The Cold War is about to go hot. The West has started a huge military exercise, named Able Archer. In order for it to provide a realistic assessment of NATO’s readiness for war, it has to be as accurate as possible. Unfortunately, it’s that very accuracy which means that the Warsaw Pact countries don’t recognise it as a war game; it’s convincing enough to persuade some in the East that the first strike they’ve been anticipating is about to arrive, and to put their own strategy – Operation RYaN – in place. (Like many things in Deutschland 83, this is more or less how it happened in real life.)
Martin knows that the East is preparing for war. He also knows that Able Archer is no more than an exercise. Unable to convince anyone in East Germany of this – in part, because Schweppenstette, for reasons which remain opaque to me at least, is maintaining the fiction that the West is about to attack – he then has to try and persuade NATO to stop the exercise before it leads to a nuclear conflict. And that means blowing his cover; in the process of telling Edel what the Soviet bloc is thinking and doing, he essentially has to admit that he’s a mole. So Martin has to go on the run: on foot, then in a stolen car, then concealing himself in a family car returning from a daytrip, all trying to get back across the border to the East. His big problem is that, uniquely, he’s now a traitor to both sides.
Historical dramas – at least, those which stick to the known facts – have to overcome the difficulty that we know the ending. And in this case we know that, one way or another, the East and the West will manage not to start a nuclear exchange. This is largely achieved through the stolid, wry figure of Fuchs, who patiently excavates for the truth – in this case, an unedited copy of the NATO report provided by Martin, which he’s then able to compare with Schweppenstette’s revised version. I wasn’t mad about the montage which followed the world stepping back from the brink – launched missiles reversing and so on – although the show’s been good enough to be forgiven the occasional stylistic misstep and ninja assassin.
Meantime, the revelation that Schwep had a relationship with Ingrid, and that Martin is his son, wasn’t wholly surprising, although it was one of a number of developments which tied the show’s main narrative threads together nicely. That relationship allowed Ingrid to insist to a bewildered Annett that yes, the forbidden books were in her basement, so of course she knew about them, and that neither she nor Thomas would be going to prison despite Ingrid’s best attempts. And Lenora, who has come across as one of life’s survivors, has a secret lover and a future in Mozambique to look forward to.
For the Westerners, the news isn’t particularly good: Alex, whose position in the army is untenable, has also found out from Tischbier that he might have AIDS; and Alex’s father General Edel returns home to discover that his wife has left him. We hear a shot from the Edel house, but whether father or son commits suicide or murder is left unclear. My gut feeling was that Alex killed himself, but on reflection I think it was the General. Put another way, I have no idea.
As for Martin, the show’s main character, his future is unwritten. He now has one foot in both camps, ideologically at least: his reaction on discovering that Annett is on team Schweppenstette – “Are you working for them?” – isn’t what you would expect of a committed spy operative. But he’s back in the East, reconciled with his mother, protected from blowback by his connection to his father, and about to become a parent himself. I’m quite happy to leave him there, on the verge of personal and political developments which will change him for ever, although I’d also be delighted were a sequel to be made, perhaps picking up later in the 80s around the time of the Wall coming down.
No decision has yet been taken on whether there’ll be more Deutschland. If we’re done, then I’d say the show has to go down as a success: not without flaws, but enjoyable and thought-provoking, making a good job of balancing the personal and the global, and relishing its period setting without playing it for cheap laughs.