After the Berlin Station marathon #richardarmitage

As much as I make fun of the product placement, I love the Berlin biking scenes. Another quintessential Berlin moment and one that makes Daniel appear young.

Daniel is so cute on this bike.

Perhaps against what would have been advisable, I watched the Berlin Station marathon yesterday (from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. non-stop). Might have been better to start the new year off writing and I have so much of that to do, but anyway, I re-watched the whole thing.

The only new thing I learned was at the very end: Berlin Station returns Fall 2017. So it’s going to be a very tight shooting schedule, I suspect, if they start in April. Hopefully Richard Armitage’s emails to the writers have already started.

Arguably, Berlin Station is better and makes more sense if you watch it one straight shot, although I already knew the plot and had thought about it extensively before I saw it, so it’s hard to say. It may just be like hearing a symphony all the way through after rehearsing it for ten weeks. The symphony isn’t necessarily any better, you’ve just learned what to listen for and how to fit the pieces together. The whole envelope of the show, however, is not put together anything like a symphony. There’s no real curve building. I enjoyed the first two episodes and had a very hard time with episode four, as the internal racism and sexism are hard to take, then found episode 5 with its characterization attempts a highlight, despite the nasty stereotypes at the center of it — and then found my attention fading during episode six, as I didn’t find any of it plausible, with seven and eight not doing much to improve that. Things picked up at nine and ten, with the gradual revelations of the solution, but not enough to make up for the doldrums and stupidity in the middle of the series.

That would be my biggest suggestion for the series — slow burn here or there (and in contrast to some of my fellow fans, I didn’t mind at all the pacing of the initial episodes), there must be a progression from episode to episode that keeps us wanting to tune in every week, and that feeling at the end is a very different sentiment than one has to have simply to keep watching a marathon on a day when one has nothing pressing to do anyway. This is elementary narrative theory as explained to seventh graders. Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that after Claudia’s murder at the beginning (and it’s impossible to get emotionally invested in a character we only see for ten minutes, no matter how cute the meet cute was or how gripping the kiss at the end of it), we don’t have any larger reason to want to know who Thomas Shaw is, because despite the publicity, this is not a show about the problem of whistle-blowing. For eight episodes, it’s really a show about office politics — and the fact that Hector seems to have a hard-on for everyone — that happens to take place in the CIA’s Berlin outpost. Only after 80 percent of the show is over does it get around to explaining why Hector is sabotaging everything. And a personal grievance does not a whistle-blower make, but rather a revanchist. Berlin Station has nothing to do with Snowden and it’s a stretch to relate it to Assange or even Chelsea Manning. If I were able to care about the victims, perhaps I’d be more concerned about the personal consequences of whistle-blowing, but the only main character who aroused much sympathy from me was Robert Kirsch, and it took more than half the show to get me there. In the end, if we talk about the “too many victims” of Thomas Shaw, I have a twinge for Claudia and Gerald, and somewhat more sympathy for Julian (although that question, too, was under-examined), but I don’t care about Dieter Klaus, Houjin Lin, Steven and Kellie, Steven and Sandra’s affair, or Valerie. I’m sad about Claire but she wasn’t really a victim of Shaw as much as of Hector. But if that’s it — if the only people I can feel sorry for are secondary characters — then the show isn’t taking much of a risk, either in terms of letting us develop allegiances to the characters or burning them no matter the consequences. (Spooks was better at both of these.)

A good show about leaks would be something, but Berlin Station doesn’t ever really get around to that. The most boring part of the show — the episodes in the middle, which are mostly about alleged terrorism connected to Muslims that borders on Muslim-baiting, particularly once we learn that it wasn’t very real anyway — only tangentially touches on the Thomas Shaw question. If the puzzle we’re solving is Thomas Shaw, the show really needs to make that its number one priority all through the writing. If not (which would be fine, because Berlin Station has nothing of interest to say about whistle-blowing), then it needs to find some other compelling story, which was not, in my opinion, either the Iosavas and their child export scheme or Langley’s mistake over the “eyewash” plot. It’s hard to get invested in the former because we’ve seen it done before and better, and there is nothing at all sympathetic about Ruth Iosava (imagine that, an American tv show trying to undermine a conservative religious position) and it’s impossible to get invested in the latter, because the only Langley representatives we see are either Gemma Moore (who seems legit, but is torched by episode 3), and the Machiavellian Clay Williams.

I should have kept a list while I was watching, because the number of characters and sub-plots abandoned or never concluded threatens to drown the ones they do complete:

  • Why was Daniel in Panama? What’s the deal with the flash drives in the jungle?
  • All the time spent on Gerald and his family — never goes anywhere. Only purpose is to say something about Valerie?
  • Who is that guy Hector meets in the vegetable shop anyway?
  • Joker, the computer programmer — disappears. This is all in aid of putting a bug in the computer security of the Berliner Zeitung. Did we really need another character and this much screen time to accomplish this, if she was never coming back?
  • What about Daniel’s parents? All that just to establish that he’s (supposed to be) a fluent German speaker?
  • What about Esther’s father? Why did we even need to know that her father was a Stasi prominent?
  • What actually did happen in Chechnya? If we saw everything that happened, why is Daniel so horrified by his sight of Hector again, and so insistent that Patricia stay away from him? Based on what we saw, I’d think Daniel would be happy to be reunited with such a supportive friend.
  • Robert’s statement to Golda that he wanted a false operation in order to look good — left dangling?
  • The whole “Steven wants a promotion” plot — went on and on for no apparent reason other than to explain why Steven and Robert were so eager to jump on the Iosava pretext?
  • All that screen time for “brown bear” — just to demonstrate they had access to illegal weapons?
  • Daniel has to drive all the way out to Wannsee and see the torture victim — for what? Not that I didn’t enjoy every minute he spent on screen with Ingrid Hollander; I really liked that character.
  • Where did Alexandre Iosava actually end up? What about Bora Osman / “Swingset”?
  • Why was the Mossad so interested in Valerie? What was the deal with “Antoinette,” other than to mess up Valerie’s relationship with the bar owner? To increase Robert’s distrust of her? (in which case, he never read the file, did he?)
  • What happened to Patricia after episode 9?

If I were writing an instruction to the writers, after (1) pick a theme for the show and make sure all the subplots really support it, the next would be (2) ask if you really need all these characters and milieux. I get the fascination with Berlin — it was probably the thing that (apart from Richard Armitage) most kept me watching the show — but you are spending too much time on minor characters that feed subplots that could be accomplished more quickly, or on showing particular spaces (that lengthy sermon in the mosque; the scene in the Turkish bath; all of the surfing through the Berlin sex clubs) when you should be spending the time either on making us care about the characters or on adding a dimension to the show that really makes us care about the resolution of the main plot.

So. Apart from that, I wanted to mention that it’s interesting, during the rewatch, how aggressively Valerie keeps pushing the Iosava thing, how much support on that she gets from Gemma Moore, and how resistant she is to the idea of asking Mossad for information (which — had it happened — might have led to a decisive conversation much earlier that would have forestalled most of the chaos of episodes six, seven and eight). And then all of a sudden she backs off at the beginning of the operation. At the time I just thought, oh, she’s a moralistic character and now she has qualms. But it would completely fit a backstory in which she were somehow aware of or participating in the whole Langley / eyewash strand of the plot. And Gemma Moore was the person who wants to try to stop Thomas Shaw.

Anyway, goodbye till the summer publicity begins, I suppose, along with any photos or info we catch from the participants in the next shoot in April.

~ by Servetus on January 2, 2017.

32 Responses to “After the Berlin Station marathon #richardarmitage”

  1. interesting read. When I finished Berlin Station I had two questions, why i left me so cold:
    Did the Author want to much?
    Planned as some “novel”-Series? Becaus mostley I had the feeling I am “watching” a novel.

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    • I had that thought, too, just as I pushed published — this was a tv show written a lot like Steinhauer’s novels, which are a lot like Dan Brown’s books. They keep you going but there isn’t a sort of larger “feeling” or impression that emerges from them.

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  2. I am really sorry that I have to agree with you in nearly all points. I am even not interested to rewatch the last instalment and I asked myself every episode why I am not hooked by the story…
    There are way too many unsolved plot lines and, the worst, I am not emotionally connected to any character. And this is simply the most important thing in story telling be it in movies, in theater performances as well as in books.
    I used to compare Berlin Station with Halt and Catch Fire (I-III), which I saw simultaneously and the latter show fulfills all my needs for good entertainment, because of the reasons

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  3. …mentioned above.

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  4. In general, I always felt as though loose ends were left to pick up in the hoped for season 2. The jungle (although I really enjoyed watching Richard from the rear in the tight olive pants and combat boots 😍), why was he in Panama, why was he so interested in Shaw, what exactly is the deal with Ingrid (does she just hate America?), his parents, his relationship with Hector, what does Patricia do and how much does she know (she didn’t seem to uncomfortable being kidnapped), same question for Kellie, Esther’s parents, had Robert and Valerie ever been involved, what skeletons are in Valerie’s closet, how much does Sandra know about everything…question after question was left hanging.
    I did feel sorry for Claudia. I felt that she thought she was doing something important for Germany, and was killed off just because Daniel needed information from her. I felt sorry for Gemma, who as far as we know hadn’t done anything wrong other than want to stop Shaw. I also just liked her character, and would have liked to have seen more of her. Poor Claire, had potential for being an interesting character, yet they killed her off too.
    I don’t particularly care what became of Iosova, other than the possibility that he truly was reformed, but he had a crazy terrorist wife, who got him nabbed. Bora?
    I do hope that they answer some questions in season 2, although I accept that with each answer will come more questions. I still really like Daniel and Esther together, and believe there are feelings on both sides. I will absolutely watch Berlin Station each week regardless of plot because of Richard. Last, but not least, why did they cut the “drug fueled party boat scene” of sweaty, dazed Daniel, and will we see in extras somewhere???

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    • re: Ingrid, I think I can explain that — yes, there’s a sort of species of German liberal who really despises the US. Not as common now as it would have been thirty years ago but you still meet those people. I made a joke about this once but you’d have had to have known the context to get it, when I was talking about how Hans’ inability to tolerate US interference in Germany suggested he was a Joschka Fischer appointee. Fischer was a leftist (some would say far leftist) who made it into the German government with the SPD / Green coalition after 1998. And was in the weird position of being a peacenik – “we hate the imperialist West” kind of guy who was responsible for being the first German to order German fighter pilots to drop bombs since 1945 (via NATO).

      i was annoyed about Gemma, too.

      Bora — the guy who pretended to be Claire’s uncle or whatever.

      I’d be up for a drug fueled scene 🙂

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  5. Masterly summary, Servetus. I’m just about to watch the finale and I did start to get more gripped in the later episodes, but even without having seen the end I agree with everything you’ve said.

    Still not sure why Valerie hates Robert so much – maybe I’ll find out in episode 10…

    I do feel sorry for Julian, though. And Sabin Tambrea is a fine actor.

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    • yeah, Sabin Tambrea is a real talent. (I finally read his wikipedia article — he comes from a Rumanian family — who are all musicians and artists and defected to the West in the 80s).

      Good point about Valerie vs Robert. Were they just pretending when they recruited Hector, or is something else about to be revealed in flashback?

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  6. You’re absolutely right. I actually find it amazing how bad a job the authors did with this. This might really have been an attempt to be particularly good and different / innovative that just didn’t work out. The build-up was too extended, the solution too rushed, there are so many plotlines fizzling out, there were too many characters, many of whom disappear almost right away…

    And I agree with janesteinmiller regarding things to be picked up next season. That fits in entirely with the way the authors operated this season. That too could have been done better, though.

    As it is, I don’t think I would have continued with the series if it wasn’t for Richard Armitage. There were some good elements there (I really liked the Daniel – Esther relationship, for example), but not enough for me to keep watching it without him.

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    • My question about “plot lines picked up next time” is the same question that I have when I start a crime novel series with one of the later books, i.e., how do they go back and explain the situation to the new viewers that they are surely expecting to get?

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  7. The whole thing makes my brain hurt, and I consider myself to be reasonably good at following complicated plot lines. Reading your post made me realize that ultimately, the biggest problem I developed while watching each episode was a growing lack of interest in the whole thing. If Armitage was not in it, I would have stopped around episode 3 or 4, I think.

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    • I would say that I, too, am good at following very complex plot lines. I think the thing is that it has to be rewarded — someone who enjoys that kind of plot does so because it pays off to be paying attention. This show had so many apparent red herrings (like the bobble over the Bunesvermögensamt) that you wondered after a while what the purpose was to paying attention.

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  8. The idea of doing a complete re-watch is somehow appealing – I’d love to find out how different the show comes across if I watch the whole thing without the enforced breaks. And I would hope that I understand the plot better, because a lot of stuff (mainly the oversaturation with subplots that ended up as cul-de-sacs) really distracted me and made it hard for me to remember the essentials. OTOH I am not really feeling the show enough to put in that time commitment. Without sounding like a whiney toddler, but I have the “I told you so” reaction on my brain. The show played out just as I thought it would, from the first two episodes. However, I still cling to the silly hope that all those subplots had a reason to be there – to be wheeled out for a second season. The fact that the second season was announced way before the end of season 1, makes me hope that the whole show had already been designed to continue on. Mind you – that was a sort of hope I kept clinging on to, for all of season 1’s mysterious plot deficiencies. I kept thinking that surely, there was a bigger reason for the whole German-mother-fucking-East-German-spy scenario, or the Chechnyan desaster, beyond filling 2 minutes on the screen. Yet that didn’t ever happen. Here’s to hoping…
    Slightly OT – but I am still flummoxed by the fact that RA has not commented on his involvement in season 2. Or has he?

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    • I kind of wanted another chance to see if there would be something else worth writing about (as I ended almost every week frustrated). I found a few things. Not that I’ve ever really been short of blog fodder.

      re: non-comment — at some point he RT’d the notice that the series had been renewed. And yeah, since we now know that Daniel is still alive at the end of season 1, you’d assume we’d have gotten a tweet about “looking forward to next year” or just that he was looking forward to returning to Berlin with his compatriots or something. Who knows. Maybe contract negotiations are still ongoing? 🙂

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      • I still think he had been planning on going back all along, based on that long ago tweet about looking forward to seeing everyone next year. I think he would have been genuinely surprised if they killed him off in editing, regardless of his answers of not knowing if he survived. I also think that putting the shooting scene at the very beginning was a decision made much later on in the editing stage.

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        • Agree. I also have the suspicion that they crammed too much into the season, like all those unanswered questions that you have listed in this post. Many of those occur in my written notes, too. – That was, what happened for me every time I watched an episode. I came out more confused than enlightened.

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      • Yeah, I was thinking that negotiations must be holding up a proper confirmation on his part… I just can’t believe that they would let there top-billed man go, especially if he survived. Plus, would look weird on his CV, too, so I am assuming he will want to continue. (And maybe, maybe he is being extra-careful after the experience with that rock comedy – which was all announced and confirmed, and then failed.)

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        • I think he could leave without penalty if he had something pending like The Hobbit again. But I agree that absent other alternatives, he needs to stay in this no matter how he feels. And I absolutely agree re: being quiet until the paper is signed. It was funny that when I did my year in review that didn’t show up (or maybe not, since I didn’t blog about it), but I got really annoyed over that specific issue — the weeks of waiting for official confirmation on LLL and the amount of tension that erupted over that issue on Twitter. Drama caused primarily by him.

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    • The fact that he hasn’t confimed anything yet might of course be precaution after the Midlife Crisis experience. OTH my spontaneous thoughts after series 1 were: his task of unmasking the whistleblower is done, he has survived. Why would he have to stay in Berlin? Could it be that Daniel Miller would only have a guest appearance to that new series?
      I am absolutely not sure, though I agree: why would they cut off their lead? So it might really be a question of negotiations still not completely in the bag?
      As to the series’ reception: I agree with most of your points, Servetus. Would I want to do a Berlin Station marathon? Not sure actually. Congrats to your stamina! 😉
      I absolutely enjoyed the speed of the first 2 episodes, I especially loved the intro and the way Berlin is portrayed – a real character of the show . But the middle episodes couldn’t keep up with the pace or at least could not convince me either.
      Curiosity kept me watching, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with those various plot lines still unsolved . I had been curiously waiting for Daniel Miller’s family background and a potential connection to former Stasi spies or whatever. Will this all be moved to a 2nd series?
      If so it was quite courageous to leave so many things open in a first run without a 2nd even been secured, wasn’t it?
      So I’m after all and at least a little confused as to the intention of the writers.
      Btw: I had read “All the old knives” by Olen Steinhauer in advance to get an impression of his writing style, but I have to admit I found it quite boring and did not read any of his earlier books though I had seen “The tourist” on cinema screen.

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  9. Je suis contente d’avoir suivi vos conseils à la lettre et de ne pas avoir vu BS de A à Z. Je vous propose de lancer un concours de fan fictions pour rendre la saison 1 bien meilleure et la saison 2 attrayante. J’AURAI ALORS UNE RAISON VALABLE de suivre R ARMITAGE pour autre chose que sa plastique, trop clinique à mon goût et son jeu trop coincé. Je regrette Hannibal.

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  10. I’ve never before found much fault with an RA project before, before Berlin Station (BBS). This was the first RA character that was 95% ho hum for me. I was pretty surprised by that. And felt really let down, week after week for 10 consecutive weeks. Almost the entire show was a confusing chore to watch. BBS RA always managed to make his character pretty interesting. Not this time. I kept waiting for that ‘arc’ of characterization I have come to rely on him for. It just never came. The show was just a boring convoluted mess to me which was made all the worse by so much hype before the show (and during). I felt pretty let down – and I think it was solely due to the writing. The acting, the photography, the locations were all fantastic – the writing, the plot(s) were dull and, as you point out, largely went nowhere leaving me with a feeling of what a waste of time. I really hope season 2 is less of a mess and RA, as you write, starts with his emails to the writers pronto! Wow, re-reading what I wrote makes me sound pretty disgruntled and unappreciative of Berlin Station but it just seems to have wasted a lot of potential. I was really expecting better – but I will still be watching season 2!

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  11. I can’t help but agree with you Sparkhouse, I was left very disappointed with BS and with the character of Daniel Miller, which like you I believe is the writers fault, although usually RA pulls his characters to unusual heights even above what has been written. Servetus, love your list am totally in agreement with it. This show is is just not there for me and other than watching Richard, I would not be watching it. I actually was hoping RA would be offered another “worthy” project to get involved in. The show has marvelous actors and it is just a shame that the writing is not cohesive enough to stop it from unraveling with plot lines all over the place and no weavers to reunite them. Granted some should have been left hanging for season two but this many?????

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