season 1, and in its realisation predictable. From the moment Stephen Frost announced that Hector needed to “go through” it was clear what was going to happen.
Hector’s “death” as a way out, combined with the fact that Esther’s unwillingness to consider other suspects for the assassination of Katherina Gerhardt, played far too obviously into the need of the writers to tie up Hector’s story, both these elements of the show exemplify what was wrong with the finale
and possibly the whole season – it lacked finesse. Making characters conveniently unsubtle (Esther) to explain plot developments, or using age-old ruses like faked death as an exit strategy, is simply not very sophisticated storytelling.
Some of that lack of sophistication is also due to the show being based on a premise that was really not sustainably realistic. As much as the producers claim that their show is precisely mirroring the run-up to and the eventual RL German election results, the premise that a candidate is serious contender for the most powerful position in government on the basis of receiving 15% of the vote simply does not reflect reality. The scenario as depicted in Berlin Station may be possible in mathematical terms – but that certainly does not make it plausible. There is a massive distinction between those two! (The proof is in what is currently happening in Germany – despite the right-wing party gaining 13% of the vote and becoming the third-largest party in the German parliament, they have no chance whatsoever of becoming a coalition partner with any of the other parties. Hence there is no way that their main candidate will be contender for the post of chancellor.) The characters in the show are thus labouring under a fundamental misunderstanding of the political system. The plot does not make any sense anymore, is not plausible – there is no reason to assassinate a candidate who has no chance of endangering democracy by becoming chancellor.
The funny thing is: The premise would not have bothered me, had the producers not *insisted* on being 100% realistic. I read the interview with Brad Winters on Deadline, and it still makes me angry to see him claiming how prescient he has been, and touting his own horn. I repeat it here – anybody who was present in Germany in the run-up to the elections and followed the political situation with any kind of interest (as I would assume the writer of a spy thriller set on the Berlin spy stage would do) yet did *not* see the neo-Nazis’ election to the German Parliament coming, would have had to be deaf, dumb and blind. There is not much prescience in the scenario as depicted by Berlin Station. It was on the cards ever since Pegida started, AfD was formed, and finally cemented when Angela Merkel made the remarkable (and entirely right) decision to welcome 1 million refugees in Germany in 2015. As much as I expressed my incredulity on Twitter on election day as the results filtered through, in my heart of hearts I knew it was coming. I was just not prepared for the extent of the ‘damage’. For Winters to claim that as an extraordinary sense of foreboding, is nothing but hubris.
One could say that Mr Armitage has very redeeming facial features… But that would be superficial. Hold on, though, let me at least get the fashion feature-worthy scene of Daniel Miller modelling the Miami Vice look out of the way before I get serious again.
So, redeeming features?
- The performances of the actors. Richard’s excellent work goes without saying – always convincing, always giving more than just what is required. Whenever you see him act, you can virtually see how the *character’s* mind is working behind the actor’s strong forehead. There’s not even a mere flutter of the eyelashes that breaks character; every gesture is part of the character’s characterisation. In 2×09 I found particularly interesting how Armitage plays Daniel differently depending on whether he is interacting with his colleagues in a professional environment, or whether he is more privately inclined in interaction with his lover Esther. Almost imperceptible changes in posture and in gestures, in the way he speaks or holds up his chin – and not just because he is communicating a particular sentiment but because there are differences between professional Dan and private Dan. Armitage simply does subtle extremely well. *This* man knows what finesse (in acting) is, and once more it has to be said that he was shamefully sidelined in this episode. One can only surmise how great a spy thriller this could be if Armitage were allowed to flesh out the character more.
- Right from season 1 I had a soft spot for Robert Kirsch. The cursing doesn’t bother me – I like the irreverence of the character. He’s a bit like a terrier, barking at dogs twice its size, only interested in his own objective, and such a character is always needed in a show that is set in a ‘family’ of colleagues. For a station chief he seemed underused in the finale – relegated to only expressing his cluelessness over the actual backers of Nick Fischer et al. Pity, because Leland Orser is well capable of playing a tenacious, smart yet surprisingly human character. – I also enjoyed Michelle Forbes as Valerie Edwards, although I felt repeatedly sorry for her, having to act the betrayed lover. Even if Val genuinely fell in love with Josef, I doubt that the seasoned CIA officer would ever let her guard down regarding the possibility of being used by a lover – and especially one who *definitely* knows that she is in the CIA. Honestly, I think Val deserves better than that!
- Special mention to the Germans – they are my subjective interest. Heino Ferch was great as sleek right-wing politician Josef Emmerich, giving the character just the right measure of loved-up warmth when shmoozing with Val, yet turning on the menace when acting the dangerous politician who is on to his CIA lover’s scheme. I was sorry to see him reduced to a pawn who couldn’t even act coolly when faced with Nick Fischer.
- Esther Krug – how did Daniel describe her in that very first meeting? Distanced aloofness was dripping from her, and boy did Mina Tander make her the ice queen – which made some of the latter actions where she suddenly turned lovey-dovey on Daniel, hard to believe. I warmed to her over the second season (not least because she did seem to have melted a little bit by the end of season 1), yet found her strangely contradictory in 2×09. So insistent on Hector as the culprit, and totally unwilling to explore other possibilities, almost like a complete marionette of whoever is pulling the strings in the BfV. Again, a slightly pastiche character, given to extremes of emotions: from cool operator to hysteria when confronted with her deputy’s involvement in the conspiracy. Seeing her walk into the sunset with Daniel may have made fan girl wishes come true – but I didn’t feel that that did proper justice to the character.
Long live Berlin Station
A few days after the finale, news broke that BS has been renewed for a third season. Ever the optimist, I haven’t given up hope that BS could be a great show. It has got a lot of essentials covered: an interesting basic premise (workings of a CIA station abroad, including the personal and professional tribulations of its officers), a fascinating backdrop (cold war hot spot Berlin), capable actors (Armitage, Orser, Forbes, Tander), experienced crew (Bogdanski). If they are serving these components the writing that they deserve, the show *could* have a great third season. But I am not sure whether I should wish that upon anyone…