Berlin Station

I just finished watching the first season of the TV Series Berlin Station. Aired on tv by the premium Epix Channel, this is the channel’s first venture into an original scripted drama (aka – original content) but, the series may not be available to you. In fact, I could not see Berlin Station on my Xfinity Cable as this service doesn’t carry the channel. However, I was able to buy the DVD from Amazon.

The series is set in present day Berlin. And the reference is not about the Berlin’s U-Bahn transit system. Rather it about the USA’s CIA station in Berlin.

The series, and each episode opens with the following song playing over the opening credits:

I’m afraid of Americans
I’m afraid of the world
I’m afraid I can’t help it
I’m afraid I can’t…

That was a David Bowie song called I’m Afraid of Americans circa 1997.

As the series begins we learn that a whistleblower has been handing info to a Berlin newspaper reporter. Of course it is not as simple as just that, The whistle-blower, named Thomas Shaw, used an intermediary or courier, and they utilized a system of dead drops enabling the info to get from Thomas Shaw to the reporter. It was all very Snowden-ish and wiki-leak-ish. Just the sort of stuff you’d expect as the broad strokes of an espionage series.

A CIA analyst based in Langley, one Daniel Miller, is transferred to Berlin Station, and he’s tasked to discover, or uncover, and then hopefully shutdown this Shaw. All without any one working in the Berlin Station being aware of what he was doing.

Naturally what Shaw is doing is ‘outing’ CIA operatives and CIA operations emanating from the Berlin Station. These reveals were undoubtedly very embarrassing to the CIA as well as the German intelligence service.

So what do we learn?

Black ops and covert ops, dead drops, renditions, enhanced interrogations were among the topics. As was a specific black site in Morocco where the CIA did what they did to get what they needed. It was said that “if they weren’t guilty when they got here, they’d certainly be guilty by the time they got to Gitmo.”

All in all, the espionage business wasn’t all that pretty. And if you perchance were contemplating work in the State Department or any of the Intelligence services, you might want to reconsider. But that’s not a)news or b) part of the review. It is a story for another time and place

So about Berlin Station, going in, the series looked like it might be worthwhile and if done right, could be excellent. To prove that statement have a look at the trailer:

Only Berlin Station didn’t quite reach the heights I expected. Oh there was plenty that was good about the series beginning with on-location shoots, a terrific premise, and a stellar cast. Too bad the series in total fell short.

First – the opening two 1 hour episodes were dull, and with the size of the huge cast (meaning the many pivotal roles) it took a long time for the character introductions and the various plot lines to be set in motion. In short, as viewers, we were asked to take in lot of information and characters, and we were literally at sea without enough knowledge to truly understand what we were watching.

At the Berlin Station – beside Daniel Miller played by Richard Armitage,

there was the COS (Chief of Station) Steven Frost played by the always excellent Richard Jenkins,

the Deputy Director Robert Kirsch played by Leland Orser,

the station administrator Valerie Edwards played by Michelle Forbes,

Frost’s secretary Sandra Abe played by Tamlyn Tomita,

and the Case Officer/Field Officer Hector DeJean played by Rhys Ifans.

Then there’s Hans Richter played by Bernhard Schutz, the counter-part to Steven Frost, only with the German Intelligence agency, the BfV, and his main Field Operative Esther Krug played by Mina Tander.

And there’s the Mossad agent Golda Friedman, and terrorists, goons and gunmen, and much more. One gets the feeling that all of these people who work at Berlin Station are all experiencing some sort of unhappiness about what they do for a living.  Working for the CIA is distinctly not a glamorous job. How could it be = when you must lie, deceive, and even kill when required.

The show is sometime times difficult to follow, but we can’t fault the actors. The script is often far too busy, too complex or dense, and the editing, or at least the sequencing of the narrative leaves a lot to be desired.

That said, I must give Rhys Ifans a big hand. His performance here as Hector DeJean is a far cry from his roles in Notting Hill  from 1999 (as Hugh Grant’s flatmate Spike) or as the field goal kicker Nigel Gruff in the football comedy The Replacements (2000). In fact Ifans virtually steals the whole series from the rest of the cast.

He has most of the best lines, and he’s in most the action scenes. As for the action scenes – there were too few of them, and they might have been done better – especially the big shootout at a Berlin shopping mall.

My final take is that if you have the Epix Channel on your cable system, then I recommend the series as watchable. I won’t go as far as to tell you that the DVD is a must-buy. The series was renewed and Season 2 is airing now.

If you want to sample the series, Epix is offering the first two episodes of Season 2  (as Watch Free) at this link.

Or have a look at the Season 2 trailer: