BIindspot s4 ep 1

*SPOILERS*

We start, I hope, as we mean to go on: a thrilling, fantastically-choreographed action sequence, with a keen sense of humour and Rich Dotcom right in the middle of it. (Those last two things being very obviously connected to each other.) It’s wildly exciting and completely mad (in a thoroughly awesome way), and there’s no way the rest of the episode can live up to it, but that doesn’t stop everyone from giving it a good go.

Patdotcom are not even close to being romantic (sadly) but they’re a delightful double act, nonetheless. Kurt is a giant wounded puppy, nuzzling at Jane and making big sad eyes at her, increasingly bewildered as to why neither of those tactics seem to work any more. Jane herself isn’t Jane at all, nor is she Jane alone, since she and we are saddled with Imaginary Dead Roman, a character less annoying in death than he was in life, but who, nonetheless, has delighted us more than enough. (FFS, writers. Let. Him. Go.) By contrast, guest star Nyambi Nyambi doesn’t get to delight us for very long at all; no sooner has Jane managed to track him down, than she pretty much gets him killed, but he does get the line of the night in first with “What happened? You get hit in the head with a second coconut?” Hee. The insipid Blake doesn’t get to hang around either – bye, Blake! Please don’t appear in anybody’s flashbacks or hallucinations! – so Tasha’s new boss/mark is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who will always remind me of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, and is therefore entirely welcome. New boss Weitz, I’m not so keen on, mind you, but Rich seems to enjoy him, so we’ll see. As for the plot, well, let’s be honest, it’s absolutely crazy, it doesn’t make a lot of sense and it doesn’t matter in the slightest. All that does matter is that this was really, really good fun. Let’s hope they can keep it up.

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Berlin Station s1 ep 4

*SPOILERS*

If there’s a tv trope almost as ubiquitous as the Secret Pain these days, it’s the flashback explaining the Secret Pain. This week, Berlin Station joins the host of shows trotting it out, filling us in on Daniel Miller’s Secret Professional Pain, in addition to the Secret Personal one we already knew about. Is this necessary? We already know he and Hector are old friends with history. I would have said that was all we needed, but instead we now have the standard side dishes of the terrible mistake, the not-that-clever cover-up, the guilt eating away at us, and the very good chance we’re going to mess up again as a result. Sigh. Richard Armitage is more than capable of selling it, but if the next spy/ secret agent-type drama I watch could sidestep this particular cluster of cliches, I’d be much obliged.

I’d be even more obliged if every one of these shows didn’t insist on painting Muslims as either terrorists (side-eyes Bodyguard) or accidental bomb /bullet fodder in the hunt for terrorists, but that appears to be too much to hope for these days. Unless you’re watching Blindspot, that is: it’s acquired a pleasingly diverse range of wrong’uns, but Bindspot’s a topic for another day and another post.

Anyway, no doubt the makers of Belin Station would say there are plenty of non-Muslim villains in their story, and there are. Michelle Forbes may be uncovering an ISIL mail-order bride business, but Richard Armitage’s eyes are on the Shaw and Creepy Cheekbones prize, even if he has to see a lot more of Joker’s boss than he would like in the process. The “Magic Date” sequence is wildly uncomfortable and has me fretting about consent and violation and all sorts of things I think the show wants me to ignore in favour of the easy smirk, but the other aspects of that story are better: the rooftop / server room op, Daniel letting Joker go in the hope she’ll come back, and Daniel realising that there’s something suspicious about Hector being the particular highlights. Hector hitting on Daniel’s cousin, though – no, thanks.

Back at the office, meanwhile, Dr Dubenko may genuinely be trying to get Frost promoted, or he may not. Either way, they end up at a conference on Iranian/ German relations, and Frost gets into some sort of love/ revenge quadrangle business with his wife, his mistress and his arch-rival. It’s not my favourite storyline and I’m not that keen on Dr Dubenko potentially turning traitor either, but it gives Richard Jenkins plenty to do and Caroline Goodall’s Kelly shows us there’s a canny head under that perfect coiffure, so we’re good. This episode, however, while well-made and exquisitely-acted, was a bit more like homework than entertainment. If it weren’t for Herr Armitage, I’m not sure I’d be back.

Public Service Announcement 43 of 2018: Blindspot

The fourth and possibly final – who knows, at this point – season of Blindspot hits UK screens tomorrow (Monday) night at 10pm on Sky Witness, with a number of potentially encouraging signs. For one thing, REDACTED is dead. Woo! Unfortunately, though, it looks like that alone doesn’t mean we’ll be rid of him and his whining – I’m guessing he’ll crop up in plenty of flashbacks, nonetheless. Boo! Let’s try another, then: OTHER REDACTED has switched back to evil! Well. As we said at the end of last season, the show really needs a shake-up and this is certainly that. But I really don’t like stories where people “secretly” act like pantomime villains for the audience while the good guys act oblivious, so l hope OTHER REDACTED switches back to good in two or three eps, rather than twenty-three of them. Third time’s the charm, then: Rich Dotcom is now a series regular! We adore Ennis Esmer round here, and his partnership with Ashley Johnson’s Patterson – the (remote, maybe, but I ship, therefore I am) possibility of PATDOTCOM! – is the greatest gift the show could possibly give us this year. I’d keep watching and reviewing just for them, but if the Chair of Truth could make another appearance and Weller could hang out with Bill Nye the Science Guy again, that would be more than welcome too.

Berlin Station s1 ep 3

*SPOILERS*

Either the levels of concentration I’ve had to invest in this show so far have paid off and everything’s suddenly clicked into place in my brain, or this week’s episode of Berlin Station was much more straightforward.

Even the previouslies seem to hint at a change: they go on for ages, presumably with a view to making sure no viewer is left behind as we head into this brave new dawn. The opening scene being a dream sequence doesn’t detract from that either – Steven Frost, with an eye on Provence, sitting waiting as the drip drip drip coming down on him and his office became a flood. You don’t need to be Freud to understand that one.

Or indeed to understand the rest of the story. One, Frost and Dr Dubenko have a terrible secret. I barely have five seconds to wonder what it could be before this new clear version of the show (and Dr Dubenko) just tells me: “This is us going to jail for running fake agents and bilking Uncle Sam, for God’s sake.” Righto, thanks Dr D! Two, The Office of Security (Office of Jerks, I’ve written in my notes – they are EXCEPTIONALLY rude) from Langley descend upon Berlin Station, thanks to another leak from Herr Shaw, so Daniel’s patron Jemma Moore is unceremoniously out, the long-suffering Sandra takes the fall for Frost, and he might have a shot at Deputy Director. Okay-doke. Three, Michelle Forbes’s asset throws his lot in with losova, without realising Michelle’s watching him do it – smile, you’re on Candid Camera, dude. Got it! Four, Hector’s cracking up over Faisal, but still several steps ahead of Richard Armitage’s Daniel, who looks awesome when he pulls a snazzy spy move with a steak sandwich and throws away his Jemma-phone, only to spoil it all later by taking no care of his regular phone whatsoever. Dude. And five, in other Daniel-related news, New Asset in Witch’s Hat and German Ally McBeal are both defiantly, and kind of obnoxiously, fighting the Armitage charm (so far); Herr Miller’s cousin is rather too obviously succumbing to it (Girl. “With you, it’s like having a dad around again”? Coming on waaaay too strong there); and Frost wants to step right into Moore’s shoes.

See? Straightforward. Busy, but straightforward. And the final scene suggests that’s by design, as storm clouds gather, thunder rolls, and the rain begins to fall, drip drip drip, onto Frost’s head. Now when did we see that before? It’s not a particularly subtle callback to the first scene, and it’s an even less subtle metaphor for trouble ahead, but after a dense, sometimes opaque couple of opening episodes which asked a lot of the audience, I’m not complaining about this one doing the work for us. I enjoyed it.

Berlin Station s1 ep 2

*SPOILERS*

I meant to say something last week about the dingy, seedy look of the Berlin of Berlin Station, but I was busy being dazzled by the crisp, modern office wear, so I thought the contrast with the location (as shot – I mean, I’ve never been to the real Berlin, it might rival the Apple Pencil for crisp modernity for all I know) would keep till this week instead. This week, however, just about everyone on the show leans into the dingy, seedy theme.

Maybe they decided to go a different way after ep 1 and have the characters look as well as feel world-weary and generally a bit dirtied by life. Maybe the budget wouldn’t stretch to more than one nice suit each. Or maybe last week’s outfits had to go back to the hire shop. Whatever the reason, suddenly everyone, with the exception of Michelle Forbes, looks a lot less sharp and fresh, and a lot more 1970s. I mean, Dr Dubenko even wears a polo neck in lieu of a shirt and tie at one point. Dude, come on. And Hector, who had enough to worry about last week what with his treason and his having sex with his asset in front of full-length windows (way to keep it on the DL, guys), now has Claudia’s mother and the imminent death of Faisal on his conscience as well. So he abandons suits entirely and spends the whole episode looking like he needs a shower. Oh, Hector. You can’t wash away guilt.

Even Michelle seems a little less put-together than usual. She wears a nice black v-neck top/suit combo on day 1 while she’s jockeying for Steven’s job, changes to a lovely slash-neck top (sans jacket) on day 2 of said jockeying, but then somehow ends up back in day 1’s outfit when her boyfriend/husband/possible spy(?) is trying to get secrets out of her. Continuity error? Or perhaps she spilled her coffee. It probably doesn’t matter but it’s probably not a great sign that, in a week where the main female character went undercover, openly went after her boss’s job and started her own op against this dude Iosova that they’re all so excited about, I was so easily distracted by her clothes.

At least Richard Armitage’s Daniel, out on his own secret mission, manages to keep the rest of the team and the cesspit dragging them down at arms length. He’s busy trying to warn Claudia’s friend Ingrid that Creepy Cheekbones might be after her, but all it gets him is a bad-tempered lecture. Shame. It’s not all bad news for Herr Miller, though. In another change from last week, someone is following him, rather than the other way round, but Danny boy is onto him – in fairness, the guy could not have been more conspicuous if he was wearing a cowbell – of course, and is having none of it. Our hero has a cousin (love interest?) and her annoying, floppy-haired son (kidnap/threat fodder for later?) to hang out with and Cowbell is not invited. So Dan the man cuts him out of the picture, sets up a meet with German intelligence’s principal Ally McBeal lookalike, and sets her onto Creepy Cheekbones for good measure. Job done.

The best scene of the week is the last one, though: Hector, literally shouting his guilt from a rooftop; Daniel, wrapped up in his own Secret Pain, but beginning to connect the dots; and me, wondering why the eff there is no wall or at least some sort of barrier to stop people falling to their deaths. (COULD THIS BE IMPORTANT LATER? Hm.) But here I go getting distracted again. It’s easily done since, changes in aesthetics aside, this is another slow-paced, fairly dense episode requiring quite a lot of patience and not offering a massive amount in return, as yet. I was intrigued last week but I’m getting a little antsy now: two eps in, the old-school spycraft (the cobbler!) is fun, and the cast is tremendous, but the story is missing a spark. Unless it finds it soon, it’s going to be a very long season.

Public Service Announcement 42 of 2018: The Little Drummer Girl, Condor, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj

Hot on the heels of Berlin Station last week, spy season continues apace with new adaptations of a couple of old-school spy novels tonight and tomorrow.

After the success of The Night Manager a couple of years ago, the BBC has gone back to the John le Carré well with a shiny new six-part adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl. Featuring, amongst others, internationally-famous people Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Shannon, and Charles Dance, and the soon-to-be-famous Florence Pugh, and directed by internationally-renowned movie director Park Chan-Wook; someone has quite clearly spent a lot of money on this with a view to international markets. US viewers will get to see it in November, but UK viewers can start tonight (Sunday) at 9pm on BBC1, if so inclined. A lot of people will be watching, but I checked out after one episode of Night Manager and I don’t like Drummer Girl’s plot, so I’m unlikely to be one of them.

Tomorrow at 9 PM meanwhile, the Universal channel rolls out Condor, based on the novel Six Days of the Condor and previous version Three Days of the Condor, but now dispensing with the numbers entirely. Max Irons – pulling a double-shift, since he pops up in Drummer Girl as well – is the lead, and again the cast includes the internationally-famous (and Oscar-winning) William Hurt and Mira Sorvino, as well as Henry from Ringer. There are ten episodes in this first season and a second has already been commissioned, which puts me off somewhat, since this looks very much like the kind of story that should be wrapped up in a two-hour movie (as indeed it previously was), or, if you really want to stretch it out a little, a six-hour mini-series. It also kicks off with a double bill, for goodness sake, and you know how we feel about them round here. So I’ve set my Sky+ to record but whether I get around to the actual business of watching is another matter. We‘ll see.

If you’re looking for something completely different however – although the title is still very much on-brand for the spy theme – Hasan Minhaj’s weekly comedy show, Patriot Act, during which Netflix tells me he will “explore the modern cultural and political landscape with depth and sincerity” starts today on the streaming service. Daily Show graduate Minhaj’s stand-up special “Homecoming King” is already there too, and it’s terrific, but as the first weekly US comedy show hosted by an Indian-American, Patriot Act is both a big deal and a little ray of hope in an increasingly terrifying landscape. As we’ve said before, representation matters. And Minhaj is hilarious, smart and utterly fearless, so give him a go.

Berlin Station s1 ep 1

*SPOILERS*

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.