Review: SS-GB (S1 E3/5), Sunday 5th March, BBC1

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Programme Name: SS-GB - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 3) - Picture Shows: Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer (SAM RILEY) - (C) Sid Gentle Films Ltd - Photographer: Laurie Sparham

(C) Sid Gentle Films Ltd – Photographer: Laurie Sparham

After last week’s episode finale, where young PC Jimmy Dunn was found dead in Archer’s old family house, murdered by the Resistance, it was clear that our dashing detective of The Yard was being severely tested. On the one hand he was working closely with ruthless SS man Huth and was expected to report to him on any developments in the Spode murder case, while on the other the Resistance also wanted Archer on their side. And they were willing to kill to ensure his loyalty. So Archer was slap-bang in the middle of two ruthless factions, not sure where to turn and not liking one bit of it.

NB: Spoilers inside

The episode started at the resplendent Highgate Cemetery, with the Nazis staging an exhumation of Karl Marx’s tomb – the type of gaudy, grotesque defamation they specialised in – but we saw Sylvia, deep, red dress clashing with the grey stone, dashing from the scene and Archer hot footing to intercept her.

Flash back two weeks earlier, and Archer was being attacked by a Resistance member in a Tube tunnel (oh, hello Harry Lime feelings). Just prior to the attack, Archer had returned to work after Jimmy’s murder to be greeted by anger and bitterness by Harry and a bunch of Resistance-friendly coppers. Archer said all he was interested in was solving the murder, and that these Resistance people who had killed Jack were no different to the Nazis. He had a point, and it’s a good point – war brings out the worst in both occupiers and resistance, sometimes operating on different sides of the same coin. Archer visited Sylvia in her bolthole to warn her to get out of the city and up to the Unoccupied Zone in the Lakes.

And off we went down into another labyrinthine rabbit hole, one faction pitted against each other, Archer scrambling hither and thither trying to make sense of it all and deduce whose side who was on. He wasn’t the only one. The Resistance was working with the German army – who, for honour’s sake, wanted to get the King out of captivity and spirit him away overseas – while the SS desperately wanted the plans William Spode and his brother were working on so they could boost their own power within the regime. Another tryst with Barbara revealed her true intentions (well, true up to this point) – she was tasked with getting the film off Spode so she could send it back to America so they would suddenly have an unstoppable bargaining chip in a war they oh-so-didn’t want to join.

It was fascinating if hugely stodgy and convoluted stuff – the plot has to really be paid attention to and sometimes, just sometimes, you weren’t quite sure what the hell was going on. But of course in among all the gorgeous period finery, Archer was left. Noir is all about a person being plunged into chaos, and the story of that person slowly turning that chaos into his or her advantage. And that’s what Archer was beginning to do – after a visit to Wittenham detention base, he managed to capture James Spode (despite close attention from German army man Hesser) and extracted a confession from him: he had murdered his brother so the plans could be kept out of the German’s hands. Spode wasn’t long for this world: Hesser passed him a cigarette during the interview that was laced with cyanide.

So we had more men whispering in dark rooms (especially when Archer followed Hesser to a bordello, a secret meeting house for the Resistance and German army and bolshily made demands of them), more plotting and more power politics, but crucially this episode did manage to get out and about and into some action scenes based in exterior locations. This episode also saw Archer come into possession of the atomic plans coveted by the German army, the SS and the Americans. He had found them inJames Spode’s false arm sprocket. Suddenly Archer was in a position of power and he used his slightly spivvy contact, Arthur, to develop the film. He now had a bargaining chip, but when to use and who to use it with was still a mystery.

In fact, this whole series is beginning to feel like a mystery. I want to love it, and do in certain areas, but it’s beginning to wear. There are two crucial aspects that don’t sit well with me: that the German army would work with the Resistance because of wanting to fight an ‘honourable’ war (well, certainly to the extent where they would help out the enemy to free its King), and that the Resistance themselves would kill their own to test Archer. I just didn’t get that bit.

The episode finished back at Highgate Cemetery. Sylvia had planted a bomb in Marx’s tomb. Archer, who had been tailing her, looked around just in time to see the whole place go up in smoke. Barbara, Kellerman and even a visiting von Ribbentrop, Goebbels and Molotov were in the crowd gathered to see the ceremony. Who lived and who died remains to be seen.

Paul Hirons
@Son_Of_Ray

For our episode one review go here

For our episode two review go here

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One thought on “Review: SS-GB (S1 E3/5), Sunday 5th March, BBC1

  1. Charlotte Carling

    Clearly, “fighting honourably” is just an excuse to divert attention from van Klomp’s second masterpiece that the German army bigwigs have their eyes on and are willing to secure by any means possible, even working with the resistance, before the SS can get their hands on it.

    Nice to see Ronald Zehrfeld (Hesser) in a British series.

    Like

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