Berlin Station- before the end of S1

Apologies to those who are waiting for more details of the Love Love Love play. Hopefully I’ll be able to post a bit more about it before heading off to see parents for Christmas. It’s been a bit hectic lately but I did want to just say a few things about Berlin Staion ep 9 before the finale.

I’m borrowing riepu’s amazing gif to illustrate the reason why I have kept watching the series 😉

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Kindly borrowed from riepu10 on tumbler 🙂

 

I have to say there have been less surprises in the series than I would have expected based on reading Steinhauer’s books. Or at least I have not been very surprised, including in episode 9. I hope some twist has been reserved for the finale otherwise I would be pretty disappointed with the overall plot and it’s predictability.

Don’t know about you but I didn’t think it was in the least bit shocking that the Germans were one step ahead of the game. It has been clear all along Esther knew more than she disclosed and they/she had been onto at least Daniel from very early on. And let’s not forget they are the ‘home’ team. They would be doing a very poor job of it if they weren’t at least as smart as they appear to have been. I also never thought Hans was quite as innocent as Frost seemed to believe. And wasn’t it Kirsch who actually warned Frost at some point about Hans and trusting him too much?

Speaking of which it seems to me where the spy-business is concerned Hans and Kirsch were the most professional all along and reasonably good at their job and mostly getting their priorities straight. Well, Kirsch might still turn to Mossad but I don’t really think so at this stage.

Sandra would probably also make a better spy than most in that section, I hope she stays. Otherwise that station really does seem in a bit of a mess. I am really tired of Valerie’s chips on the shoulder. I don’t think anyone with that much baggage and prejudice could make an effective and competent agent. The least an agent could do is listen to what others say, even if only to factor all information into the equation. If the series really would have wanted to shake things up from traditional settings they could have switched roles between Kirsch and Valerie. That would have made for interesting dynamics. But the way things have gone for both Frost and Valerie I could only say good riddance.

I mean Frost bumps into Kirsch and gives his wife an envelope for Sandra?? Really? I have to say Richard Jenkins played Frost really well, but the level of incompetence and bumbling around stretched the imagination for somebody who is supposed to be really experienced.

I’m not sure the CIA had to be quite such a mess in comparison to the German team, all the way more composed, professional, etc. Too big a contrast really.

I do have a niggle about Esther though 🙂 She dresses way too flashy for a spy! All that red in winter in Germany? But I’m willing to close an eye here because she’s a really interesting character and obviously a good spy. I’m not so willing to forgive her all the furs! In this day and age that is laying it on unnecessarily thick! It would stand out way too much. As se generally does, she’s a bit too much of a head turner to be a discrete spy 😉

There is one thing that really bothers me about the German team operated. They knew Julien had killed Clauda from the very beginning but let the game play out to catch out the entire CIA station. It doesn’t bother me from a plot element perspective. It’s just a cold calculated move, which was necessary to achieve the other goals of course since catching Julien at such an early stage would not have given them the CIA station but still… it’s cold. Poor Claudia, who I really liked died for nothing 😦 And of course Ingrid was used in the process, she just doesn’t realise it. But as much by the home team as she thinks by the Americans… sad view of freedom of press. But that is within the scope of the series so well done on that. I wonder though if these side effects which are however very important are evident enough? I would have liked for Ingrid to get a bit of insight into it or somebody to reflect on the lives of the completely innocent lost with no purpose at all. (Yes, there have been many deaths but Claudia’s was the most innocent one).

I was sorry Julien had to die but I didn’t see another solution for that plot line either, it was more a question of when rather than if. I am doubly sorry because I think Sabin Timbrea did a great job with the character and its multiple sides and he was really interesting t to watch. If I have enough reasons to watch S2 I will miss him.

Hector still is an interesting character as is his ‘friendship’ with Daniel, as much as 2 spies can be friends. I thought the dynamic between those two took a while to develop but there is something there (though it could have been so much more though had it been given some more attention). I do think Hector got progressively less interesting though and turned less complex in the end than initially anticipated. Some things were hammered home way too often and way too much, to the point where I didn’t feel the whole detail about what happened in Morocco in visual detail was necessary at all. At the point where it came we had already figured out what had happened there. To me it was completely superfluous.

I’m also not quite buying Patricia. I don’t think her being so calm while with Julien actually made sense since nothing indicated Julie was particularly stable or reliable on his actions. The tiny video from ep 10 only made things worse (like a lot of these previews have… ) she appears to judge Daniel for things that attracted her to Hector?! How does that make any sense at all. By the way I also didn’t buy that chemistry at all. The only way that could turn out making any sense at all is if she herself turns out to be a spy, a German one for example. Otherwise al her actions and words are a bit silly really.

Lastly Daniel – the character who seemed to mostly be around but not do much, whose actions seem to have limited consequences, other than when he just lets Hector do his thing. He seems to have been relegated to being the eternal observer, more than a character he is a collection of reactions. Those reactions have been well acted but I can’t help feeling very disappointed with the lack of meat on the bones of this character. And the fact that he has been used quite a bit as ‘meat’ at the same time. I am not saying those scenes have not been well done, but they didn’t actually take the character anywhere. At least Daniel had enough spy sense to not reveal anything either. Nothing the Germans or Esther got was from Daniel directly. It was just that, cat and mouse games.

What do we know about Daniel at the end of 10 episodes? That he thinks more than he acts, in fact that he seems largely reluctant to act, that he has some compass of right and wrong, that he has some family and that he does his job. None of it out of the ordinary, in fact he has been exceedingly ordinary. Just on that side of competent to not screw up – though that can be debated as every time he actively did not stop Hector a massive screw up happened. Is that enough after 1 episodes? If he was played by anyone else and I didn’t indulge myself in wordless minute acting would I care about the character? I doubt it. If he were to return I’d want a lot more for the character! Evil, good I don’t care at this point, just more to sink acting teeth in. Less of walking around being beautiful scenery.

I don’t think Hector will be killed off, Daniel would not have let him go if that was the case and there is potential to continue that story line further if both stick with S2 – one outside the system and the other inside (? But with doubts I guess?). That could certainly open things up.

Where do we go from here? No idea, the station is an unprofessional mess, I guess they need to sort that out in S2. I think it is fair for the home team to win, that is their job after all. I’m still I think with Hector/Ingrid thought it is not as black and white as they think and I’d wish Ingrid to be the third in the game if you will with much more awareness of everything that has gone on and less one sided view of events. I’d like there to be a link between her and Daniel , but that is wishful thinking and investing in a character that I don’t think will evolve that way and who, if he was to stay what he is in his job also wouldn’t evolve that way.

If Daniel’s role should stay exactly as it is and nothing more I think I’d rather he be killed off and move on to the next project. I can see some potential but it’s been a long shoot and a lot of time investment for something that as a character has yet to really pay off for RA. He can do so much more and I have difficulty understanding why the writers would choose to underuse him.

Mixed bag all along with positives that I really needed to draw out and which were mostly either in actors who were given too little time or have been killed off. Not nearly as engaging a watch as I had hoped for and with the major flaw that the characters one could most closely engage with and sympathise for were killed off while too many of the remaining ones are simply annoying or too one dimensional.

I’m rooting for a big clean up in the season finale.

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Berlin Station

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There is a definite level of excitement in the air due to a certain play starting its previews soon, but, since there will be time to talk about it once we know more, it’s time for me to try and get back into the writing saddle.

It’s been a long and difficult year and though i have seen many good things, reality has taken precedence over enjoyment of art. I hope to catch up on some of these, especially the few which have made lasting impact. This weekend however has marked the end of the 2016 Proms’ season as well as the start of both the Wigmore and the ROH seasons. And it was the first time in a really long stretch that a few good performances accumulated in a short period of time. I had come to fear that reality had numbed me completely to the joys of music since it had been nearly a year since i could say i really enjoyed something i saw or heard.

The late iIndiansummer and a few days of full on sunshine together with a great season start seem to have done the trick and i finally feel a little bit like myself again. Hopefully the impact will be lasting.

So, on the ‘vitamin’ boost provided by a splendid Norma at the Royal Opera House, a hilarious Barbiere at the same ROH (enjoy the lovely Javier Camarena singing Almaviva for BBC 3’d In Tune here )and an excellent Platonov at the National (all in the space of just 2 days) i feel i recognise again what ‘good’ feels like 🙂

Do watch Javier sing! You’ll definitely feel like 200 year old Rossini is fit for the charts today 🙂

Oh, and have a look around the Platonov page, there is a hilarious quiz video online from Chekhov on it 🙂 And by the way, my friend and i lay claim to having discovered the wonderful James McArdle (who plays the lead in Platonov)!  We thought he was great in the James plays two years ago and he is really good here too, hilarious and tragic at the same time, wise beyond his years, definitely one to watch. The whole cast is superb and Jonathan Kent’s productions are a joy of atmosphere and clever design. Go see if you can (just remember on McArdle, we were there first – Not really, he’s already been recognised with some awards ;-)).

And a few days before that there was the Last Night of the Proms, with these 2 memorable and uniquely funny moments from Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez (whom we all affectionately call Juandi :-)):

The perfect entertainer, wouldn’t you agree? And turning up looking like that, as the last king of the Inca LOL – unbeatable 🙂 Love him.

Sorry for the long digression/introduction but i thought i’d share some joy with you in case you prefer not to go on reading.As the above was also very helpful in compensating for a feeling of disappointment after watching the first 2 episodes of Berlin Station. Not all bad but certainly not what i was hoping for after a long drought of content. I went back and forth about writing something that was not as enthusiastic as people might expect but decided to go with it. Not everything we see is good and everything can’t always be excellent and that’s ok. So please feel free to stop here if you’d rather not read my doubts. 

Berlin Station – the good bits

  • The trailers and promos are all tight, interesting, intriguing and fast paced; the heighten suspense and make you want to watch;
  • the opening credits as well as all the graphics are fab, punchy, modern, journalistic- i really really like them;
  • the cinematography – very ‘noir’ with a lot of steel greys, dark skies, low lights etc It looks good on screen, there is no doubt about it and they had a brilliant camera crew;
  • I like the camera angles, close ups which make you feel like the person right next to the one on screen; The shots from above are also beautiful; the extra angles we have won due to drones 🙂 There was same crane filming around Claudia’s house as we saw i a BTS photo but there are shots from much higher up which can only be done by drones. It’s certainly the new kind of perspective which adds a lot visually (although i wonder what the rules are in Berlin, hereabouts drone filming over populated areas is prohibited);
  • I like some of the soundtrack, Bowie is a topical though good choice. BUT, the almost incessant thumping  and beat in 90% of the scenes was way too much.
  • The Germans – i like them all, even Zeitungs-Ingrid – although she is forced into a lot of OTT acting; the rest however are very natural, normal and understated in some cases. They certainly come off much better and more credible on screen than any of the ‘American’ lot; There are some problems, in as one can tell which of the cast are from the German side although not representing Germans in the series; Except for Ingrid they certainly get the better share of the dialogue, maybe just by the simple fact that there is much less of it.
  • I particularly liked Hans reaction to his former employee’s crude comment  – pretty much the most satisfying scene in the entire 2eps;
  • Claudia’a character was somebody we could warm to and i object to them getting rid of her so soon;
  • Kelly Frost – i really enjoyed her too; comfortably wifey without overdoing it, again a multidimensional character with a lot of wordless acting and also some good lines. I liked the fact that she came across as quite strong, much better defined in fact in spite of fewer scenes than many of the male characters.
  • Hector/RI – probably the best thing that happened to the series; greatly aided imho by the fact that he too has far fewer lines and Rhys Ifans gets to do a lot of wordless acting which is is excellent at. His American accent is minimal and natural and i had a laugh listening to one of his interviews; i never realised how strong his Welsh accent still is 🙂 The difference is truly startling. I don’t quite believe a real chemistry with Faisal, but then again it is not clear that he returns his feelings. What is clear however is that Hector cares, about great many things, in many different ways. I also like that his body language is limber and together with the Germans he displays none of the stiffness and almost confusion of movement/posture that comes across in most of the others. Having killed off Claudia thus swiftly he really is the only one i cared about/for and was interested in at the end of the first 2 episodes.
  • Kirsch – to some degree, his brand of patriotism/professionalism? feels a bit old fashioned and anachronistic but he does manage to make it almost realistic for the character; It’s one dimensional so far, but it comes across as credible, swearing and all.
  • love the old Berlin cafe where Frost and Hans meet – the kind of place i love to go to 🙂 And a relief from the overload of graffiti-walls (which i am pretty sure are somewhat less omnipresent in Berlin than the eps seems to indicate);
  • i like the old shoe-maker and his crew- maybe a bit old fashioned spy-stuff but it is effective as a  ‘make the viewer smile’ device and interesting use of non-electronic communication;
  • quite like the last roof scene with Hector and Daniel, or rather the idea of it;

So, there are quite a few positives, cinematography and characters being important parts of what i think would make a series successful. But it’s not a good summary if the most credible characters are all secondary and only 1 of the supposed main characters is engaging and intriguing. And if the intrigue comes mostly when they stop talking… Which leads me to my reasons for being disappointed as a viewer:

Berlin Station – the things that didn’t convince me

  • There are a few, but i guess one could say most are minor details (although the devil is in the detail in terms of credibility on screen) except for the one major one – the dialogue. The lines are bad, really bad. I can’t say i had a flowing viewing experience in any of the scenes involving dialogue. As soon as people opened their mouths the exchanges mostly stopped me in my tracks with their awkwardness. Worse, the characters looked awkward saying these things, with pauses filled with uncomfortable viewing. They didn’t look as if they thought what they were saying and it showed. It really doesn’t help engage me if instead of focusing on the action i keep rolling my eyes at what comes out of their mouths. Take a spy/analysit like Daniel saying ‘wow’ to being deployed to Berlin… really? Wow? Instead of a more interesting facial expression? The whole argument presented by the guy he replaces re the leak and Shaw sounded fake and only a device to let Daniel drill in again the consequences.The exchange between Ingrid and Claudia started off well but then went into implausible conversation in a public space; the whole making history as an almost one liner and bam, she is convinced again, really? Never mind the utter crudeness of Ingrid’s comment to her about getting laid (it was much worse in German). The whole exchange sounded like an unlucky translated version from English rather than a genuine conversation. Then there are all the astoundingly glib dialogues between Frost and his secretary/mistress. He’s supposed to be both clever (since chief) and moral but that’s the kind of stuff he says? Shaking head. It does things to my brain to see such an intelligent actor portray somebody who comes across as simple to say the least. Ingrid’ rant on the balcony although maybe justified by grief/anger also comes across as not quite right – ‘may you die in a drone strike?’ from an experienced journalist to somebody working in Berlin?
  • some story lines are unoriginal and others unnecessary- they use the disgruntled/overlooked employee 3x in 2 eps! Daniel to his boss in Panama, Valery 2x and also the German information/spy to Hans (overlooked for promotion) – are there no other reasons/backgrounds/actions to be found? Are all bosses meant to be stupid and their employees better? (Well, certainly not valid for Hans, but you get the idea). Then there is Gerald who gets shipped back to the US. Why invest in a character on his way out? Unless he isn’t on his way out but his family dropping him just like a hot potato was another cliche moment/rolling my eyes. Which by the way was signaled way too hard and too much in advance;
  • too much advance signaling (give us  some credit!)- Ingrid tells Claudia to get laid and lo and behold she gets picked up in the bar next (duh!); Gerald goes on and on and on about his wife and Budapest and of course he gets dumped as soon as things go south. We hear about Daniel’s past in Berlin again and again and again in the most improbably of circumstances, EVEYRONE talks about it, the unknown woman i  Panama, Valery at first sight and in their very first meeting, etc etc And apparently somebody who is CIA feels comfortable reacting to it and engaging in his past in Berlin with everyone. I do get it is relevant, but it would have been more effective, especially in terms of indicating it’s scarred him in some way if less was said. The secretary tells Frost he should get his wife to be his secretary so they could talk , cue wife wants to know more about his work, or the other way around but still – rolling eyes. Faisal fears he will get found out, Faisal gets found out. And don’t even start me about the ‘weird guy’ who is used as courier between Shaw and Claudia. We get a really good look of him being made to look really weird so you now he will do something! The only one not expecting it is analyst Daniel , who unlike the viewer does not get the clue.Weird guy ends up being a killer… duh. (As if normal people would not get involved in the Shaw thing , had to be somebody ‘weird’).
  • talking about obvious – poor Claudia, being careful and acting as secret courier but not noticing the big hunkering guy always 2 meters behind her and around her and always wearing the same things and cloaked and in cap and hoodie. If i had somebody lumbering round me like that i tell you i’d be completely freaked out. It just isn’t believable that somebody acting this strange and looking this suspicious wouldn’t attract attention.
  • the additional storylines around Faisal, Ioseva and so on, there is a quite a lot of it and it gets really confusing, how important is it, what is the main story line, what are we supposed to pay attention to? There is so much thrown in, especially in ep 1 one cannot possibly be expected to come out of it with a clear idea of what to follow. It is way too much, between trying to introduce all characters, several story lines, Panama, Shaw, Ioseva, family stuff. By the time the ep ends one is exhausted with too much information and can’t possibly remember what is what and what is important. I for one had completely forgotten at some point Daniel is supposed to get shot as it didn’t seem relevant at all anymore. The only clear thing in my head tbh was Hector and that he is somewhat involved in everything. Less is definitely more in story telling; ease people into it gently, you don’t need to tell them so much in 1ep, as you have 9 more to go. The scope of ep 1 is not to tell everything , not even to set the scene to everything, but to get people interested, hook them with something/someone. The more things and people = the more confused they become. And they will forget most of what you told them and few will bother to go back.
  • why are the safehouses such dumps? I expect a cockroach to crawl out every corner any minute. Spartan i get but are we to believe light and activity in a derelict building is really not going to attract attention?
  • the meeting with the woman from the German BfV – very James Bond but not quite – dialogue cryptic but not really funny; again all we get is that spies ‘know stuff’ (we never get much in the way of how do they know); But we get a sense i think that Daniel likes to handle the women.
  • why does Daniel find a cat in Claudia’s flat 2 days after she supposedly threw herself out of the window? Does German police not investigate suicides? Or in 2 days it was all case closed and done with, no signs of them searching the apartment, putting tape to prevent entrance. My, are they efficient… or wait, they are completely useless, they searched and investigated but failed to find the cat in the flat. It all makes perfect sense… since we need a cat to signal Daniel is partly human and cares, he certainly can’t be asked to show us that with his face/body language. Cat is better idea (NOT!);
  • Also it is absolutely relevant to show him dressing wet after a shower and then toweling himself off, then walking to a window, not a trace of damp from the recent shower on his skin, to what? Show us he cares/thinks about Berlin/remembers something? nope, just to show us a Berlin skyline and the fact that he still hasn’t unpacked his suitcase – that certainly explains while he keeps wearing the same clothes, if nothing else. I’d rather see something on his face than see his briefs, thanks very much, slightly more relevant to the story.
  • the impersonated picker-upper for Claudia is the only human face of Daniel we get apart from the interaction with his nephew. But his human face is a d*ck. I would certainly not have a drink with a fella who says about his potential blind date ‘i hope it’s not her’. But then again, as Ingrid bluntly told us, Claudia needed to get laid so doesn’t matter he’s an ….
  • Panama – a bloke walks around in the jungle with no tools, bags, anything and finds a box in the forest; he looks good but it’s a bit out of context to say the least;
  • the mum- story – again maybe a bit too much, not only was she cheating, she was cheating with a spy and then she died going off in her cheating ways with the spy; why do they have to lay it on quite as thickly? Just like it’s not enough Faisal give some secrets away because he believes he can help, he also has to be gay and in love with Hector. I do get the point about complexity and nothing is quite like it seems but i wonder if less again wouldn’t have been more, making it a bit more believable;
  • Daniel keeps going to the roof to talk (just so we can get the eye-graffiti imagine – which would have been more effective had we seen a bit less graffiti everywhere) until he decides not to go to the roof anymore and makes the call from his desk about the photo he is about to send.
  • USB sticks – this really bugged me; in an age where already 10 years ago we couldn’t use USB sticks at work with our laptops we are to be believe somebody grabbed CIA data on them? Because not only Claudia seems to get them from Shaw, they were also in the box in Panama. It’s a very crude device for modern age spying, very out of date since picking up and using a USB stick is a big no-no from a security pov these days.And they seem to be all over the place in BSt.
  • language points – these are relevant for me, but i don’t think relevant generally for audiences; at present it seems unlikely this will air in Germany and in any case it probably wouldn’t air in original anyway. But the variety of pronunciations of cities such as Budapest and Berlin drive me nuts. Particularly because they are neither here nor there, neither the English version of the name nor the original but something in between. Also different characters pronounce it differently. I guess this is possible, but i find it very irritating. The German is… generally bad. I could ignore it were it not for the few scenes where the characters interact with the locals in ways which seem to indicate they dominate the language convincingly. It does things to my brain watching those as i can hardly make out what they want to say, but the locals seem to understand perfectly and answer i German of course, which is utterly surreal. Kirsch makes an understandable stab at it and Hector does in  his limited lines but it’s the less bad of the bunch, not really good . Especially when Faisal (who is supposed to be another foreigner) and Ioseva (same) open their mouths and out comes utterly fluent, barely accented German. But, as said, relevant to German speakers and thankfully easily ignored by everyone else. I expected more however, or rather less lines but better articulated. Certain American accents are also much less convincing to me than others, see notes on Hector above. But that might be just my ears.
  • I don’t find Kirsch’s swearing too much, he manages to just build it into his lines like breath 🙂 But why is everyone else swearing so much as well? Lots of crude language but prudishness in other areas. Why the kiss between Claudia and Daniel? Given how the pick up went isn’t it more credible they would actually end up in bed together? A one night stand would have seemed more logical to me almost rather than the sudden tenderness? And body parts seem to be ok in a weird bar but not in houses/hotels where underwear is quickly donned or sheets cover up everything.
  • And then there is the whole disappointing fact that Daniel is neither a sympathetic character, nor one with an apparent complex inner life. Just an analyst/spy who we are told is clever. We see files and photos, weird magazines and such, but we don’t see thoughts on his face and most of all we see only feelings which are set up in backgrounds suggesting they are fake. We do see the extremely effective turning on and off of personality in some quick phone conversations or with Hector but it’s mostly because i looked for it specifically. We’re told this is the main story line, Daniel&Thomas Shaw but we don’t get to see it through an emotionally engaging lens. I frankly couldn’t care less if he catches Shaw or not at this point and i certainly wasn’t made to care about Daniel at all. Neither with Frost or the big boss has she shown any conviction about the cause, just an almost robotic determination to do the job. The why remains un-shown, untold, unexplored.

I really like spy series and thrillers and mysteries in film. But i need intrigue, emotion, sympathy or empathy of some kind to engage or at least some political or other moral/ethical conviction. At this point they killed off Claudia, who seemed nice and have only given us a bit of Hector in exchange. The plot has already been taken almost too far and too much information has already been revealed for complete mystery or intrigue and not enough about the characters. I don’t care about anyone beyond Hector nor have i been given anything/anyone to root for. While i think the idea is very interesting with all the moral conflict it involves, the story telling is not up to scratch. It is marred by cliches, awkward dialogue, too convoluted backgrounds/motives. For a spy series this feels disappointingly lacking in subtlety, attention to detail and cleverness. And i feel a lot of acting talent gets wasted as a consequence (Richard Jenkins as Frost for one, to give just an example, but valid imho for RA as Daniel as well). It just doesn’t make for exciting viewing. If i didn’t have a side interest i don’t think i would have made it based on the storytelling alone past ep 1 😦

So, the only thing left to do for me is to put my hopes into the play. #Lovelovelove is not what i would call favourite stage material for me, but it certainly has potential and could make for a more exciting viewing experience until something else comes along.. It’s certainly well written and has well fleshed out characters 🙂 .