The State Department’s throwing its weight around, Daniel’s undercover with neo-nazis terrorising people, and me? I’m out, I think. As I keep saying, the acting is terrific, and new Station Chief Ashley Judd is a more than worthy addition, but this show is now more like homework than entertainment for me. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s grim – even grimmer now we have violent right-wing hatemongers in the mix – and painstakingly slow. I admire the aims of the writers and there will be people who liked this, for perfectly understandable reasons, but I wasn’t one of them. I look forward to seeing Richard Armitage, Michelle Forbes and the rest of the cast in other things but I’m afraid I’m leaving Berlin Station behind.
Berlin Station has been officially cancelled by Epix after three seasons but, for the moment, in the UK, it lives on on More 4. Yes, a mere four months after we finished season one, season two appears on our screens tomorrow night (Thursday) at 10.05pm and I’m torn. I wanted to love season one, with its tremendous cast and its intriguing premise and its SPIES (I’m really into spies on tv) but, despite some great moments, the first season somehow ended up being slow, frustrating and significantly less than the sum of its parts. I want to love season two but, if it’s anything like season one, I don’t actually want to have to sit through it. The Richard Armitage, Michelle Forbes and Dr Dubenko triple whammy of performances is worth another shot at least, though, so I’ll review episode one and see where we go from there.
One of the principal flaws of both episode 9 and this first season of Berlin Station as a whole has been the writers’ unshakable conviction that the life, loves and regrets of one Hector DeJean are all utterly fascinating. If someone had disabused them of this notion early doors, the season might have been half as long and twice as interesting, and episode 9 itself wouldn’t have happened. Sadly, and turgidly, however it did: an hour or so wasted mostly on flashbacks lovingly but wholly unnecessarily illustrating the history of the DeJean/DeVos partnership, at a pace akin to that of a lot of UK living rooms at 9.30pm on Christmas Day. By which I mean SLOW and BORING.
Ep 9 isn’t a complete wash-out though. Michelle Forbes and Dr Dubenko start talking to each other (ok, it’s more like sniping, but still), Creepy Cheekbones takes the long way down and out of the series, and we find out who the real big bads are on all sides. Oh, and Frost is arrested, but it’s all good, since that just means everyone can work together in ep 10 – Daniel, Dr Dubenko, Michelle Forbes, Sandra, even Johnson finally gets stuff to do, bless him – to sort the whole sorry mess and expose Hans and Clay Williams for what they are. Bafflingly, while all this is going on, Hector is able to pose as a special envoy of the Director himself and spring Faisal from a Saudi jail, as opposed to being stopped as soon as he tried any of that and renditioned so hard his sunglasses break, but see above re: fascination, the writers’ etc. Anyway, ep 10 is pretty great nonetheless – properly exciting spycraft with high stakes and all the Richard Armitage super-spy stuff I tuned in for in the first place. The season overall has been glacially-paced and so obsessed with saying something profound that it didn’t really say or do anything at all, but the episodes which worked best were the ones like this, which focussed on action and thrills as opposed to flashbacks and fretting. Good episodes or dull ones, however, the cast have been uniformly fantastic, with Michelle Forbes, Leland Orser and Richard Jenkins in particular turning in stellar performances, and Richard Armitage a handsomely brooding presence at the centre of it. Would I watch a second season? If the Shaw stuff is over – which seems likely – I’d at least start it I think, but I’d have a hard time recommending it to anyone else unless it got significantly faster than this one. No official word yet as to if/when More 4 will be showing it though, so if this is where Berlin Station and I end up parting ways, das ist gut.
Since I’ve decided to start shipping Richard Armitage’s Daniel and Michelle Forbes, of course they don’t share a single scene this week, but at least they do continue to share the prima taste in office wear that’s transfixed me all season. It’s wet and cold in Scotland, so Agent Cregg would probably have gone with trousers, but Michelle’s taupe top and dark skirt suit is just the thing for the grieving but defiant secret agent with a Secret Pain, especially one who’s (a)in a place where it’s not freezing and (b)in a semi-permanent fight with New Acting Chief Dr Dubenko. The Antoinette/ Charlie Hebdo reveal is significantly less tasteful though. We really don’t need another Secret Pain at this stage of the season – Daniel’s and Hector’s are more than enough to be going on with – but if Michelle Forbes has to be similarly burdened, rather than using such a specific, recent real-life tragedy, could the writers not have made something up?
Sigh. At least Daniel and his lovely navy coat/suit/tie combo, are having a much more successful week story-wise. Not only has Herr Miller worked out who Thomas Shaw is, but he’s found Hector’s bug, Julian’s secret identity and where Everybody’s Most Wanted Steven Frost is hiding. That’s your agent of the month, right there. I’m not sure the non-linear structure of the episode adds much – the interrogation still felt like it went on for half my life – but the street-grab is undeniably effective (I jumped and squealed) and although I don’t find Hector’s incessant navel-gazing anywhere near as fascinating as the show does, at least it’s nearly over. Obviously, Cousin Patricia and her inexplicable liebe for the man are going to get in the way first – she was never going to listen to you, Daniel, don’t blame yourself – and there’s still time for German Ally McBeal to do something obnoxious and derail everything, but there’s only a double bill left in the season so, one way or another, Hector’s right: Thomas Shaw is indeed dead. The only real question is who’s going down with him.
Things go from bad to worse to completely terrible for the Berlin Station team this week with lies, politics and the small matter of someone setting Steven Frost up to take the fall making the search for Clare even harder than it already is. And it’s already kind of impossible.
Poor Steven does his best to sort things out by the book, but that’s obviously not going to work, so everyone else is going for more unorthodox methods: Dr Dubenko goes to Golda, who has her price; German Ally McBeal tracks down the Iosova rendition team in a lap dancing club; and Hector and Daniel (Richard Armitage) launch their own Lethal Weapon-style (but without the jokes) rescue mission, with Michelle Forbes being quietly fantastic in the process.
It’s fast, tense and bleak, with plenty of “adult themes” and an unapologetically unhappy ending. In short, if you’re looking for a fun time, look elsewhere. This is grim stuff. Compelling, though. And on the plus side, Daniel is definitely onto you-know-who now, I am totally going to start shipping him and Michelle Forbes (Farmitage? Vaniel?), and, somewhat surprisingly, treason seems to have made Dr Dubenko a lot nicer round the office. Every cloud, etc.
The first half of ”Just Decisions” isn’t bad, it’s just not very interesting. It’s the soup course: well-made, probably good for you, but still the dull part of the meal you just need to get through so you can get to the tasty bits. (Unless you really like soup, in which case, just ignore this paragraph.) This particular dish has some solid, if not exactly inspiring ingredients – the meeting with German intelligence, Dr Dubenko’s dealings with Mossad – but it also has some decidedly sour, annoying ones. Ingrid, for a start: her self-righteousness is all very well and to be expected, to a degree, but a supposedly clever journalist being so incredibly naive it borders on abject stupidity, is not. I can’t understand what sort of idiot would think that the idea that the CIA is involved in torture and nefariousness would come as a surprise to an ACTUAL CIA AGENT, let alone anybody else on the planet, but turns out her name’s Ingrid and she lives in Berlin.
Hector, meanwhile, is just as irritating and naive, if not more so. He’s making a complete nuisance of himself haranguing Clare and anyone else who will listen (willingly or otherwise) to try and stop her taking part in the episode’s main course – the big centrepiece mission at the shopping centre. Shut UP, Hector. Somebody should send him to a black site and give us all peace.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, though, and the mission goes horrifically wrong, though not for the reasons most important to Hector (which essentially boil down to “I love Clare, so NO!”) but more because of a couple of strokes of very bad luck and a really terrible coincidence or two. For the people in the shopping centre, spies or not, the consequences are awful, but for the show, the mission scenes provide a very necessary jolt to a series at risk of becoming soporific. The second half of the ep, following the shopping centre op in its entirety is utterly gripping; a showcase of just how compelling and nerve-wracking Berlin Station can be when it stops trying to teach us about the world-weary slog of being a spy and remembers to entertain us with the exciting, scary bits instead.
First things first: I am sehr-annoyed that I didn’t see the revelation at the end coming weeks ago. Those cheekbones were right there in front of me the whole time, but I let myself get distracted by a blond wig and some lipstick. (If you’re still watching this show, you’ll know what I mean, and if you’re not, you won’t care.) The show worked me well, but then half the cast is working the other half of it this week, so I’m hardly alone.
The Israelis are working Dr Dubenko, it being obvious that he’ll work himself up into enough of a frenzy of imagined slights and oversights to succumb by the end of the ep. Michelle Forbes – with a bit of help from Clare – is working two of Ruth’s teenage “ISIL brides” and reluctant informant/ idiot Swingset. Or trying to – she apparently doesn’t get very far with the girls (although I’m not sure what else she thought they’d get – the girls pretty much confirmed everything she thought) and, as Michelle points out, it remains to be seen which side Swingset is actually on. And speaking of choosing sides, Hector’s having a mixed week as well; working Patricia and Clare goes well for him, working Ingrid not so much, but then I don’t understand how he thought it could. He knows the CIA are in the paper’s computers and he must’ve realised they’d do something to sort the Lin problem out before he exposed it – was he banking on Ingrid publishing the story before Richard Armitage’s Daniel and co had a chance to get ahead of it? Why wasn’t he listening to Daniel’s phone to get ahead of him?
As for Daniel himself – well, he’s working his way into German Ally McBeal’s bed, but sadly not her affections. Bless him, he’s clearly very into her, and she’s very into using that to her advantage. I mean, she likes him enough but she likes the idea of turning him better. Poor Daniel. He doesn’t fall for it, although I think if she’d waited a bit longer before playing her hand, he might well have fallen for her. Still might, too. It’s not a ship I’m keen on though – Daniel, liebling, maybe find a girl who appreciates your company more than your security clearance, huh?
Anyway. Daniel’s love life might have stalled for a moment but, for whatever reason – sex, lies, spycraft, a strange man dancing naked to “Under Pressure” for no reason beyond weirding everyone out, you pick – this pacy, well-plotted ep seems to move a lot faster and a lot more compellingly than some of the previous ones. Gut.