Berlin Station for real this time: Episode 1 [spoilers]
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.
Though it’s a silly thing to keep saying — it’s just nothing short of amazing to me to be watching Richard Armitage in first run on the full size television in our living room! My phone camera isn’t fast enough to capture individual scenes but I’ve spent so much time seeing him in first run either on my computer screen (which often involved illegal activities) or by paying money for every opportunity in movie theater. I know I’m going to get excited every week when I see him in this amazing resolution. I feel like I finally get to do something that UK viewers got to do every week, earlier in Armitage’s career.
There are a million things I could say about my impressions of this episode, but I’m going to focus on a few.
First, tempo and rhythm. The title sequence and then the first sequence of the series, in which Daniel Miller is shot, held up really well for me and in fact, I found this episode to be faster tempo than when I saw it the first time (I think because on that viewing, I rushed through both episodes at once because I was afraid the vids would disappear, and I got tired in about the last half hour). In general, it seemed much peppier and lighter than it did to me on first examination. It’s been interesting to me that the reviewers have reacted to precisely this element of the show in such varying ways.
Second, and I feel like this is sort of the decisive aspect of this episode for me so far — much less so than the unfolding story, maybe because I’ve had weeks to think about that story, now — was the whole question of Daniel’s identity: murdered (?) spy; competent operative in Panama; organization man in Berlin hiding covert manipulator behind the scenes. The best of Richard Armitage’s acting comes when he unsettles me, and this is the main reason that I actually defend Spooks 9: because I feel that in that series he did a great job of showing us how many different people a man can be. There’s a feeling of that, or at least the opportunity of it, in this episode that emerges at odd moments, and one has to be watching. I feel like a number of reviewers who have criticized his character as boring or too straight arrow have sort of missed these: the cold look on his face during the opening sequence; the way he looks aghast as his smile fades after re-encounter Hector de Jean; the repeated evasions of Valerie’s gentle digging for what his background means to him; the changing expressions on his face in the party boat, after he drinks the sparkling wine; and, I think, most of all in the scenes with Claudia. This unsettled me at first watch and it hasn’t changed.
Part of it is that I’ve seen Americans playing that game in Germany so many times, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously — I’ll turn on my natural New World charm and you won’t be able to stop smiling at me. (Does Armitage know this? That is a piece of it for me, too, that I know in reality he is nothing like this, but I also wonder how much he knows about the execution of this particular stereotype in bars all over Europe.) Part of it is that we are so accustomed to him playing superheroes or supervillains that this everyday person — to me, anyway, it came across as a bit of a shock. Not so much in the scene that lays him physically barest; I’m starting to think that what that brief glance of his physique without clothes is supposed to tell is that underneath all of his guises, Daniel is a panther, a carnivore lurking on the margins. But in the bar scene — the way he plays that charming, clueless American — the guileful way in which he makes “Kevin” look guileless — I don’t know. The reviews seem to think that his (and the scene with Valerie in the office) make him boring: but he seems to have sold them in such a way that they’ve forgotten he’s a spy and this smiling innocence is all just another game of the spy. In short, even the everyday American trying to get into Claudia’s pants, who backs off with innocent kiss at her door the first time, is a manipulation.
It just occurred to me: he’s playing an American version of Harry Kennedy, but as an intentional lie. I don’t like Harry Kennedy inter alia because he seems unreal to me — but he’s harmless to most viewers; here the harmless, cheery fellow who wears not only his heart but also his thoughts on his sleeve is real, but not in the way that we suspect. In any case, it’s all a little disturbing, I find. It’s another piece of how Armitage views humanity that I hadn’t seen yet.
Finally, the last thing that would be worthy of discussion here is Michelle Forbes’ performance as Valerie. As much as my estimation of the actor falls nearly every time she opens her mouth, I like this character and think she’s doing a fantastic job of revealing her to us. I should say more, but I have to go to bed. Hopefully this week. Or someone else will.