Berlin Station, episode 10, first impressions [spoilers]
[Episode 9 thoughts are here. Squirrel.0072, don’t read this.]
TL;DR summary — this was one of the better episodes in some ways, and I wish we’d seen more such visceral exchanges between the characters and open expressions of emotion and effective characterization throughout the series. Many things are still implausible; plot lines and characters were more or less dropped (why the hell were they even in Panama? Why show a picture of Gerald and Joker if they weren’t coming back? Daniel’s parents’ past; what happened to Patricia?); and the sermon that we get at the end about whistleblowing — all I can say is — if that is the point of the show, then you need to show it to us all the way through the show rather than dropping a moralistic and blatantly partisan exhortation about it at the end. I really can’t say enough: the story must tell itself. This goes for overly convoluted plots as well as any moral dimension that we’re being asked to accept. This latter point — the preachiness — sticks in my craw particularly because the episode reveals that the major multi-episode plotline around the Iosavas was a CIA fake. You want morality? I’ll give you a sermon. Don’t create a character that you halfway flesh out (Claire), only to kill her off in a really cheap, Perils of Pauline sort of way, and then tell me that it was all for nothing anyway. That’s what I call opportunistic storytelling. Particularly if you center it on the issue of alleged Muslim terrorism and child brides. Some people would call this Muslim baiting. In fact someone said that to me about two months ago and I defended the show. I was wrong.
And: Looks like Daniel Miller will be back for season 2.
Still love the titles. Here’s the (controversial) Potsdamer Platz, where Daniel gets shot in episodes 1 (in preview) and (in real time) 10. It’s one of the many symbols of the reunited Berlin. You can read about its history here.
Episode opens with Daniel Miller reading a confession from “Thomas Shaw.” He’s tried to make the CIA more accountable.
Cut to Daniel and Patricia, apparently at a car at the base of the Teufelsberg in the dark.
Patricia is obviously not thrilled about discovering what Daniel really does and Daniel is evasive. She’s got good questions — that he doesn’t answer (Hint: opportunity for characterization gone missing here). They are apparently intending to keep him a man of near-total mystery.
Daniel calls home and tells them “I need to be brought in” and that he has a civilian with him.
Next, Robert is in his apartment, pouring out a bowl of cereal when he discovers a cell phone in the canister! Valerie is there — I thought she’d left but I guess not. He’s using the phone to call Golda to prove to Valerie that he’s running Mossad and not the other way around. He wants their Iosava file. She wants a “chief of station overview” in return (which apparently would tell her who everyone is — their real identities). She feels like she’s the giver in the relationship and she sets up a meeting with him. Robert sells Valerie on cooperation by pointing out it is the only way to figure out what Clay Williams is doing and shed light on why Claire was killed (actually, that was pretty clear to me, already) and maybe save Steven. As Valerie can hold the “treason” threat over his head, she tells him they’re going to do it her way.
Cut to Steven in jail. Hans enters his cell. ATTENTION: IF YOU DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THE PLOT UP UNTIL NOW, STEVEN WILL EXPLAIN IT TO YOU! Steven’s had time to think; he doesn’t understand why Daniel didn’t turn Shaw over, or why Hans didn’t let him out of the country quietly. Hans points out that what happened at the mall isn’t normal in Germany (yes! yes!). Steven doesn’t see how he was arrested that quickly; Hans makes a stale joke about German efficiency. Steven doesn’t know why Thomas Shaw all of a sudden focused on Berlin (as opposed to other areas he had targeted earlier).
Two reactions to this: first, this is a great insight about the balance of power games that powerful states play with each other and it should have been articulated much earlier in the series, by episode three or so. Second: I still find this implausible. That German-American relations are clouded by this issue, as you know, I agree is a fact. But that a German official would allow a mass shooting that resulted in the deaths of German citizens to occur in his country as a way of responding to it? Essentially this scene makes it sound like Hans wanted those people to be killed just to kick the U.S. out (which would never happen — the diplomats would be sent home but there would still be a CIA presence in the BRD). Inconceivable to me. Or maybe there are a lot of closet Joschka Fischer appointees left in German government. [sarcasm] And honestly — a CIA station chief of Steven’s seniority feels betrayed by a friend in this situation? I don’t find this conceivable, either. With all respect for Richard Jenkins’ skills as an actor, I really hope Steven won’t be back for season 2.
Steven points out that as long as Hans doesn’t know where Hector is, he hasn’t won. Hans leaves him.
In Geneva, Hector is examining the contents of a safe deposit box. Computer set up, cash, passports. He starts typing on some White House stationery and calls for a plane pickup.
Daniel and Patricia are now in a safe house (nicer than the one we’ve seem most of the time. I thought this one might be that one in daylight, but it’s a different one. Note the beautiful high ceilings, moldings, big windows, and door closures between rooms with fancy pulls, balcony “winter garden” as it seems in the second part of this scene — this is the kind of Berlin apartment that many people were pining for in the 1980s (so-called “Altbau” — old construction, or pre-WWII construction) and even now. Patricia asks what will happen and Daniel says they’ll be taken out of the country. She points out that she (and Max) want to stay in Germany. Daniel says she’s not safe (either as his cousin, or a witness to what’s just happened).
Back in the station, Robert and Valerie tell Clay that she needs to help Robert with some Russian thing. Robert promises Clay she’ll be out of the country as scheduled the next day. Clay leaves. Valerie and Robert have an argument about who’s going to prison and Robert gets a file out of his safe.
Clay enters the safe house and tries to get Patricia’s name. Daniel moves them into another room. Clay wants to know about “his mission” and says that he and Gemma Moore were both behind sending Daniel to Berlin.
Also, Daniel reveals that Hans Richter is trying to have him killed. Clay expresses some not very emphatic astonishment.
Clay agrees. Daniel is suspicious of how quickly Clay agrees. Clay says “welcome to the 7th floor” (this is where the Director’s office is at CIA headquarters).
Next, Sandra is leaving the embassy and Kellie is conveniently parked just across the street. Kellie gives Sandra the envelope from Steven and Sandra asks her for a lift. AWKWARD! It’s the stuff that Steven got from the Romanians about Zoltan Vasile. Sandra has to reassure Kellie that Steven didn’t order Vasile’s rendition. Sandra says they’ll have to look for ZV.
Next comes this spoiler scene:
When I saw this originally, I was annoyed at two things. First, the FBI has no authority to arrest anyone outside the U.S. Second, the “there was never anything to the Iosavas” statement — really? Then I’m extra pissed off about how much time I spent as a viewer trying to figure out about a plot line that barely made sense on its best days. And, yes, once again: the CIA never would have run an operation like this about child brides. Not plausible.
In a café (I think they are in Einstein again), Clay and Hans meet up. Clay reveals that he knows Hans is running Shaw. Hans needs to cover that up, while Clay agrees he’s framing Steven for the Iosava rendition. They make a deal — Hans gets rid of Zoltan Vasile, then Clay will get rid of Daniel Miller.
Esther knows there’s a deal, but Hans doesn’t tell her what he had to do.
Back at the safe house, Daniel and Patricia are smoking and looking out the window.
Daniel seems some assassins on the street, headed for him, so he and Patricia exit the apartment by another door and Esther calls “to warn him” just as they’ve gotten out. Daniel says, “you were running Hector and now you are trying to kill us.”
Next, we see Hector, dressed beautifully, on a plane with well-appointed interiors. He’s writing something in code and saves it to a flash drive. Daniel takes Patricia to the shoemaker’s villa with the hidden rooms. He then calls Johnson the Bugger (hmm, I’ll have to find a better epithet for him) to get the photos of Hector’s desk (this was a clue Hector gave Daniel last time).
Back in a nice apartment (not quite sure where this is — Valerie’s place separate from her friend the bar owner?) Robert and Valerie have discovered that the Israeli documents reveal the Iosavas were penny ante matchmakers, not Grade A terrorists. They plan to have a reckoning back at the embassy. In a scene that seems a little pointless at this moment, Daniel searches Hector’s apartment in the dark (?) and finds a picture of Claire. Back at the embassy, the intern from last week (her name was Marina) is busy shredding all the Iosava files — Johnson the Bugger calls to let Valerie know. Robert stays at Valerie’s place over her objections. Hector’s plane lands — it is “the Director’s plane” — in Saudi Arabia, where he demands to be taken to the ambassador with a letter from the White House.
She’s surprised that he’s alive and nervous that he’s there.
Two important assertions there to be tested: that “they almost had something” and that they never found Hector’s “cache disk.”
Back with our embassy folk, Sandra is outside the prison at Plötzensee. Although most of the people there today are normal prisoners (acc to wikipedia, a third for repeated public transportation violations??), it’s a place with an interesting history, too, as a Nazi execution site.
OT: Berlin jails can have interesting museums and memorials in them; I particularly recommend the one at Hohenschönhausen, which was a notorious GDR-era prison for political criminals. (It’s where the interrogation scenes occur in “The Lives of Others,” although they were not allowed to film there.)
Sandra comes out with the information that Zoltan Vasile is dead — “hung himself.”
Back in Riyadh, Hector is meeting the ambassador with his fake letter from the President which also tells the ambassador not to contact the White House. Somewhere (in DC?) a cable is being sent by a man with a very scarred face to back it up (Hector has deep resources). Hector tells the ambassador that the Saudis have a terrorist that the CIA needs to take to a black site in Morocco. They’re holding him for sodomy. Have you guessed who it is yet? (sarcasm). The cable arrives in the ambassador’s hands.
In Berlin, Robert is brushing his teeth and Valerie is having a breakdown — how could they have gotten it so wrong?
And Claire’s dead. Valerie threatens to kill Robert if he lets anyone know she was crying and Robert reiterates that he was not selling out the U.S. Kellie and Sandra arrive at the apartment.
Robert asks Kellie to take a message to Steven. Just then, Daniel calls and invites them all to come to the shoemaker’s villa. Patricia is watching. This is the last time we see her. (The story just drops her at this point. I’d really rather have seen her and Max one more time over discovering that Hector had a picture of Claire in his apartment.)
Hans promises Kellie that Steven will get to speak to the prosecutor and “prove his innocence,” but he tells the guard outside that he doesn’t want Steven to get that far. The guard promises to put Steven in with the Russians, as it can’t look like it did with the Romanian. She tells him (in fairly obvious code, from our perspective), that she didn’t give the gift to Sandra, that ZV is dead, that everything they heard about the Iosavas from HQ is true and Clay Williams is not covering anything up. Hans interrupts them, but not before Steven whispers something in her ear: “it’s an eyewash.”
And then Daniel figures it out: the Iosavas were a ploy to flush Thomas Shaw out into the open.
Someone created fake intercepts on the Iosavas to see who would leak them. However, the fakes were so good that someone at the CIA believed them, ordered the rendition, and then, when the mistake became obvious, tried to frame Steven for the mistake. Kellie calls Robert with the “it’s an eyewash” message. So they are all agreed. Johnson the Bugger shows up with the photos from Hector’s desk which Daniel says will “prove the eyewash.” Implication: the photos provide clues to the location of copies of the original intercepts.
Daniel is forced to say that Hector is Thomas Shaw and is met with a mixture of disbelief and confusion. Robert says, “then who the fuck are you?” Daniel admits his mission, and that he was the reason that Shaw ended up focusing on Berlin. “I opened up the door to all of this, and now we need to close it.”
How exactly the photos tell them where to look is not explained; next we cut to the operation that we saw at the beginning of episode one. Replay with some important additions. First, Golda is angry that Robert played them. She calls Hans to tell him that the gang is at the Kollhoff Tower (something to do with a mole in the Reichstag, which sounds preposterous). He asks her why she’s telling him, and she says “because I always pay people back.” (I assume this is a reference to her implied affair with Hans, from several episodes ago.) Esther is in Hans’ office and hears the call and is — correctly — skeptical. Hans sees it as a chance to get Daniel Miller and Esther asks about Frost; Hans says he’s not of concern any longer. Hans orders the gang arrested.
This is a nice exchange; again, it’s the sort of tension that it would have been nice to have signaled, oh, a few episodes ago. Hans accuses Esther of letting Daniel seduce her, and she returns that she was seduced by Hans. Ouch. Hans prepares to call Clay.
Now we get more info about the scene that we’d seen before, from the perspective from which we’d seen it. I hate this as a storytelling technique (Strike Back did it, too, if I recall correctly); what’s the point in me trying to understand the scene the first time if you’re just hiding information from me? Of course, chiefly, we now know what they are looking for. We see Valerie arrested roughly (although she kicks the heck out of them afterwards), Daniel fish something out from one of those coin-operated telescopes, and Robert distract from Daniel’s departure and also get arrested. That woman we saw twice on the stairs in episode one is a police officer. We see Daniel hand something off to Sandra, and then make a calculated decision to run across the plaza.
This more or less involves a non-reaction on the part of the German crowd (you hear a man’s voice in the background saying, “Sollen wir die Polizei anrufen?” — Um, yeah. My suspicion is that if this happened in broad daylight on the Potsdamer Platz there would be way more chaos. It turns out that Clay is the one who is searching Daniel’s body (not Gerald — which had been my guess.)
Ingrid Hollander gets a flash drive (we assume with the “confession” that Daniel Miller is reading). Too bad, Victoria Mayer, looks like we won’t see much more of you, but I really liked you. Someone — we don’t see who — shoots Hans Richter through the forehead when he’s walking his dog. Esther is sobbing in her car right afterwards though, so the implication is that it was her or she ordered it (she’d have to, to keep her involvement in running Shaw secret). Clay Williams is seen getting into a taxi. We see the people at the embassy watching the confession on TV. The statement is a little incoherent — Shaw says he has to stop because the CIA’s attempt to find him has gotten too violent (?); continuing would thus make Shaw no better than the CIA. Steven gets out of jail and Kellie picks him up. Esther gets a new office and a promotion: “Amtsleiterin, Abteilung 4.” The “terrorist” gets pulled out of a car in Riyadh, in a black hood, and taken onto the plane and seated across from Hector. His hood is removed and it’s Faisal (episodes 1-2). The confession continues — it’s not enough to expose wrongs; they have to be righted; governments are not moved by shame; citizens who are all complicit need to do the hard work to fix things.
“If Thomas Shaw represents change,” the voiceover goes on, “then show me the change, and I’ll say that I was him. Until then, we could be anybody.”
This is a particular dumb ending, because OF COURSE Daniel hasn’t changed. We’ve seen no indication of that — as he says, it’s the only thing he’s good at, and he uses all the same underhanded tricks that his enemies do. It’s kind of silly to preach a sermon about complicity if you’re a man who’s made a rather strong argument for complicity just a week ago. Moreover, I don’t think Daniel is going to become a superhero or a force for an honest CIA.
The political nature of that speech is even more galling, IMO, but I’ll see if I have the energy to address that next week — since the show did, in the very last minutes, actually get around to making a comment on the whistleblower “problem.”