Berlin Station, episode 1, first impressions [spoilers] #richardarmitage

This isn’t going to be as detailed and lengthy as the Spooks 9 recaps I wrote, I fear, but I’ll give it a shot.

The TL;DR version is that this is excellent television. It has a high energy start, it turns expectations about spy stories on their heads, it really uses the city of Berlin as both a character in the story and a way of explaining the characters, it has a lot of very strong characters (and characterizations), and the juxtaposition of what we know is fake / spycraft with what claims to be real is truly unsettling — making me want to keep watching. The storytelling is fascinating.

And Armitage. Wow. He’s really ‘become” an American in so many ways for this role. This is crucial because as a CIA agent, he on some level represents “Americanness” much more than someone like Gary Morris did in Into the Storm.



I love how “Berlin forward” this show is. I haven’t seen whatever other show that is that Olen Steinhauer was trash-talking, but I love how Berlin shows itself in this program so far. I admit that I love and miss that city a lot, but I feel like the show gives an impression of what the city is really like (as opposed to only its showplaces). The David Bowie song under the title is also an inspired choice. In its interiors, the city is a place that I recognize. What it doesn’t give a good sense of so far in my opinion is Kiez — but it signals in that direction a few times and it may still come. However, I only lived in Berlin for a year. I would be interested to know how German readers feel about this.

Obviously, I love that Richard Armitage is really front and center.

First glimpse of Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) in Berlin Station 1.1.

First glimpse of Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) in Berlin Station 1.1.

And I’m really pleased that they chose a different beginning scene than the one that was publicized two months ago. That showed us a lot about the characters, but it was very slow. If the series is going to live up to its titles — and hang onto people’s attention — it needs to start fast. And I think showing these agents involved in some kinds of operation keeps them moving and us wondering.


Although if there were an operation like that — and someone was shot in full view in front of the Hauptbahnhof? — it would cause a lot more uproar than that.

It’s unmistakable — we’ve been talking for a long time about what’s necessary to “appear” American, not just an accent but certain ways of taking up space — and Richard Armitage has come hundreds of miles.

Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) ups the ante with regard to Thomas Shaw, in Berlin Station 1.1.

Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) ups the ante with regard to Thomas Shaw, in Berlin Station 1.1.

I thought it was particularly noticeable in the scene where Daniel Miller confronts his superior in Panama. Something about the way he twists his body and says the word, “ma’am.”

I had a certain fear that we’re going to see some Lucas North recycling, but so far it isn’t apparent despite some persistence from Lucas North’s canon of behaviors (hand to face, for example). One thing I appreciate is how much Daniel seems to slouch. He also seems more rock-like — his face, with the stubble, has a more chiseled look. Daniel appears simultaneously harder — more macho (see above about “appearing American”) — and more flexible, more hidden, more discreet.

Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) shadowing Claudia Garner in the Berlin subway, in Berlin Station 1.1.

Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) shadowing Claudia Garner in the Berlin subway, in Berlin Station 1.1.

It’s an interesting characterization. Throughout I had the sense that Daniel is a believer (in something) or maybe a patriot of some kind, but when you probe below the surface, also a rather harsh realist.

Overall, the show doesn’t spend any time explaining — it just drops us right into the action and assumes we will come along. I found this storytelling technique really effective, as it provoked me to pay close attention to every scene.

Rhys Ifans as Hector de Jean -- dropping a plotline about ISIL on us, in Berlin Station 1.1.

Rhys Ifans as Hector de Jean — dropping a plotline about ISIL on us, in Berlin Station 1.1.

The “first scene” that we’ve already been given is located in the middle of the show — again dramatically effective as by now, we’d like more information.

Gratuitous picture of Daniel (Richard Armitage) with his arms crossed -- note that his use of the crossed arms here is markedly different than when Guy of Gisborne or Lucas North usually does it -- big defensive move, or so he's trying to signal to Valerie.

Gratuitous picture of Daniel (Richard Armitage) with his arms crossed — note that his use of the crossed arms here is markedly different than when Guy of Gisborne or Lucas North usually do it — big defensive move, or so he’s trying to signal to Valerie.

I really loved this scene between Daniel and Valerie (Michelle Forbes) that followed. Guylty will point out that it’s “Kirschtorte” and not “Kirchtorte” (and I’d say — I don’t associate Kirschtorte with Frankfurt, but whatever). Really great how Valerie quizzes him and his lines are intended to deflect and deflect until she raises the question of his mother — and then we have this apparent defensive mood. Although Daniel is definitely playing his own game here.

And he’s got history with Hector — interesting facial language from Daniel as he encounters him, though he must know that Hector is there.

His mouth is smiling, but his eyes almost look angry.

His mouth is smiling, but his eyes almost look angry.

We learn that Hector may need to continue an affair with Faisal — following up the ISIL plotline — and then we see the chief of German intelligence (actually, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz), Hans Richter, consulting with Dieter, an important subordinate. Cultural note: Richter and his coworker are quite close colleagues — they use the informal address (“Du”) with each other, which isn’t automatic among colleagues at work, even these days. This will be important later.

"Danke Dir."

“Danke Dir” (as opposed to “Vielen Dank” or “Ich danke Ihnen.”)

In the second next scene, we learn that Dieter is really being run by the CIA, as Daniel’s predecessor is moving to Budapest and is “leaving” him to Daniel. Tension in the office, which Daniel “happens upon,” will obviously be important very shortly and even more in later episodes.

Lots of beautiful random shots of the area around Alexanderplatz as Daniel follows Claudia again and chases her to the Berliner Zeitung offices, where we briefly meet reporter Ingrid Hollander. I admire how this show uses the city as a backdrop to tell us things about the characters, not least because in my experience that is how Berlin works. It is a city of such extreme experiences — as Gerald says to Daniel, it has a reputation for “anything goes” — and significant geographical distances that where you go says quite a bit about you. This scene on a Spree canalboat serves to suggest to us that Daniel is a straight arrow. In combination with Daniel’s earlier response to Gerald’s cynicism about the hunt for Thomas Shaw, we get the sense that Daniel is truly serious.

Daniel (Richard Armitage) reacts to Shirley, "The Queen of Berlin," in Berlin Station 1.1.

Daniel (Richard Armitage) reacts to Shirley, “The Queen of Berlin,” in Berlin Station 1.1.

Then we see Daniel’s apartment. I can’t not include this:

You've still got it, babe.

You’ve still got it, babe.

Or this:


Or this:


And then — Dieter is unmasked as a CIA spy, he is taken to the local safe house, and Berlin Station begins a massive shredding action.

I really like — as an aside — all these strong female characters (in both episodes). Michelle Forbes is really great in her role so far. Interesting teaser from the station chief about how people should tell him if they’re hanging on to something damaging. Then Valerie goes to the safe house — she is the one who has to tell Gerald that he doesn’t get to move to Budapest with his family. (Neat technique of reminding us of Ingrid Hollander here — seeing her in a Berliner Zeitung vid on a smart phone). The scene offers us a great opportunity to see Armitage doing something he’s the best at: reacting to bad news.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-12-38 screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-12-39-53-am

It turns out that the station chief has bad news himself: an affair with his secretary. Plus points for showing us another one of those quirky Berlin interiors. It’s absolutely not a cookie-cutter city, and Sandra’s apartment proves it.

Steven (Richard Jenkins) and Sandra (Tamlyn Tomita) in her apartment, in Berlin Station 1.1.

Steven (Richard Jenkins) and Sandra (Tamlyn Tomita) in her apartment, in Berlin Station 1.1.

Time for some old fashioned skycraft — Der Spiegel with a picture of Thomas Shaw on it (German’s main center-left news magazine), a crossword puzzle magazine, a record store, and Ingrid pressuring Claudia to continue with the accelerated pace as Thomas Shaw’s courier, as Daniel records their conversation with his smart phone. Ingrid wants Claudia to get laid.

Hector pursues his running of Faisal.

It's really neat how this show tilts so many tropes of the spy story -- here the CIA agent is sleeping with his spy -- except they are both men. Berlin Station 1.1.

It’s really neat how this show tilts so many tropes of the spy story — here the CIA agent is sleeping with his spy — except they are both men. Berlin Station 1.1.

And then one of those moments of German life I enjoy so much — a spying operation conducted through free postcards (these are ubiquitous, or used to be, and they can be very funny. I used to collect them). Daniel, chewing gum (this moment is neat!) sees it all.


The scene in the bar, where Daniel first encounters Claudia face to face, is SO well done. This script was obviously written by someone who’s very familiar with the way that Europeans tend to see hapless Americans behaving — down to the slight, self-important rudeness, the random friendliness, and the haphazard attempts at communication never pursued with much energy. Armitage gets this just right, down to saying “Entschuldigung” in a less than convincing way. I really feel my compatriots (painfully) observed in his performance.


Daniel (Richard Armitage) offers to buy Claudia a drink, in Berlin Station 1.1.

Another thing that’s interesting to me is the way in which Berlin Station conforms (or rejects) conventions for filming Berlin stories, which have a long tradition by now. For instance, there’s this moment where the camera shifts to the background and we see Faisal, lurking in the background, and the bar, which has seemed relatively friendly till now, takes on a bit the icy cast that’s a trope for filming Berlin bars since at least Cabaret — the common trope of sickly-ness of the Weimar era atmosphere is reflected here. It’s so brief that I can’t pause to think about whether it’s a cliché; it’s a citation or acknowledgement more than the execution of a pattern, and I am glad.


Too, the conversation with Claudia has the same sort of informal vibe that we’ll see in the second episode with the Berlin transit worker — it’s not played by the actors so much as observed by the camera. (This is very Michael Röskam — the other movies of his I’ve seen are all into observations of the quotidian.) This scene — and the one slightly later, after we learn that Steven’s wife would like him to quit, when “Kevin” (Daniel’s alias) confesses that he hasn’t been stood up for a date — feel like they just sat down and filmed a date. Except, of course, for the fact that we know Daniel is playing Claudia like a fish. The unsettling effect this strategy has on me as a viewer augments my awareness of the ominous background the shot above signals. It’s a hugely subtle way of setting up the feeling that nothing in reality is as it appears. Additionally — the matter of whose parents would protest whose (Claudia’s parents possibly having been lefties who would have protested the American military presence in Germany, an ongoing activity in the 1980s) points out to the sense of quickly changing time. These things that were so real in the past are now: just history. 1989 meant the U.S. Army mostly left Germany and the city, like Germany, is reunited.

Daniel doesn’t get laid (despite Ingrid’s advice to Claudia) but Hector has, and for it he gets details about someone who’s money laundering to ISIL through gas stations. As he approaches Deputy Chief Robert Kirsch for assistance in following up the detail, the show signals that it is going to reference another sort of key question of the post-Wall Berlin story: What does the city, and the games played in it and around it, mean that there is no longer a binary superpower conflict?

Robert Kirsch (Leland Orser) complains that the U.S.'s opponents were better in the Cold War.

Robert Kirsch (Leland Orser) complains that the U.S.’s opponents were better in the Cold War, in Berlin Station 1.1.

Another gratuitous Berlin shot I can’t leave out: Tegel airport, my favorite Berlin airport, which is scheduled for demolition soon:


Gemma Moore (who’s responsible for sending Daniel to Berlin) is on her way to Berlin Station. After a scene where the sense of personal betrayal on both sides between Hans and Dieter is visceral, Gemma tells Daniel that he needs to hurry up and find Shaw.

But the date is not to come to pass.

Daniel (Richard Armitage) teases Claudai about possibly being late. German friends and I used to joke about these little cultural differences all the time. A warm moment for me, even if I know Daniel is faking it.

Daniel (Richard Armitage) teases Claudia about possibly being late. German friends and I used to joke about these little cultural differences all the time. A warm moment for me, even if I know Daniel is faking it.

Claudia is murdered, and in the closing scene of the episode we learn that Hector knows about it.

Berlin Station really likes aerial views of the city.

Berlin Station really likes aerial views of the city.

In short — this is a strong episode and it held my attention all along to its brutal end. It feels like it has the potential to be appointment TV. Now: we just have to make sure that people see it.

~ by Servetus on September 8, 2016.

36 Responses to “Berlin Station, episode 1, first impressions [spoilers] #richardarmitage”

  1. Love your informative report , I can not see it so am relying on this ! Super screen shots , and yup , hes still got it !

    Thanks Serv



  2. Uh, I wish I could see it.
    Thank you x 3 for this.
    Have you considered giving your more explicit perception of Berlin from a non-Berliner’s pov? It would be a fascinating read, I think. You give little glimpses of it here in your text, but for a common tourist, the the combination of what BS shows of Berlin, and the significance of Berlin as a ‘silent’ actor in this series, your take is more than really interesting.
    …ditto about still having it…!

  3. Thank you for sharing your impression, Serv! It’s very interesting. Haven’t watched it yet. Will do it after finishing work, at home. Can’t wait…

  4. […] So — I’m not as young as I used to be and I had to go to bed last night, but all night I dreamed of Berlin Station. So these aren’t first impressions anymore. Still. Assumes things I said about episode 1. […]

  5. First of all I want to acknowledge how grateful I am that I have been able to see it at all- it was completely unexpected and, like you, I wondered if it was a mistake and the link would disappear. It’s good to know it will be available all month, and it beyond brilliant that it’s available worldwide.

    I watched the first episode very late last night ( I worked until 10 and would usually have picked something light and undemanding to wind down to so I’m bearing in mind it wasn’t the best moment to take it all in) but first impressions were good. In particular I enjoyed the scenes with Claudia ( how anyone with a pulse can not fall for Armitage/Miller in full flirt mode beats me- I was putty) and also the scene with Rhys Ifans. I will be interested to watch how that develops but for me the chemistry between them leapt off the screen.

    My one niggle is Armitages accent – and I’m dying to hear what Americans think. Of course I have no idea how authentic it is, and am aware that I’m so familiar with his natural speaking voice that it may just be that the accent is not working for that reason. However, there were moments when he seems to slip into a Northern English accent ( I’ll have to go back and check out when) which jarred. it reminded me he was acting and usually I’m only aware of someone acting when they aren’t particularly good. From this POV I felt it wasn’t the best work I’ve seen RA do. OTOH I was also expecting more Lucas but forgot him fairly quickly.

    Overall, I liked it and am now wondering how likely it is that all the episodes will be released or that it will make it to Australian TV

    • You’re not kidding about the flirting scenes. OMFG. Honestly, the bar would have to call an ambulance because I’d be knocked really quickly.

      I’ll probably write more about the accent because I’ve been thinking about it all the time. My impression is that it’s the best it’s been so far. However, I have a hard time just because I don’t expect it, so I’m hypercritical when I do hear it. Better than Hannibal, which was already an improvement.

      I hear Australians are excellent media pirates.

  6. I feel that Daniel manipulated events somehow in order to get himself posted to Berlin — he has personal business regarding his mothers death. There is something going on under the surface of Daniel Miller. But I probably won’t be getting EPIX here in Canada so spoilers are very welcome in any reviews!

  7. So, first thank you for these impressions, very thorough. Even in the middle of the night it kept me interested. There are so many subplots, twists and turns. You have to pay attention just to follow. I think the accent and body language are both very good. He looked very American in the laundromat scene. Rebecca did a pretty good job with Rhys’ accent as well. 😍 When I saw your third body shot, I immediately thought he could be a Greek sculpture the way his body is in motion and semi-twisted. The scene was too quick to be able to take it all in. Slow motion just isn’t the same.

  8. Haven’t had time to watch the episodes yet, but feeling inspired by the pics….

    I dreamt about black boxer briefs tight on a long lean body.
    He may not think at forty-five that he is still hot totty.
    Sometimes in clothes we all may think he’s looking rather thin.
    But when he is upon my screen and leads me to Berlin,
    I cannot help but wish I knew a man as fine as him.

  9. Ah, thanks for doing this again Servetus!!!
    For me as a German they’ve got the vibe right and it really feels like Berlin (but I don’t live there and visited only as a tourist so maybe I am easy to convince).
    The ‘Kirschtorten’ reference was a bit weird though. Maybe they’ve got it wrong and meant ‘Frankfurter Kranz’ that uses cheeries as decoration????
    Overall I really liked these episodes and I am so glad EPIX/Vanity Fair did this also I am still really, really astonished!

    • It was a bit weird: he says he grew up in Andrews Barracks which are in Berlin, then he references Frankfurter Würstchen and Kirschtorte — I thought of Frankfurter Kranz as well. I don’t think of Frankfurt Würstchen as Berlin food and that was what tripped me up. And you really don’t see all that much Kirschtorte (relatively speaking) in Berlin (although I am sure you can find it).

      • I talked about my mother about the Kirschtorte and all she could imagine was Frankfurter Kranz as well, because Schwarzwälder Kirsch isn’t Frankfurt typical either. Weird that they talked about it and hadn’t bothered to get this right….

        • Do kids like Frankfurter Kranz? Admittedly, my exSO always asked for this from his mother for his birthday, but it seems like a more “adult” cake.

          • My sister loves this cake since I know her and her son really liked it too till he had too much of it🙂 my grandmother made it often but a lot of people try to avoid it nowadays because of the buttercream

            • I was thinking because of the nuts. I don’t like it that much because yeah, way too much buttercream all in one serving, but I could certainly choke down a small piece🙂

  10. Link appears to be down now?

    • Now it’s back. Yay!

      • Huh.

        • Finally have time to watch, but “This video is not available” on both episodes. Yesterday I tried just to see if it worked and I was able to watch the opening. Figured I’d be ok, but now no luck. Sooo disappointed. Is it the same for everyone now?

          • Those links don’t work for me either — which suggests to me this might be a server issue — too much demand. I also saw that EPIX posted the first two eps of Graves (their other new series with Nick Nolte in it) today, so maybe they are planning to do that for BSt as well … ?

  11. Just watched. I was confused and wasn’t completely drawn in by the first episode, although I liked the look of the show. Second episode has me hooked. I liked Spooks, but this is much better, much more intense.

    I had the link issue that others experienced, but if you go to the original link for the article, then it works.

  12. That’s the flip side of a script that explains nothing about the plot.

  13. I saw episode 1 but not able to view episode 2. I enjoy spy dramas but I am fussy about what I’ll watch. I was never into Spooks; don’t know why, just never grabbed me. This, however, does. I found the story telling interesting and gripping. I loved the greyness of the Berlin backdrop – very atmospheric. It left me feeling that this was a close, true(ish) depiction of modern day espionage.

    I thought the episode was well-acted by a strong ensemble cast. Good to see RA exercising his acting chops in a quality piece. Stand-out performances for me were Michelle Forbes and Rhys Ifans. I know Michelle’s vegan politics may be questionable but she is a fine actor! Her portrayal of Valerie Edwards is emminently believable. I loved the scene between her and Richard Jenkins’ character where they clash. I find Rhys Ifans so watchable; he is a scene stealer IMO, and he makes it look effortless.

    My one gripe is RA’s American accent. I am not American but I find his accent unconvincing(!) and for me this does detract from his portrayal of Daniel Miller. (Similarly I found Damien Lewis’ accent in Homeland also unconvincing). I’m not sure why this is, maybe the cadence of RA’s speech? Maybe he is trying just that bit too hard? Conversely, I had no problem with fellow Brit Rhys Ifans’ American accent.

    Overall, episode 1 of BS exceeded my expectations; I would classify it as a superior drama. Intrigued to see how the story lines play out…. but probably not enough to make me subscribe to Epix!

  14. […] I gave first impressions of this episode when I saw it, so I am not going to regurgitate that. At this point, I’ll share general impressions. I’ll get back to a Spooks 9-style analysis when we get to an episode I have not seen (in two weeks), because at that point I’m not going to be able to manage two media platforms while watching the show (or at least I hope it will remain complex enough that that is the case). All of these posts WILL have spoilers in them. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: