NB: SPOILERS INSIDE
Babylon Berlin – the expensive, and fantastic-looking, Weimer Republic-set German crime drama based on the books by Volker Kutscher – got off to a good start last week, thanks to a heady mixture of decadence, sexual blackmail, political unrest and post-war poverty. We were introduced to Kommissar Gereon Rath, a PTSD-suffering policeman sent to Berlin’s vice squad from Cologne to investigate a blackmail plot. What he landed in was significantly more dangerous and multi-layered than he even bargained for.
We joined the action with Kardakov – the leader of the Trotskyist counter-revolutionaries and had survived the massacre of his chums after being betrayed by Swetlana Sorokina, his lover and supposed right-hand woman – escaping from his attackers and now walking naked through the streets, cold and covered in stinking shit; stealing clothes from hobos, escaping from the police and finally making his way back to Svetlana’s opulent apartment. When she saw him she suppressed her surprise and managed to convince him that it wasn’t her who had ratted on him.
It was quite an episode for Sventlana. We found out that the train manned by counter-revolutionaries was carrying huge amounts of gold… to their exiled leader who was in Istanbul. She tried to get the train diverted to Paris – why we do not know yet, but she was definitely trying to derail (pun intended) any plot to bring Trotsky back to Russia and, subsequently, back to power.
This counter-revolutionary strand gives Babylon Berlin a real political weight and intrigue, and also context, which juxtaposes neatly with the decadence and ambitions of those frolicking inside Moka Efti.
The political unrest angle continued, this time with Rath and brutish partner Wolter, who were tasked with policing the May Day revolutionary protests. It was a brutal dispatch, the district they were sent to police soon descending into a war zone – tanks firing on civilians and protestors, innocent people shot and dying in their arms. We were being given a history lesson here, one that told us that Berlin during the 1920s was no safe place. It was a city that was on the brink of collapse, of opposing ideologies, anger and desperation; it was a city divided and ripe for manipulation. We all know who did the manipulating and what happened a decade later.
But back to Rath. And Lotte for that matter. There wasn’t much talk of Rath’s primary mission here or anything to be seen of the mobsters who owned Moka Efti and were behind the blackmail plot. No, these two episodes concentrated on bringing story strands and characters together. Rath had an encounter with the train driver who refused to Svetlana’s request to change destination in his own apartment – an apartment, he found out later, that was rented before him by one Alexei Kardakov. The train driver, who he chased out of the flat, ended up face down in the Spree.
It seems that Rath will soon stumble across the counter-revolutionaries very soon.
But what of Lotte? The murder squad stenographer wanted more and began to sub-contract her work out to a colleague and then took on another job, which allowed her to get out into the field more. There she ran into Rath again, who asked her to do some snooping on the dead train driver for him. This thrilled Lotte. Episode three took considerable time to show us more of her family in their cramped conditions. Her mother had just been diagnosed with syphilis (actually a heartbreaking scene), and her brother-in-law revealed himself to be a brute. No wonder she was ambitious and eager to get out.
Her extra-curricular activities at Moka Efti continued, but she got a shock – her next customer was to be Bruno Wolter, who blackmailed her. He’d stay quiet about her little night job if she did some work for him: spy on Rath and find out what the real reason for his secondment to Berlin. He also expected free sex with her whenever he pleased. Lotte, who had her eyes on a job on the murder squad, was put in an impossible position and could not refuse.
So again, there was plenty to like about Babylon Berlin. These two episodes were beautifully paced, and were full of intrigue. I like the characters, too, especially Rath and Lotte – one a lonely soul who takes to drinking in his local alone, living in fear of past memories but also showing fierce determination; and the other, a go-getting, ambitious, confident woman who suddenly finds herself embroiled in something she’s not quite sure of.
It’s all bubbling nicely.
For our episodes one and two review, go here