The first episode of SS-GB was an unsettling look at what Britain would look like if the Allies had lost World War II. London was cloaked in Swastikas and echoed with the sound Gestapo boots, its population starting to feel the full force of oppression. In the middle of it all was DS Douglas Archer (Sam Riley), at the start just trying to keep his nose clean and get on with the job. But as the episode wore on Archer was being drawn into an ever more dangerous position, at once scrutinised by newly arrived SS man Huth and courted by the Resistance. It was a noir story with a twist (that of alternate history), and one that continued to intrigue and unsettle in equal measure.
If episode one had the feel of a procedural, episode two certainly upped the ante when it came to the battle between the Germans and the Resistance. Yes, a murder was still to be solved, but that murder seemed to be a gateway into a world where spying and counter-spying were commonplace, and the
During that first episode, many Twitter followers posted jokes bout ‘Allo ‘Allo, and to be fair the German characters did have a touch of pastiche about them, especially the glove-smacking Huth. But any joking or cartoonishness was swiftly dealt with early in this episode, when Archer went to the church where his young son and his classmates were taking part in choir practice. Archer was there because he had deduced that Spode was about to do harm to his son, but when he got there he was followed by Huth, who unceremoniously dispatched the schoolmaster AND the schoolchildren into custody. It was ruthless, cold and unsentimental, and demonstrated that these German dudes were not to be messed with. Or, to put it another way, they were not to be tested. Archer, on the other hand, was angry that a) his son had been in danger, and b) his schoolmates were now being shipped off to be questioned. Archer was beginning to see that life under Nazi rule wouldn’t be a barrel of laughs.
There were two real key scenes in this episodes, both beautifully staged. The first, at art dealer Garin’s posh party, saw Archer ushered into a room by old Oxford chum Bernard Staines (Julian Rhind-Tutt), where he met Colonel George Mayhew (Jason Flemyng) and Sir Richard Farrell (Nicholas Farrell). Around a card table and a game of whist, the trio of partisan higher-ups gave off an air of blithe insouciance, but every comment – as cards we being laid on the table, naturally – was loaded with subtle threat. They spoke of plots to free the king, probed Archer for information about Huth and Kellerman and told of a fissure within the German hierarchy – the SS and the German army were at war with each other. (This was later confirmed by Huth, who told Archer that they – the SS – were after the atomic bomb the German army and British were working on.)
This war within the German occupying force added another layer of intrigue to the whole story – people flitting between each faction; no one safe, and no one to trust. Each word monitored and used against each character. The vice of mistrust squeezing everyone.
The second scene was between Archer and femme fatale Barbara Barga (Kate Bosworth). They ran into each other at Garin’s party and indulged in some world-class flirting – Archer, looking extremely dashing in his tux, and Barga an unforgettable vision of immaculate, mid-century glamour and sophistication. Together they danced, cheek-to-cheek, on the dancefloor, she singing gently and breathily into his ear as they played the game. No wonder Archer was smitten – I was swooning watching these two beautiful people sashay slowly and deliberately around the dancefloor, their period finery casting an exotic, dazzling spell over anyone who cared to watch.
Of course they ended up sleeping together back at Barga’s rented apartment; their pale, naked bodies intertwining as she told him to not turn down Resistance. As if to underline this veiled threat, Huth later took Archer to his old house, now bombed and ruined, where they found PC Jimmy Dunn tortured and murdered by the Resistance. The fact that his body was left hanging in Archer’s old house – the house where his wife died – was a clear message. It was another fantastic scene, coming as it did after some slow-moving drama. For some this second episode would be too slow, I’m sure, but I like the pace and the fact that things aren’t served to you on a plate.
You felt for Archer. He was in an almost impossible position – Huth wanted information on the Resistance and, indeed, was open to negotiation; the Resistance wanted Archer to help them and showed them what they would do to those close to him if he didn’t comply. The phrase rock and hard place was suddenly sounding like an understatement.
And this was pure noir. A person plunged into chaos, manipulated by two ruthless sides of the coin. You had to pay attention and really concentrate on what was going on and who was manipulating who in the ever-labyrinthine plot, which was mostly whispered in stuffy rooms, plumes of cigarette smoke swirling into the man rooms, but I found this second episode intoxicating, intense and still very good. Not perfect, but very good.
For our episode one review go here