After this first episode of Berlin Station, I feel like the two main things you need for good spycraft are a nice hoodie (muted colours, no logos to draw the attention please, we’re not amateurs) and a pair of comfortable shoes. After all, most of your time will be spent following people, with a carefully casual look on your face belied by the watchful look in your eyes.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that a whole lot of this series-opener involves Richard Armitage walking round tailing people in highly serious and choreographed fashion. In fact, we first meet his Daniel Miller (quiet, handsome, Secret Pain – you know the drill) in a lift, looking wary and just about to embark on another choreographed walk. Start as you mean to go on, I suppose. Although this particular one is different for a number of reasons, the main one being that half the cast is involved, and it’s more a ballet than a solo dance. And he gets shot at the end of it. NOOOOOOO!
Because the show can’t just kill off its lead and end before it begins, though, we then jump back two months to find out our man’s a smart, sensitive but slightly maverick (natürlich) CIA operative who’s transferred from Panama to the titular Berlin Station to find and stop “Thomas Shaw”, Herr Shaw being the CIA’s own personal version of Wikileaks. Berlin Station itself is run by very professional, very experienced intelligence people, all of whom you will recognise from Other Things. (Dr Dubenko! That guy from Four Weddings! etc) and all of whom are wearing very well-cut suits. Michelle Forbes’s Valerie, in particular, sports the kind of understated, beautifully-tailored office look I have been aiming for my entire working life without even coming close, WHAT IS YOUR SECRET, MICHELLE? HELP ME.
Immaculately dressed and highly-skilled though the Berlin team are, though, since Herr Shaw could derail the entire enterprise and start World War III any minute, they’re all a bit tense. Daniel is obviously on it – secretly – but he’d better be schnell about it because Shaw’s stepped up the pace and every leak means another spy or asset being plucked off the streets/out of their shiny offices at Deutsche Bank, the only questions being which spy/asset and whether the Americans get there in time to do the plucking first.
It’s all very high-stakes but also realistically downbeat, unglamorous and measured in pace. (I mean, as far as I know. I’ve never actually worked in the field of international intelligence.) All of which means it’s not an easy watch: there’s a great deal of information to absorb and plenty of characters to place in this first instalment, so, after a long day at work, I don’t think I fully grasped who everyone was or why they were important. At one point, for instance, Michelle said “Let’s get Gerald to a safe house!” and it took me several minutes and quite a few scenes to work out a) why? and b) who on earth is Gerald?
But I liked the cast and the story so far more than enough to keep watching and concentrating anyway, although I did wonder if the random topless women in the various club/party scenes were there to hang onto viewers who might not have wanted to put the work in otherwise. No doubt the writers would tell you the aim was to show the seediness of the Berlin spy nightlife, but it really wasn’t necessary and trying to redress the balance by sticking in a similarly gratuitous shot of Richard Armitage naked didn’t change that, appreciated though it may have been by certain corners of the internet.
Nudity or not, though, Berlin Station hasn’t quite knocked my socks off yet. On the strength of this first outing, however, it seems like a solid, thoughtful and grown-up spy drama with something a bit different from your usual running and shooting. And I don’t mean just the walking. I’m intrigued. And I’m on board.