Berlin Station, episode 6, first impressions [spoilers]
[Episode 5 thoughts are here, and I put a postscript here, which I am including because it allowed me to deduce a plot element in this episode. Doing this tonight because my level of disgust with this episode was high and I don’t really want to rewatch it.]
The TL:DR summary — I didn’t find most of the plot of this episode all that plausible. Even worse, I don’t believe that humans actually behave this way. I’ve discussed the problems with shallow characterization before and characterization based on stereotype, but they really come home to roost here. However, anyone who hasn’t gotten enough explosions and shooting got their fill this week.
I am not getting sick of the titles, though. This show is making me seriously homesick for Berlin. Ex-SO and I were chatting today and he said “everyone wants to hire a native speaker of English at the moment.” If only it were reasonable for me to leave the U.S. just now …
Anyway. Episode 6 opens with a bunch of people going into a distinguished-looking Antiquariat (German word for “used book store”). It turns out this is the cover for a shielded room controlled by the German BFV, and they’re meeting there to make sure that Thomas Shaw can’t leak the operation (Daniel gives up his phone before he enters). Plausibility problem #1 for me with this episode — two potential ISIL brides (who have been stopped before they could go to Syria) are worth an international operation? One of them isn’t even a U.S. citizen. There’s been jurisdiction unclarity all the way through this particular plot line. For starters, I didn’t believe that the CIA would do this. The script seems to realize this because it turns into “learning what the channel is for getting people into Syria.” Still too flimsy for me.
They need to cooperate because it’s happening on German soil, because the CIA people want permission to use guns, and because the criminals will be charged under German law. The reason they keep talking about “Cologne” is that that’s the location of the headquarters of the Bundesamt für Verfassungschutz is. Bora / “Swingset” has contacted Iosava and asked to send a relative to Syria — the “relative” will be Claire. The operation will take place at Boulevard Berlin in Steglitz, a Berlin mall (this is an area of Berlin that has a proportionately high non-German population, incidentally), and the mall will be filled with agents. As they explain the op, Esther and Daniel snipe at each other.
I assumed that this was a performance for the crowd, so no one knows that they slept together. Because of Iosava’s schedule, they only have 36 hours to prepare. The cover story if something goes wrong is “rival Islamic factions.” Note that, because it adds to issues with the plausibility of this episode.
As the meeting ends, however, Esther asks Daniel if he’d looked at the information she’d given him. “No,” he replies — but he has researched her and discovered who her father really was.
Her response is a fairly standard bit of GDR propaganda: “When you have a home, you’ll do anything to protect it.” But then a parting shot: “But you have to have a home first.”
Steven, Valerie, and Robert exit the meeting and do what else? Argue. Surprise. Valerie agrees that the operation is happening too quickly; Robert disagrees with Valerie; Steven accuses Valerie of caring too much about Claire’s welfare. Hans and Esther are still in the conference room and Hans asks Esther how things are going with Daniel. She admits that she slept with him, and also that she told him about his mother a little, but that he “got defensive” (not a good translation: she really says — “he closed up”). Richter makes a pompous statement about how we sanctify our ancestors, especially if they don’t deserve it. Esther notes that it’s a lot of work to turn a minor CIA agent. Hans tells her not to worry (bad translation: “it runs in the family” would be better). And then she shows a reservation of her own:
Next, Julian is still in Hector’s apartment and Hector tries to handfeed him something. Julian refers to the impossibility of punishing people, and then says, “you and me, too, we met at the end of your fist.” (Servetus thinks — ok, Hector was somehow involved in Julian’s escape from the CIA black site.) Julian wants reassurance that “this is all heading somewhere,” which Hector gives him.
At the Frosts, Steven explains that if he can complete this op, the promotion is assured. I’ll just put this piece in here since it appeared today. If you’re geoblocked, substitute the letters pak for tube in the URL.
The upshot is that Kellie is already househunting in Virginia. Sometimes this show really hates women and this is one of those moments. The intimation of this show, repeatedly, is that Steven is unhappy because of Valerie’s unreasonable expectations of him. How I understand it: Steven is unhappy because for some reason he refuses to have an honest, adult conversation with his wife about his needs.
Back in the Pestalozzistr., Robert is complimented for passing on information to the Israelis re: the Houjin Lin affair and offered a retirement account. The Mossad agent suggests that because he won’t say what he wants, he’s making Tel Aviv nervous. Robert says what he wants: promotion. He suggests they could stage a fake op that would give him credibility. She notes that if the next op goes well, Steven will go to Langley and Robert will become station chief. But this isn’t what Robert wants — he wants to go back to the U.S. She diagnoses that he wants to be closer to his son. She recommends supporting this op to make sure that Steven succeeds and gets the promotion so that Robert can go with him. (I find myself thinking: I really feel for Robert but I can’t help but note that he’s proposing careerism as the solution to a problem with meaning.)
Ingrid thinks that the discredited leak means that the CIA is watching them. Her buddy thinks she might be paranoid. She wants him to make sure they’re not being tapped. He notes this would take weeks and that people are starting to say she’s paranoid.
Cut to Daniel in a darkened office at the embassy, in his shirtsleeves, wearing a shirt that’s too small for him.
Daniel’s reading the file on Lucas Becker, the East German his mother was involved with (who had a doctorate in economics from the University of Erfurt), and he sees a picture of the burnt-out car where she died (“terrorist bombing”). For some reason (?) the entire original file is written in English (plausibility problem #2, but a minor one and I know why they did this). Cut to an antsy Ingrid on her sofa, who decides to bait the CIA by typing an invitation to a meeting in Wannsee and seeing if there’s a response. Of course, Daniel sees it on his screen. As I’ve noted before , the street she specifies doesn’t exist in Wannsee.
The problem is clear — if he goes to the meetup, he’ll be exposing the fact of their tap into the Berliner Zeitung server.
Next, at the Frosts’ apartment (I think) Hans tells Steven that the op is approved but the CIA can’t have guns. As his quid pro quo for Hans’ support on doing the op, Steven agrees to give Hans the entire file on Dieter Klaus (the agent who was blown at the beginning of the series), so four years of stolen intelligence, but specifies that he can’t be known as the source. Since Hans doesn’t really reply, I’m guessing we’re supposed to be feel sorry for him here. Again. Poor Steven.
Then we see Steven in his office. He tells Robert that the op is on without weapons. Then he establishes where Daniel is. They meet in the parking garage in Steven’s car, with Hector overhearing the conversation. Steven pressures Daniel for progress, information; Daniel notes he needs info about the black site where Julian de Vos was held; Steven says that he can’t get it because “he has to move very carefully” and getting the previous file exposed him (I conclude: Steven is protecting someone — certainly himself, possibly Hector?; I extrapolate / hypothesize: Steven is giving Daniel enough rope to hang himself). Steven wants an ETA for information and Daniel refuses. Daniel says he’s going to meet Ingrid; Steven tells him not to; Daniel refuses to say where they are meeting. Variation on the previous “who do you think you are?” conversations.
Steven notes that with three leaks directed at Berlin, a further one will annihilate the station. Daniel says “maybe he has a problem with you” (bingo) but Steven refuses to hear it, saying that Shaw wants to send them all home. Cut to Hector; Claire is knocking at his door and wants to tell him something; she sees Shirley’s heels and takes off. Julian observes this and promises to leave by evening.
At the embassy, Valerie, Steven and Robert are again discussing the op; Valerie asks why it has to be so fast (this seems odd to me — surely she’s the one who moved Bora to contact Iosava in the first place?). Steven and Robert are concerned about the station’s reputation and Steven emphasizes they need to stand together: “We need a win.”
Valerie clocks that the only reason they doing is the op is the promotions: “Oh my G-d. This is about Gemma Moore’s desk, isn’t it?”
Valerie goes on frontal attack. Steven accuses of her of mistaking Gerald and Claire for friends, when they are colleagues.
Steven: “You undermine your work, and you’ve been undermining it for a very long time.” Robert smirks his enjoyment as he witnesses this. Valerie pauses for a moment and leaves the room.
Hector has caught up with Claire and tries to explain. She says she doesn’t want to hear what was going on and just wanted a good fuck before the op. Hector doesn’t know about the op, and asks, and she explains, and he doesn’t want her to do it. She points out that everything she does (grad student, daughter, agent) are roles — this is a highly sympathetic moment for me in this scene, because even though I don’t pretend to be an ISIL bride for a living, I have the same issue with playing roles and wondering if any of them matter. They arrange to meet up for sex later.
Hector then storms into the station. (Severe plausibility problem #2 for me: I have seen no evidence up to this point that Hector actually feels any affective connection to anyone he’s in contact with. Hector is in it for Hector. This isn’t about his caring for Claire, it’s about his ego.) He harangues Valerie about Claire’s participation in the operation. He then threatens, twice, to expose himself to the Germans in order to stop or participate in the op. Valerie points out this would be a problem for their other cases. (Plausibility problem #3 for me: why would anyone let this guy work in intelligence? Aside from the ego, inside of twenty seconds he has threatened to pull down the station twice because he’s not running things.) She tells him Daniel is “running point” on the op, and he says “Fucking Daniel?” and storms out again.
Then Hector goes to Daniel’s office and warns him vehemently. (Plausibility problem #4 for me: if Claire is really in Daniel’s hands, why would Hector threaten him and thus endanger Claire? Also, it’s fairly clear that Daniel has basically no idea why Hector is constantly gunning for him.) This is another one of those places where it’s fun to look at Armitge’s expressions and the camera gives us a good few seconds of it.
Hector leaves, wordlessly. In a safe house, Bora, Claire and Valerie practice their stories. Bora insists he can’t do it, and Claire gives him a moving pep talk, pointing out the reasons for her own family’s history and departure from Iran and her ensuing decision to do things like this for the future of her family. I thought this was interesting (“what kind of Islam do you want for your children?”) but obviously the show wouldn’t explore that theme in much more detail.
In the drag bar, Shirley is getting dressed and Hector is venting about having to make compromises. We learn that his father marched for civil rights and participated in violent protests and “never said no.” (Aha, another damaged child of a baby boomer — this has been a theme this fall.) Hector states that he’s going to give details of the op directly to the Berliner Zeitung; Shirley objects that this messes up the system and Hector will get caught.
Next, a car drives out to Wannsee — a really beautiful wooded district on the edge of Berlin with lakes for bathing and a lot of wealthy homes. Ingrid is waiting when Daniel gets out of the car. There is no Max Wertheimer Klinikum, incidentally, but the signs on the building make clear that it’s a psychiatric hospital.
She takes him to see an individual who was tortured by the CIA to the point that if his hands are unrestrained, he attempts to claw his eyes out. (She’d written an article about him.) Daniel does look upset about this:
But then he walks over to the guy’s bed, pulls his phone out, and asks (in German — which is weird, because the guy is from the Black Sea region) if he knows “this man.”
The man whispers “Julian,” becomes anxious, and convulses — the nurse calls for assistance. Aha, so there is a real CIA agent under that milquetoast exterior.
Ingrid gives Daniel a moving talk about what U.S. foreign policy does and where it ends: “broken people, tied to beds.” So Daniel decides to give tit for tat, pointing out that the article that Ingrid wrote about the man in the hospital bed was what drew Shaw to her. He then shows her the picture of Julian and informs her that Julian killed Claudia.
So far, so good. We’re about halfway through the episode or a little more at this point, and preparations for the op begin. I still get a little confused when I see a policeman in a blue uniform (they used to be green). Valerie smokes and texts. Hector and Claire are actively engaged in sexual intercourse, apparently successfully this time. Daniel is pacing the roof of his apartment. Steven has fallen asleep in his office. Robert is trying to have a meaningful conversation with his son via skype, and his son is not cooperating (this is a heartbreaking vignette — he’s the one I feel most poignantly about at this point, anyway).
Next morning, Hector opens the curtains with breakfast in bed for Claire — who he wants to talk into staying away from the op. Sandra brings a cup of coffee into Steven’s office and wakes him up. He was dreaming about water (poor Steven). He orders Sandra to sit. He whines about how he’s done this work for forty years and still never knows if a decision is right. (Poor, poor Steven.) Sandra looks bored. Steven goes on about how hard it is to make decisions (slamming his daughter in the process — another babyboomer slamming a millennial; this is becoming a theme!)
Sandra then wins the episode with her line:
Claire also moves definitely into first place of favorite character when she refuses to let Hector stop her from participating in the op.
She tells him to stay out of it, and if he doesn’t, they are through. He keeps his know-it-all smirk on his face through the entire conversation. I have no idea what she sees in him, frankly. (Plausibility problem generally, but not with this episode specifically, so it doesn’t get a number.)
At the mall, the participants move into place. I’m not going to describe this blow-by-blow, as it’s quite complex and carefully choreographed and edited — no quibbles there. Definitely exciting to watch. As things are getting settled, surprise, surprise, Hector shoves himself into Daniel’s face. Daniel asks why he’s there. Esther walks past and Hector says, “Stay away from her. Never trust the Germans.” Hans and Steven conclude they can’t remove him without revealing the op. Bora / “Swingset” and Claire walk into the mall, toward their meeting with Ruth Iosava. Suddenly, Bora abandons Claire and goes into the mens’. Hector takes matters into his own hands and more or less coerces Bora to return to the op. (He also says “I happen to love that woman out there,” so we’re back to severe plausibility problem #2 for me.)
Ruth Iosava enters the mall, with guards but not her husband. The op begins — Bora introduces Ruth Iosava to Claire (“Azar”) and she begins telling her story. I’m thinking, wow, this is a masterly performance, Claire, you are good at this. But Ruth’s got a picture of Claire talking to Sabina and Daayna (from last week). As Ruth is revealing this, Robert gets a phone call from the Mossad agent — someone has seized Alexander Iosava. That would explain why he’s not at the meeting. At first, Ruth tells Iosava that they will all walk away, but at approximately the same time one of Ruth’s guards gets the message about the kidnapping. Ruth et al. take Bora and Claire (as hostages) and the whole mall begins to swirl. One of Ruth’s guards fires, then Esther, then we see Daniel and Hector with guns at the ready. (Yes, of course all of the Americans have guns, in total violation of the law of a sovereign country. But hey, it’s the CIA.)
Now we’re at plausibility problem #5 for me — if anything like this happened in Germany, it would be in the headlines for a month straight; if the CIA were shown to be involved, it would be three months or longer. Very few Germans have firearms; the public is not inured to mass shootings at shopping malls the way we are in the United States; you may remember what a sensation it was during the shootout this summer in Munich. The German public sphere does not want this kind of thing to develop. If I were in the CIA, and for some crazy reason I had orchestrated all of this for the sake of two ISIL brides, and it all went sour, the LAST thing I would do is get involved in some kind of shoot-’em-up. Because when even a piece of it came to light, every single one of those agents would be expelled from the country immediately and without hesitation. The German newspapers would beat on the government for justice (unlike the U.S. newspapers), they would have their way, and that would be the least conceivable penalty. If something like this happened, it would ruin German-U.S. relations for a generation at the minimum. And it’s hard for me to believe that the current government would blame this on rival Muslim factions (see note at the beginning of this post), because Merkel & Co. have been hanging on by a thread ever since this series started filming. The last thing the current administration wants to do is animate public sentiment against Muslims; they already have enough problems because of that. The latest point at which Steinhauer et al. might have noticed this is when they lost their offices to refugees the government needed to house.
Anyway, back to the plot. Bora gets shot and Valerie runs to his side. Hector and Esther match each other in fire at the guards. Robert notices the van that Ruth arrived in escaping, and gets involved in a massive car chase (driving the wrong way) to pursue it. IMO this is also unthinkable (Plausibility problem #6), because Germans are very interested in car traffic. The first German who noticed this would immediately call it in, it would immediately be transmitted to radio stations, and all of Berlin would know to avoid that street because every radio would interrupt its program to let people know. It’s not that there are no car chases in Germany; it’s that Robert is completely exposing the CIA here. In any case it’s futile (even though Robert gets the van to crash) because it’s a decoy. Claire isn’t in it. Like no one saw that coming.
In a scene that I expect we are supposed to find moving (but which left me totally annoyed), Steven calls Langley. There’s no one to talk to. He accuses them of conducting an extraordinary rendition without informing him, says he’s going to do everything to recover Claire, and then says he’ll resign once he’s done. Valerie observes all this, with tears in her eyes. Sorry, Steven, either you’re a hypocrite based on what you said to Valerie earlier OR these are crocodile tears because the deputy directorship just slipped through your fingers. Either way, I have NO sympathy for you.
Finally, everyone (Esther, Hector, Daniel, Valerie) gets patted down by the police and sort of walks in disorientation through the mall. Hector “everything is about me” de Jean punches a hole in a mirror. Daniel interferes and promises him they will find her.
At this point I moved into the “if Richard Armitage wants to do something next year, I will be fine with it” camp. Don’t know if it will stay there but most of this episode was nonsense.