The second episode of Deutschland 83 is every bit as successful as the first, mostly because it plays to the same strength: reducing issues of huge import to a human size. In the early 80s there was nothing bigger, of course, than what many people feared was an inevitable nuclear confrontation between West and East, and the episode’s central event is a security conference at a hotel in Bonn at which the possibilities for a Western first strike of some sort are being gamed out. “All roads”, NATO analyst Henrik Mayer (Jens Albinus, Jon in Borgen) drily observes, “lead to escalation”. And the names being bandied about last week and this, many long-forgotten, are helping to recreate the atmosphere for those of us who lived through those times: Weinberger, Strauss, Honecker, Kelly, Wörner, even Pershing II.
Martin’s job isn’t to prevent a nuclear war, though: it’s to plant a bug in Mayer’s hotel room and steal a copy of his report from a safe. There are elephant traps along the way: Mayer almost immediately changes rooms with General Jackson, meaning that Martin has to move his bug. Then Edel tasks him with bringing his daughter Yvonne back from a commune. And an old friend of the real Moritz Stamm is at the conference, wanting to have a catch-up.
With all of that in the background, Martin needs to find a way into Mayer’s new room, get round the fact that he doesn’t know the combination to the safe any more, work out what to do with a report which is on one of these new floppy discs, and so on. Having negotiated all of this – with, it has to be said, some style – he’s then confronted by a waitress from the hotel, who is lying in his bed and apparently waiting for some lovin’. But she’s an operative of some sort as well; she gets away after a fight, and Martin quickly convinces everyone that she stole the floppy disc. We don’t find out for now who she’s working for: Chinese intelligence is one possibility, but (from my recollections of the era) China was much more inward-looking at the time. My guess would be another branch of the Soviet bloc, perhaps the USSR itself?
There are a couple of clouds on the horizon: Annett has found herself a new beau in his absence, and Renate’s recollection of Martin phoning East Germany is, for now, being written off as a drunken and part-sexual fantasy, but one assumes that it will come into focus later. What the episode manages to do, though, is start to give Martin a motivation for doing what he’s doing, beyond the possibility of his mother’s kidney transplant: he’s good at it, he’s starting to enjoy himself, and his lack of ideological commitment can take a back seat for now.
Which means that when, bloodied, bruised, but quietly triumphant, he sits down on a sofa in the hotel, and a good-looking young woman settles beside him and unobtrusively flirts with him, he’s confident enough to reciprocate. This final scene threw me twice, mind you. Firstly, because I was assuming that Martin would, with his girlfriend on the other side of the Iron Curtain, have a Western dalliance. But I guessed it would be with Yvonne, rather than with Linda, Henrik Mayer’s secretary. Not that anything has happened yet, but… it’s going to, isn’t it? And, secondly, because although this show was broadcast in the UK on Sunday night, I watched it on Monday, by which time the use of David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ to soundtrack the scene had become unbearably poignant. On top of all of the other reminders we’ve had today of Bowie’s peculiar and unique genius, it served as a manifestation of how well his songs suited a visual medium, much like the use of the same song in the now-classic scene in Frances Ha (2013), itself an homage to a similar – even better? – scene in Mauvais Sang (1986).