[spoilers] Berlin Station, episode 3 thoughts #richardarmitage
[General comments without spoilers here; detailed comments with spoilers below the stars. You can also scroll through for screen caps and not read anything, if you prefer.]
I never had anything additional to say about episode 2; those comments are still here. I’m starting to get the feeling that these are going to be really different from the Spooks recaps, because Steinhauer’s stuff is so plot driven and much less interested in character. This episode was mostly plot, and the character development that occurred was mostly about Steven, a character I haven’t liked so far and like less after this episode. So not as much intensity required from the actors, and Daniel still appears much less tortured than Lucas, which means that so far there is less to think about. But nonetheless, a few things to say. Plenty of intensity from the show, thought — particularly the first eleven minutes are quite energetically paced.
New director, Christoph Schrewe? Do we see differences? I do feel like this episode was less visually dark than the last two — Michael Roskam’s signature is that murky atmosphere — but am not sure how Hagen Bogdanski would influence this, and there is still plenty of murk here, too. Still a LOT Of top down shots. Sometimes I like them; sometimes I think they are being overused.
As noted above, I’m getting the sense that this show “works” very differently from Spooks (for better or for worse). The early publicity told us that this show would have a lot to say about the characters’ private lives, and in some ways it does, but it’s mostly, so far about the betrayals they are involved in. At this point, the show is still hinting rather than telling (with the exception of what it has to say about Steven) on a personal level. The scenes are just shock revelation after shock revelation. And these characters are very guarded; we are getting the most emotion from Daniel but that isn’t saying much — his two most emotional scenes (another one with his cousin, referencing the past, and one with Gemma Moore, in which he looks discouraged) are rather subdued. We learn, I think, that Daniel’s heart doesn’t really lie in running spies but rather in seeking out the truth. And yet I still wonder if Daniel doesn’t have more secrets than we’re seeing at the moment.
Once again, I wasn’t bored — but felt overwhelmed by all the story that happened. Unlike some critics I am not having a problem following the plot lines at all, but I did leave my first view of the third episode feeling a bit taken aback. My shoulders were tense.
Episode opens with Steven Frost watching a video about Provence — so convincing that dad asked me if it was advertising. Segue to the Steven Frost dream sequence that EPIX leaked last week.
I don’t know what to think about this so much after seeing the whole episode. I think we’re somehow supposed to sympathize with Steven — but I find it hard to for all kinds of reasons. But in this case, anyway, the scene is supposed to tell us that he’s tortured. (Is Provence part of the nightmare? Does he also dread retirement?) He and his wife are sleeping in different beds. Not such an usual thing in Germany, arguably, but odd for an American couple.
Camera pans over the Spree near Mitte as Robert and Steven argue about their little thing that they’re worried out Shaw might uncover. They’re standing behind the Berliner Dom on the bridge at Bodestr. The theological faculty of the Humboldt University is on their right, in the Burgstr. (that’s why I noticed where they were; “You want a psychic, they’re chock-a-block in Wuerzburg” is a reference to 101st Battalion Military Intelligence, located at Leighton Barracks.
By the way, Robert, Germans frown on that kind of thing. Pick up your fucking trash.
The shot adjusts itself to a frontal perspective. This is where we will see the images of Daniel in the knit hat that have been circulating for some time already.
He looks good running. She tells him off: “The only thing I dislike more than predictable wit are invasions of my private time like this.” They are definitely setting themselves up for some angry … something. Sometime. However, it’s definitely true that most Germans feel that when they’re not at work, they’re not at work. It’s a strong cultural difference. They don’t usually answer their email on weekends, even.
End shot fades from Daniel watching Esther run away (no, he doesn’t seem to be looking at her butt) to Hector across the park, watching Daniel from a car.
Now, we’re back to the frontal shot of the Brandenburg Gate as three hummer-like vehicles speed urgently toward the embassy — they carry security personnel from Washington charged with reading everything at Berlin Station to make sure there are no other problems coming their way. This is the closest we’ve seen yet to the CIA agent a la Toby Stephens in Strike Back — the macho, arrogant cowboy riding in. Robert swears a few times because he seems to have no other vocabulary. Too bad they didn’t equip the character with a slightly more creative obscenity chip. As Steven comforts the out of control Robert, the agent bursts in with photos on Steven’s phone of Ho-jin Lin (sp?), a defector from the PRC, but not the kind we like in the West. It’s not clear why he’s such a big liability, though. Robert hopes that the security people will focus on this problem (Mr. Ho-jin isn’t supposed to have internet, apparently) and ignore “our dirty secret.”
We cut — another overhead shot (!), although I like this one) — to Valerie and Swingset (whose name is Bora) at a construction site, where Valerie confronts Bora with the evidence that he lied to her about not having been in contact with Iosova. There’ll be a longer post about this sometime, but despite my personal hackle-raising at Michelle Forbes I am really impressed both with how this character is scripted and how Forbes is playing her. Here, she has to sort of pull together her assertiveness in order to force Bora to do what she wants (although the longer I watch this show, it’s true, the more I doubt the sincerity of anything anyone says), which is accept an invitation from Iosova that he has previously refused, or she will out one of his secrets.
Story shifts to Gemma Moore, who is found in a hotel (we later learn, in Prague) by more CIA security people. Honestly, if you’re in the CIA you get to stay in seriously nice hotels. We’re then at eleven minutes in and Daniel tries to call Gemma, gives his code word, and discovers she’s “not alone.” Beautiful retreating panorama shot over the rooftops of Wedding. Daniel ditches his phone (Servetus winces) in a garbage truck and walks into the office just as everyone is learning on CNN that Gemma is the latest Thomas Shaw victim.
We’ve seen both of these moments before (as a quick moment in trailer, and then as a leaked advance scene on Vimeo, but it was at this point that I realized how much the show seems to love showing Daniel in profile. It’s a recurring shot. I don’t mind — but it’s becoming noticeable.
I think Armitage’s emotionality is somewhat reduced in this kind of shot, but we still do see him narrowing his eyes. A lot less than Lucas did. It’s interesting that the directors would pick this shot — the Spooks directors, in contrast, seemed to really like watching Lucas look at his colleagues. Although we do see a few eye shots in precisely this scene as Daniel observes what others are doing and saying.
Steven then heads into Sandra’s office — did she sign the files out under her name or his? (He makes himself less likable by the moment and frankly, this scene makes him look like a horrible coward.) Loving the character of Sandra, here, again both as scripted and as played. Love the way the actor’s physical uprightness and ramrod straight back seems to signal a kind of rectitude. Seems to. And the costume she has on — all grids and squares. She has him squirming and she knows it.
Cut to a train crossing the Oberbaumbruecke and Steven and Valerie entering the Bundesministerum des Inneren (this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me geographically, nor does the implication that the embassy people would go on public transportation) for a meeting with Hans Richter and Esther Krug, who seems to have succeeded Dieter Klaus. Richter and Frost are not so friendly outside of work and there’s a dig about Daniel Miller. They talk about getting a prostitute for Ho-Jin Lin and Iosova. Frost wants the Germans to help out on Iosova and they are unenthused. Richter warns Frost about Miller …
Who’s standing out on the street, ordering room service?? when he’s encountered by Hector, who’s smoking. Daniel is apparently a nicotine gum addict. We meet a new character, Clare, who picks Hector up. Daniel resumes his room service order, which is to Gemma’s hotel room in Prague. Clare tries to do Hector in a car (uncomfortable!) but Hector doesn’t seem to be able to, well. Clair suggests they eat as she’s back from Saudi Arabia, and the scene changes to:
Someone skewering a circular food. Pretty unsubtle, but amusing the first time. Claire tells Hector that Faisal is being tried for sodomy under the supervision of a predictably murderous judge.
We’re twenty minutes in before we get one of these Richard Armitage scenes I used to love so much in Spooks, where we watch the expressions flicker across his face. Steven is taking Hans’ advice to check in to Daniel, apparently, so Daniel gets called and asked some vague questions that make him uncomfortable.
This is interesting — we see Daniel as Frost observes him, and creates discomfort with silence — but you have the feeling that both men know what they are doing and decide they aren’t going to have the face off here and now. At the end of Frost’s silence, they try to restore equilibrium, as Daniel says he wants to catch up with “Joker,” one of Gerald’s assets in the IT branch.
But we know that the teeth will be out soon. Steven then calls Jemma asking for more information about Daniel, but she refuses it — and this just makes Steven look more incompetent to me. Hector and Robert have another boring argument about Faisal — it’s repetitive and boring, particularly given the relatively fast pace of the episode, and I’m not sure what the purpose is, except perhaps to show us Hector is genuinely motivated by concern for Faisal?
Scene cuts to a woman entering a safe house room — “Joker,” and this scene seems designed to show us that Daniel is a hard man.
Or maybe it is?
He gives her a look of true rage when she doesn’t respond to his threat.
And here’s Daniel in profile again, because I can. This director really liked that shot.
Next, Robert encounters the CIA cowboy in a bar, eating “Wiener” Schnitzel (technical point here for the script writer: “Wiener Schnitzel” is supposed to be veal, not pork; pork schnitzel is “Schweineschnitzel” or occasionally “Schnitzel nach Wiener Art). Robert gets a Moscow mule, interestingly served in the correct glass. The cowboy suggests Gemma only had her job because of political correctness (now I want to say “fuck you”), and they discuss the identity of the next Deputy Director. We all know who Robert wants. Robert sics the girl at the end of the bar (who looks a lot like Clare) on the cowboy — boy does this look like a setup. This show is making me paranoid.
Next (the way this show is written, it makes hard to use any other transitional words than “next,” my apologies) we see Hector in Shirley the drag artist’s dressing room. Shirley tells Hector that he’ll be able to keep it up again when he gets control of the situation.
Ooh, and there’s that Armitage profile again as Daniel and his cousin watch Maximus ice skate.
This is a nice scene, although sad. His cousin tells Daniel that it’s like “having a dad around again,” and Daniel muses that maybe they shouldn’t get too attached. But I just love the facial architectural quality of this shot, so I’ll reproduce it again.
Another piece of backstory — his cousin admits that she thinks it must be hard for Daniel to come back to Berlin, and we see Daniel react — but only for a split second as she tries to cheer him up, and he seems to want to be cheered. If she weren’t his first cousin, this would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. It has that sort of intimate feel to it.
Cut to Robert’s encounter with Ho-Jin Lin. The script gets weird here — Robert approaches and says “bang. Shot to the head from your friends in the Ministry for State Security.” I was confused for a bit, because there hasn’t been a Ministry for State Security in Germany since 1990 (the name most Americans knew this agency by is “Stasi”). “They are not my friends,” comes the response. Anyway, later, Robert says “MSS” and I realize he’s talking about the Chinese. In the end, Robert offers the guy a choice of prostitute.
We then glimpse Daniel’s bike in his entryway and Jemma’s in his apartment — escaped from Prague.
She reveals the thin white dude as Julian de Vos — who was on a kill list. She tells him, essentially, “don’t give up now!” and warns him that Steven is onto him.
Cut to Robert and Steven in the office, again — Robert nervously asking Steven if “there’s some other liability I don’t know about” — YES! THE AFFAIR! — just as Sandra is about to be questioned. Boy is that woman tough.
Cut to Valerie meeting Clare in a law library (from images online, since I’ve been to the university but never to that library, I think it might be the law library at the Freie Universitaet, which, if so, is quite a way away from Mitte, where the embassy is, but I could be wrong), in front of the books on what lawyers get paid (RVG) and what legal administrators get paid (KostO), and also OLGSt, which I didn’t feel like looking up but am guessing has something to do with the Oberlandesgericht. Valerie sics Clare on Iosova and warns her not to get involved again with Hector.
Next we see Swingset (Bora) going to the Iosova’s house. Iosova is married to a German — Ruth — and as they meet, Valerie and Hector are observing the whole thing from their office in Mitte. Pedantically, I have to note two issues with the German in this scene — it should be “Netz” and not “Netwerk,” and “eigentlich” instead of “wirklich.” My German teacher would call this Neudeutsch and she would not mean that positively! This scene is interspersed with Sandra’s interview with the Cowboy — in which she takes the aggressive role. Yay, Sandra. Iosova asks Bora to donate money secretly (illegally) to a fund to bring more Syrian refugees into Germany. Steven is distracted the whole time, and Valerie observes it, but as he and Valerie watch from afar, Bora agrees to donate the money illegally. Valerie tells Steven she hopes Bora was lying — but we as observers think the Berlin Station folks have indeed accidentally stumbled on some kind of terrorist organization (or I did).
Robert, Sandra and Steven await the end of Steven’s meeting with the Cowboy. Apparently he’s been cleared, as Steven tells Robert (after a bit of teasing). Steven realize that Sandra lied for him and goes in to thank her and gives her a bullshit explanation that no rational woman would believe. His secret — he and Robert have been embezzling money from the US government through a network of false agents; Robert in order to recover from a divorce and he in order to pay for his daughter’s college. But he stopped, he says, as soon as he met her. Honestly, do men who tell stories like this think women believe them? Sandra is biting her lip and looking like she wants to cry, but I’d like to think it’s because she hates herself for lying and Steven for being such an ass and maybe is frustrated with herself for falling for such a liar.
The lying continues as Bora tells Valerie that Iosova didn’t approach him about anything, and Valerie smiles, knowing he’s lying. In a scene that was leaked on vimeo, we see Hector and Daniel in the drag bar, with Daniel asking what Hector did since they’ve seen each other. When Shirley sits on Daniel’s lap during a performance, Hector purloins Daniel’s (new) phone briefly and puts in a drive before returning to the bar and putting it back.
At home, Steven tells his wife that the deputy directorship is in sight. Valerie goes home and sees a text message on her partner’s phone; it’s clear she suspects him of cheating on her and she seduces him, presumably to keep him away from someone he calls “his distributor.”
And the kicker scene: Steven confronts Daniel (near where he and Robert spoke earlier that day — in the galleries along the Spree near the Alte Nationalgalerie) to tell him he knows that Gemma Moore sent him. Steven refuses to cooperate with Daniel; and we see Hector listening (he apparently bugged Daniel’s phone in the bathrrom). Daniel walks away, and another drop of water falls on Steven’s face. This is a moment I wish I had vid for — because it’s clear that Daniel is incredibly angry and you can see it spread very subtly across Armitage’s face. Wow. Chilling.