Berlin Station, episode 4, thoughts [spoilers] #richardarmitage

[Episode 3 was here. Ideally I’d have written this on 11/6, when I saw it, sprawled across a hotel bed in midtown Manhattan. Wonders of modern technology. Ah, well. I’m putting this in here mostly pro forma. I didn’t like this episode that much. Luckily episode 5 improved my impression.]

The TL;DR judgment — it took me hours just to summarize what happened in this episode. However, with the except of possibly Steven, very little effort is being made to flesh the actors out as people with emotional lives. We learn things about their past but not really what those things mean. And Armitage’s skills are really under-utilized whenever you don’t allow him to show what his character is thinking or feeling. This episode was most interested in Steven and Hector and since I find Steven babyish and Hector tedious, it was kind of a loss for me.

[I’m going to get the episode 5 recap done before episode 6 airs. I hope.]

***

Episode opens with Daniel (Richard Armitage), nose in the snow.

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Then Hector (Rhys Ifans) and Daniel together in the snowy place (no identification of time or place):

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The snowy place has Cyrillic letters:

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Then, switch to “present day” so we know all of that was past. They’re in one of those CIA safe houses from 1986.

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They’re meeting up so Frost can give Daniel some more information about Julian de Vos, specifically his file (Frost says he’s better at his job than Gemma Jones was) and the information about the person who was supposed to have killed him, Frank Dupont, who’s now living on a houseboat in the Netherlands. Daniel is non-commital, and Frost is frustrated by his unwillingness to make friends.

Richard Armitage reveals himself the master of the insincere smile:

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In digging for information, Frost reveals that the initial scene took place in Chechnya and Langley (CIA HQ) thinks Daniel is a war hero. Daniel isn’t having it.

In a movie theater, Julian de Vos (formerly “thin white dude”) listens as Hector tells him that Daniel has his file. Hector promises to take care of it. At home, Mrs. Frost observes Mr. Frost on the treadmill, exhausted.

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Next, Daniel meets “Joker”/Lana (Antje Trauer) in a well-appointed sushi bar, where she’s apparently called him. She reveals (a) that she’s sympathetic to Shaw, and (b) that her company will be providing secure computer services to the Berliner Zeitung. Thanks to his end of episode bugging escapade, Hector hears the conversation. Lana wants out and Daniel tells her they want fuller server access and reminds her she’s an embezzler. It looks like he’s going to kiss her goodbye …

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But instead, he steals a piece of her maki. That was kind of cute. One thing I love about Berlin is that it’s a great place to eat sushi, but I don’t recognize this particular restaurant. My favorite in Berlin is Ishin (which was right next to the old U.S. embassy).

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Back at the office, Sandra reminds Steven that he needs to go to a U.S. / German / Iranian economic conference that he was planning to miss, and she notes that he needs to go to show his face if he’s serious about promotion to Gemma Moore’s old job. Jason Wolf (London office) will be there and is aiming at the office; Sandra wants Steven to take the job so they don’t have to work with Wolf again, who she calls a bigot (I should have been paying better attention); and Steven says maybe he doesn’t want to go.

Daniel goes into Steven’s office and asks him to authorize an operation to tap into the Berliner Zeitung’s computers, so they can get advance notice on any traffic relating to Thomas Shaw.

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One thing I have to say about Armitage, although it’s nothing new, is that he’s never physically wrong in these scenes. He’s got this CIA office guy posture down exactly right.

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Daniel wants an op to install malware in the server’s computer and one that only he and Steven know about. We see Hector pacing the hallway, observing the conversation. Steven promises that only he and Daniel will know about it.

Cut to “Swingset” / Bora, putting his shoes on after prayer, observed by Claire, who is doing the same. She observes him talking to Iosava as they exit, and then giving Iosava an envelope in front of a van labeled “Sadaqa Stiftung” (charity [Arabic] foundation [German]). Claire then climbs into Valerie’s Audi, which has a funny license plate …

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Administrative note: all cars originally licensed for use in Berlin will have a license plate number that begins with B. Until not long ago, you could tell exactly where a car was from by the first letter (providing you knew the key), but the law has changed recently. Anyway, Valerie and Claire argue about the significance of the payment and what Valerie should do — Valerie says she doesn’t want to interrogate anyone until she knows the answers to her questions — and Claire suggests they get drunk.

Back at the embassy, Hector is in Robert’s office, asking for a new task; he insinuates that Daniel should be anxious about getting back into the field. Robert is confused. Daniel comes into Robert’s office and Robert discusses the op that Steven has requested, pointing out that he hasn’t seen any intel. Daniel notes that the Germans like to withhold intel and Robert remarks “along with fresh vegetables and decent fucking wifi” [Servetus notes that the first is nonsense — Germans eat things raw that I’d never voluntarily put in my mouth, like fennel — but that the second is sadly often true].

We’re not seeing many micro-expressions from Armitage so far in this show, but we see a few here — subtle signs of discomfort:screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-8-50-27-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-18-at-8-50-37-pm

Daniel says that the “assistant cultural attaché” should not be involved in the op and Hector confesses to helping the NSA bug German federal chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone (for those who don’t keep up with current events, the U.S. was exposed as having done this for decades in 2013. The activity was revealed over wikileaks. It was not one of those happy moments in our relationship with the BRD).

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Robert shoes them out, and we see them exiting the building via a parking ramp. Daniel states that he doesn’t need a baby sitter, and Hector replies in a way that suggests that he’s gaslighting Daniel, reassuring him over his capacity to do something he doesn’t seem to be worried about. They get in a car together.

Gratuitous Richard Armitage / Daniel Miller thumb shot.

Gratuitous Richard Armitage / Daniel Miller thumb shot.

Daniel gets a text from Patricia and Hector gets it too. They then go to meet Swingset to start the op.

Gratuitous photo of Armitage's eyes in the rear view mirror -- i feel like I've we've seen this before.

Gratuitous photo of Armitage’s eyes in the rear view mirror — i feel like I’ve we’ve seen this before.

Hector explains to Joker how to slip her boss a mickey (or give him some roofies, as we say today). Script note: Joker uses the word ausführen here in a way that I haven’t typically heard it used — to invite an entire office to go out for a drink. (I’ve usually heard it used as a verb for a one-on-one date.) We see them entering a really horribly-decorated room of some kind where they do the honey trap.

Joker: "Have you ever done this before?" Daniel: "Not with a German." Joker and Daniel strip her unconscious boss to make it look like they've been intimate.

Joker: “Have you ever done this before?”
Daniel: “Not with a German.” Joker and Daniel strip her unconscious boss to make it look like they’ve been intimate.

Meanwhile, Hector puts a chip in bossman’s computer, and then installs the malware for their op. At the last second, however, he sabotages the process by denying remote access.

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This is what Hector enters. Circled because I didn’t notice this until the second time I watched the episode.

Valerie watches surveillance vid from the Iosava apartment and sees a bunch of young women doing Qur’an study with Ruth Iosava; Joker’s boss wakes up and she suggests to him that they had sex. Then she exits the building and she and Daniel have a conversation about whether she enjoys the thrill of spying. I’m including this cap because it reveals the name of the place they stayed (a pension, which is sort of like a bed and breakfast).

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And I’m mentioning the name of the pension only because it’s the sort of thing that would make a German snort. I can’t explain why that is, exactly.

Hector invites himself to dinner with Daniel.

Robert shows up in one of those hats that you can buy in tourist traps all over Berlin.

Robert shows up in one of those hats that you can buy in tourist traps all over Berlin.

At the Frosts’ apartment, Robert shows up to convince Steven to attend the conference. He suggests that Steven can meet up with Behrouz Zahani (sp?), an Iranian who might be willing to help them out. Robert states that Zahani can’t be bought and might be recruitable — this information coming from the Mossad (Israeli intelligence agency) — and that this coup would guarantee Steven promotion, which Robert wants because he really wants to leave Berlin. Steven is resistant, and Kellie Frost overhears the whole thing. She then makes her own case for why he should want the job.

Steven Frost is a big baby. That’s what I have to say about this scene and indeed the whole episode. I do not get why so many people care about his feelings (an issue I have going into the next episode as well).

Next, we find Hector, Daniel, Patricia and Maximus at dinner — Armitage revealed in his live tweet that this scene was filmed in Der Goldene Hahn, a well-known Italian restaurant in Kreuzberg. It’s a prix fixe-oriented family style restaurant (everyone at the table gets the same meal) and the menu changes daily. I’ve never been there but it’s well spoken-of.

Daniel remonstrating with Hector at the end of the scene.

Daniel remonstrating with Hector at the end of the scene.

To my mind, this was one of the better scenes in this week’s episode, because it sheds more light on the Daniel / Hector relationship. Daniel can’t admit that he doesn’t want Hector around and he can’t tell his cousin why, so he hints very unsubtly that Hector is a womanizer, and Hector in response turns on the charm full blast. She’s delighted to meet one of Danny’s colleagues. And so on. She senses the tension and excuses herself.

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Entrance of Hotel Adlon on Unter den Linden.

Next: the conference. This scene was primarily of interest to me in that it takes place in a historically famous location for Berlin sociability: the Adlon Hotel (since the Wende, the Adlon Kempinski). It’s just slightly to the east of the Brandenburg Gate (so from this perspective you can see the heads of the horses on the quadriga). You can read about its history here. It’s a bit weird of me, since the original building was damaged badly in WWII and demolished in 1984, but I’ve always wanted to go there — they used to have weekend packages — and I thought I’d splurge if I got tenure. Ah well. Ein andermal.

I don't know why they wouldn't walk, because the US embassy is really close, but I guess they decided for the photo op.

I don’t know why they wouldn’t walk, because the US embassy is really close, but I guess they decided for the photo op.

Then we get a series of interwoven cuts between a few things going on: Sandra and Kellie’s contest over Steven; Robert’s attempt to move to Steven into position to recruit Mr. Zahani; Jason Wolf (the English CIA guy) and his attempt to wrongfoot Kellie; Valerie’s pursuit of her current plot line; Daniel’s participation in Berliner Zeitung server tap; the past in Chechnya. Robert (surprised to see Steven at the conference) sets up a meeting with Zahani. Valerie tails Ruth Iosava into the Skalitzerstraße. At a conference reception, we learn that Steven’s nickname is “Frosty.” Wolf points out Zahani to Steven, who says he has an opening to Zahani. Wolf wants to give him money.

Daniel appears on a roof — as Hector observes from an attic across the way and the buggers observe from the van — to start the remote malware setup. This is cut with Hector observing Daniel years earlier in Chechnya, also from a rooftop, as he walks through a market, trying to identify a suicide bomber. Flipping back to Berlin, Hector accuses Daniel of not trusting him as Daniel moves into position. Hector sees the inside of Joker’s office and her boss setting up his computer and just coincidentally, Ingrid Hollander is there too!

Back at the Adlon, Kellie and Wolf run into each other. This scene was beyond offensive — to the extent that if I weren’t watching this show for Armitage, I’d have switched off the screen and never returned. (Yes, I get that they’re using Wolf’s sexism and racism to characterize him and also as a “realistic” element, but I don’t care and I don’t find it convincing. There are plenty of ways to show that someone’s an egotistical jerk without resorting to the worst kinds of ethnic slurs, and although Richard Armitage praised this scene, I found it to be seriously offensive and above all lazy writing.) Wolf comes onto Kellie, and when rebuffed, he informs her that Steven and Sandra have been having an affair since they were all stationed in Vienna. Kellie tells Steven that Wolf’s hurt her.

At that point, Steven heads off to confront Wolf, but the goal is not to enforce his honor but rather to entrap Wolf into an approach to Zahani. Steven says he has the connections but needs money. Wolf says he has the money. Then we’re back to the roof, where Daniel’s computer still isn’t working.

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I’m glad the computer is malfunctioning b/c the consternation on Daniel’s face is moving to watch.

Hector observes this with a smirk on his face, as the bugger in the van says the malware will have to be uploaded manually. Hector says they need to abort and Daniel insists it’s his decision.

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Daniel, under pressure to decide.

Cut back to events in Chechnya, which gives us more scenes of Daniel in this coat. I really like this outfit, for some reason.

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Short version: Danny identifies the wrong woman as a suicide bomber, the sniper snoots at the wrong person, soldiers in the marketplace start shooting up at the sniper, and meanwhile the real suicide bomber detonates herself.

Cut back to present-day Berlin, where Joker lets Daniel into the building, gives him a jacket, and lets him into the server room, where he installs the malware, naturally just as Joker’s boss lets Hollander in, and also naturally, they don’t see each other. Daniel finishes the install. So we get some neat blue-faced Armitage as well:

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The installation works, and Hector and the buggers pull out (at Hector’s behest). Cut back to Chechnya (we’re now told it’s 2006). As Hector loads Daniel onto a truck, he tells him that he’s going to tell everyone that the whole thing was an al-Qaeda set up and it wasn’t Daniel’s fault. Back in the present, Daniel escapes to the roof only to discover that everyone’s gone.

At the Adlon, Zahani, Wolf, Robert, and Steven are in Zahani’s suite. Wolf offers Zahani money; Zahani is offended and says he’s not like Hou-jin Lin; Steven apologizes; the meeting blows up. Wolf accuses Steven of messing this up on purpose and tells Robert to get out from under Steven’s thumb. Robert is furious; Steven says he can help the Israelis when he’s deputy director. It’s unclear if Steven did this because he hates Wolf or because he really wants the job. Meanwhile, in the bar, Kellie tells Sandra that her affair with Steven is over. Back in Kreuzberg, poor Valerie is still tailing Ruth Iosava.

Daniel finally tracks down Hector, in the twilight. Hector tells Daniel he can’t always save him. Daniel doesn’t want to think Hector’s anger is about Chechnya. Hector is angry he wasn’t thanked; Daniel points out that the story about Chechnya didn’t let him thank Hector. Hector says that Daniel’s work blew up in Chechnya and almost got blown up today. Daniel punches out Hector. This is hugely gratifying to Servetus, who finds Hector really tedious.

Back at his apartment, Steven is visited by a Mossad agent with soup (another ridiculous stereotype. Seriously, Olen Steinhauer, this is as creative as you can get?). Back at their apartment, the Frosts are in bed and Steven tells Kellie it was amazing. Kellie asks why he did what he did to Wolf — for her or the directorship — and he indicates that “they are one and the same.” Back at Valerie’s apartment, Valerie reveals to Claire that Ruth Iosova was buying tickets for young ladies to go to Syria. Back at the safe house, Joker arrives for a meeting with Daniel to get a phone call with the news that Daniel will stop blackmailing her but would like to keep working with her. In his office, Steven observes Ingrid Hollander typing on her computer. In the Netherlands, Daniel tracks down Frank DuPont and learns that Frank never saw him dead; the Germans are the ones who are spreading this rumor; de Vos rented flats to terrorists in Brussels and is either a sympathizer or an ISIL participant; he was taken to a CIA black site and escaped, i.e., someone let him go.

Daniel's face, as he absorbs that huge information dump.

Daniel’s face, as he absorbs that huge information dump.

~ by Servetus on November 19, 2016.

10 Responses to “Berlin Station, episode 4, thoughts [spoilers] #richardarmitage”

  1. I have to say that I was expecting the flashbacks from Chechnya with apprehension but there was nothing in that scene that made me wince, it looks quite authentic, with Russian phrases in the background. Funny thing is Richard with this beanie hat and stubble looks very much like a Chechen😉

    • Good point — I hadn’t thought about how that would play abroad. For most Americans, Chechnya is just a hard-to-pronounce placename where some violence happened a few years ago. But the show really doesn’t take sides.

      LOL that Armitage looks like a Chechen!

  2. Excellent recap! I must say I think the whole series is badly written, and the characterization is mostly awful. Daniel should be mysterious and compelling given that he’s the main character, but instead he’s just bland, and I’m pretty sure it’s not Armitage’s fault. He’s got nothing to work with. Though I think his insistence that he wanted to play Daniel as an everyman who is out of his depth didn’t really help.

    • Thanks for the comment, and welcome. I felt like one reason ep 5 was a breath of fresh air was that in fact they took some time for characterization.

      What I’m feeling (after reading Steinhauer’s novels) is that what works in a novel — plot twist after plot twist — doesn’t really work in television. Something about the fact that it’s not just playing out in my mind means that I want a different kind of depth.

    • Also, good point about the unbelievability of Daniel as everyman — it’s not really convincing b/c the character himself contradicts this. No one is accidentally a CIA agent. He has a crazy amount of knowledge and training that separate him from an everyman. You can’t tell me his mother was killed (and he knows why), and he’s been in the CIA for at least ten years and survived a wound and is just like any other guy on the street.

  3. Somehow slow characterization on screen just does not pull through the same as when you are reading a spy novel. The characters just really do not have time to pull you in in most of the episodes. I love a slow burn but I also want to see the intensity of what is going on along with the story.

    • Yes, you’re right — like right now (two episodes later) I’m expected to believe that Hector is not a self-centered creep. I might be more inclined to if the script had spent more time actually filling him out before this (as opposed to just involving him in plot line after plot line). I don’t know enough really about anyone at this point, except possibly Robert, to find them more than one dimensional.

  4. Many thanks for these thoughts. I can’t imagine how long it takes to write such a synopsis, and compile the clips, but it’s much appreciated!

  5. […] [Epidode 4 is here.] […]

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