Berlin Station, episode 2, second impressions [spoilers] #richardarmitage
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.
TL;DR summary: Not as frenzied or visually impactful as the previous episode, due to a beginning with a much slower tempo, but still dramatically very strong. I continue to be interested in the way that the story develops new perspectives on the central problem of spy drama: betrayals. What’s interesting in this episode is not so much the inevitable betrayals themselves, but the personal betrayals that every character experiences and the implication at the end that Daniel is a CIA agent as an attempt to repair the world — something that does quite a bit to explain the tensions in his own character. I found myself wondering at the end how the personal betrayals will work out for him. It’s also interesting to see that the agents at Berlin Station are not really a team — they don’t seem to care much about working together and they seem actively involved in trying to hurt each other at points.
Still LOVE the series titles. Wow.
This is also a neat “quirky Berlin” shot — revealing the cinematographer’s predilection for the overhead shot. A lot of German houses have these attic apartments with openable skylights. (I also have a memory that there’s a Berlin film that starts this way — zeroing in on a scene seen through the roof — but the name is escaping me at the moment.) Under the skylight, we see someone moving:
And who is it but the indefatigable Daniel Miller. Including this cap because the “break in” is a spy story trope, and I really like how Spooks 7 executed this shot, showing Armitage’s eyes through the mail slot.
Miller enters, scopes out the apartment, takes a piece of evidence that connects Ingrid to Claudia.
And then I am including this, because I can. I laughed right out loud when I saw it.
Next, Ingrid (“Griddie”) is listening to phone messages from Claudia — all she has left of her friend. The act of replaying media of deceased friends has become a kind of cultural trope recently, but for various reasons I still find it moving — perhaps because my father kept my mother’s voice on his answering machine for about eighteen months.
Next, we see Daniel — wearing Nikes; Americans and their tennis shoes, an old joke. At least they aren’t white. I think the product placement ratio on this show must be extremely high. He’s observed by someone we don’t know, entering an S-Bahn terminal.
This is one of the scenes I liked best from this episode — another scene where it is as much observed as acted (there’s a point where the actors’ dialogue crosses over each other that I really like). And it’s remarkable insofar as Armitage is speaking German. I’ll have more to say about that eventually, but he’s pretty good; better than he was in the bar the previous time we saw him and convincing enough much of the time to believe that he could be the son of a native speaker. His pronunciation and intonation are solid; every now and then you can tell he’s concentrating more on the pronunciation than the thought he’s conveying, but it’s better in the later scenes in this episode.
One thing you notice in this scene is that the transit worker has a light tinge of Berlin dialect (there’s a verb for this in German, “berlinern,” literally “to Berlin”). This is accurate and reflects the working-class fabric of the city before 1945, which lives on. He also states that he helped build the 1. FC Union Berlin soccer stadium (story here, if you’re interested). I have to say: I have NEVER met a BVG worker that is quite this friendly; they are more known for their “Berliner Schnauze” (I wrote about it earlier, here). Union has an interesting history — it was dissolved in 1945 by the occupation authorities and refounded in East Germany by its membership (and ended up in opposition to state-sponsored soccer teams like Dynamo Berlin, which had Stasi ties). It’s a bit hard to hear, but the transit worker speaks to Daniel in the informal (“Du”), probably out of comradeship over their soccer affinities. Daniel gets what he wants.
Next, a scene at Berlin Station HQ where Steven, Robert and Valerie are talking with Washington, who wants results on the ISIL plot line. This made me smile, because it’s so true — I found that living in Germany really made me take on the German viewpoint. But Valerie disagrees — strong woman alert! Michelle Forbes is really using her energy in these scenes, to pursue a line of investigation she’s been told to leave alone.
On to a meal in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant for falafel.
This style of restaurant is popular in Berlin, which has one of the highest immigrant quotients of any German city. The notion of restaurant franchises never really caught on in Germany the way it did in the U.S. or the UK, and so most Germans have their favorite hole-in-the-wall, especially for foreign foods.
In the background, we see the restaurateur loading the rotating spit for his döner kebab by placing layer after layer of seasoned meat on the top. Sometimes you still get lamb but it’s usually beef or chicken these days. I enjoy how the camera really looks at the details of life in this city. Although everyone you know will claim they don’t eat it, somehow Germans consume about €2.5-3 billion of the stuff per year. I ate it a fair amount because I kept kosher for all the years I lived in Germany and it was easy to find halal kebab (“almost kosher,” as a lot of my Jewish friends there said).
I got so jealous of Robert’s food (there’s a German word for this wanting what’s on someone else’s plate: Futterneid) that I almost forgot to notice that Hector is asking Robert for advice about what to do about Faisal. They’re worried about their jobs (which, I admit, I am not used to thinking about with regard to the CIA). Robert is taking a digestive aid — too much stomach acid, I guess.
Steven and Hans meet to discuss the Americans’ desire for better surveillance of Yosava (sp?). Realistic moment: at least in formal terms (due to the experiences of the 1930s and 40s), German privacy laws are a lot stricter and the German government can observe a lot less than Americans are empowered to do. Steven wants Hans to agree to let him carry out an operation independently of German domestic intelligence. The camera shot is almost intimate — they seem friendlier, almost more tender with each other, than Steven was with Sandra in the previous episode.
Cut to Daniel in his apartment, hacking into the security camera footage of the entry to Claudia’s apartment.
Claudia’s cat has moved in:
This is sort of an interesting characterization move on the part of the script writers — so Daniel’s humane. Maybe he’s fond of cats. Maybe he feels more chagrin about Claudia’s death than is strictly necessary. I was torn at the end of the previous episode — was he actually a bit personally excited to spend time with Claudia, or was it all the game? He looked happy on that bike, but it could just have been because it’s a wonderful feeling to ride bike with wind blowing through your hair. Daniel’s expression isn’t easy to interpret.
This entire scene reflects a bit what I mean when I assert that Armitage is playing American well here. We see the same typical moves that Lucas would have made when thinking about information on a computer screen, but it’s all just a little bit more openly expressed on his face. Daniel, at present, seems much more emotional than Lucas did.
Daniel sends the picture back to Gemma Moore.
Meanwhile, Ingrid is convinced that Claudia did not commit suicide. She gets flowers that confirm her suspicions. That looks like American handwriting to me. Hector’s emotional meeting with “the thin young man” (Sabin Tambrea) generates the intriguing statement, “This is not how Thomas Shaw operates.” Steven drops off his shoes for repair along with a message for a meeting place (in a distinctly German handwriting).
Next, pursuing her line toward Yosova (sp?) Valerie breaks in on an English lesson on the past progressive tense. Her interlocutor is aware she’s not just catching up, so they go to pray in the same place as the “former” terrorist. We catch a piece of the Basmala and then a few verses from Surah Fassilat (a “chapter” in the Quran), beginning at 43, followed by an introduction in German and some words from Iosava (so that is how it’s spelled). While Iosava is proclaiming his redemption, the shoe repairman and his team are bugging (we assume) his apartment.
Another Berlin shot — Hector walking by and then having a clandestine meeting at a green-grocer. These are heavily run by non-Germans — there are Turkish signs in this one — and cheaper than the produce in the typical supermarket.
It looks like Hector is meeting with a South Asian (from the rhythm of the man’s speech).
The show is really flashing from plot point to point in a way that is very reminiscent of Olen Steinhauer’s writing style. It’s interesting to see this on TV. These moments don’t have the shortness of avant-garde movies but they are getting close. And using the the “drop into the information” style keeps me interpreting information from the previous episodes. For instance, at the end of episode 1, Hans wants to “say goodbye” to Dieter and Dieter hits him with the parting shot — “did you want me to suck your cock?” I thought that was metaphoric, but in the next scene we learn that Hans’ partner (Ulrich) is male.
Interesting that the Frosts have collected all the appropriate German heritage service ware, incidentally. I guess you can afford to do that on his salary. And an impending marital crisis. That was probably free.
Daniel is “Uncle Danny!” Daniel does look honestly happy, which is not something I’m really accustomed to seeing on Armitage characters’ faces.
Ingrid and her coworker head out to find out the truth about Claudia and Steven and Sandra meet for the bookend scene about their affair. Earlier, Kellie complained that Steven never tells her anything about work and Sandra neatly points out that Steven only wanted to talk to someone who had the necessary security clearance, although of course he denies it.
Next, an explosive scene between Daniel and Ingrid once he finally catches up with her — smart, Ingrid, to insist on a meeting in a very public place. I’ll eventually have more to say about this scene, but it’s high energy (despite or because? Victoria Meyer is acting in a foreign language and Armitage is exerting his American accident) and the language almost bruises the listener.
One of the things I don’t yet have enough information for a judgment on is Daniel’s motivation. There was this base level in Spooks; whenever the Grid wanted someone to do something it was because “lives were at stake.” It fell kind of flat after a while because the spooks had the attitude that they were always right. I don’t know if that’s because Berlin Station is Germans and Americans and the relationship has changed so much in the last twenty-five years, but this show and its characters seem much more realistic. Daniel tells Victoria he has her best interest at heart but her character is absolutely not having it. There are interesting moments in this scene of apparent concern, anger, and a sort of defensive Realpolitik (“Sorry we don’t live in a perfect world, Ingrid”).
Hector picks up some information; Valerie revives an old source who’s not that excited to be called upon. And then it’s time for “Uncle Danny,” who is, however, observed again as he’s entering the café.
PIC [at this point in the draft the picture uploader stopped working. Will add pics in later.]
Man, do I want to believe in this particular version of Daniel, just like I loved the open-hearted American he was playing while seducing Claudia, and on the one hand it seems there’s no reason not to. These are family members and this plot line makes him seem more humane (although if Steinhauer holds true to form, we’ll see Max and Patricia as hostages at some point). On the other hand, there is clearly a painful past here.
Hector next meets Faisal in a gay bar, in another “shades of Weimar” scene with a dark interior but occasionally icy flashes of blue lights — pointing out that the Saudi Embassy’s security is waiting to pick him up outside. Faisal seems not to be worried (shouldn’t this make Hector more worried?); Hector suggests a ruse but Faisal appears to experience a moment of personal liberation. Subsequently, Hector seems truly involved as he argues to Robert that they have to remove Faisal from Germany. Valerie sees a picture of Iosava with her agent. The contrast between Robert’s refusal to help Faisal and Steven’s payoff to the shoe repairman in the next scene is interesting. Americans are loyal if they can just pay? Americans are loyal if it’s a German involved but not an “Arab”?
When next week see him, Daniel is chasing his tail — who speaks German briefly — to figure out who he is. More German from Armitage. Intonation is good but he stumbles over “Auguststraße.” That is a hard one: st / st. Another great Berlin exterior.
Back at the embassy, more pressure from Gemma Moore in Washington. Valerie again shows up Steven. It becomes clear that part of her motivation for not “being a team player” is Steven’s refusal to help Gerald in the previous episode. Robert informs Hector that the Saudis are taking Faisal home (implication: he’ll be killed). Hector is ambiguously upset. Steven tries to do what Kellie wants and keep her up-to-date on what’s happening at work and she takes Valerie’s side! And in that context, we finally see Valerie’s human attachment — with whom she is having the same problem the Frosts are experiencing.
Daniel meets with the German spy who’s responsible for tailing him — who turns out to be a woman he recognizes. Although it’s hard to see in the darkness of this bar, Daniel has some real anguish on his face about Claudia’s death. And then the episode ends with a scene on the roof between Daniel and Hector, where we get Daniel’s mother’s backstory, and Hector warns Daniel that Berlin is dangerous.
How are we going to wait until Oct 16 — or realistically speaking, after that, since we’ve seen the first two episodes? — to find out what happens next?