Apologies for the delay in posting this (been busy innit), but Babylon Berlin deserves a review – its sensuous realisations of Weimer Republic-era Berlin are one thing, but there’s an interesting story bubbling away here, too. Detective Goreon Rath has been our main focus, as has his continuing investigation into a blackmail plot involving a high-ranking mayoral candidate from his hometown of Cologne, but there are other characters that have been worth keeping an eye on – the super-ambitious Lotte Ritter, who channels the period’s carefree, have-a-go attitude; and Alexei Kardakov, a Russian counter-revolutionary, who’s leading a plot to bring Trotsky back to Russia and overthrow Lenin (good luck with that one). So there’s plenty going on, and there’s still plenty to like.
The opening of episode five was fabulous, cinema-worthy stuff. Kardakov, in the arms of his betrayer Svetlana was woken by bangs on the door. Svetlana – now striding from the bedroom dressed as her male alter-ego – had betrayed him again and gleefully let her Russian embassy chums into the apartment. Kardakov, meanwhile, did a runner, being chased up and down the back stairs by hired hitmen until Svetlana herself – looking like a Mafioso hitman in her suit and tie and her moustache – caught up with him herself and shot him in the chest, watching him fall through the top story window and landing with a thud at the bottom of a watery courtyard.
Well, if you want a job done properly and all that…
As she turned and gave the out-of-breath hitmen who had just ascended the stairs wheezily a glare, the camera switched to Kardakov in the courtyard below, a typical 1930s circular crop zooming into his left hand. It moved. Kardakov was ALIVE!
A great opening sequence. But I began to regard Kardakov as a kind of Russian Homer Simpson:
See what I mean?
After that we saw Rath pick up his investigation into the photograph he possessed. He’d already interviewed one of the sex workers in the photo, but now some forensic research uncovered the type of film it was taken on. This led him to a famous film studio, where the director was checking out some new screen test by a new and upcoming actress… Marlene Dietrich.
You have to love these little 1930s Easter Eggs, as they’re called, sprinkled about the place.
There was some other stuff too. Kardakov (he IS ALIVE!) had gone to gangster number one and owner of Moka Efti, ‘Der Armenier’ for help, realising that Svetlana had betrayed him and his little wheeze of trying to ferry gold to Trotsky in Istanbul he was going to betray her, too. He took Der Armenier to the rail yard and they blasted through security – he was going to give Svetlana’s gold to Der Armenier. Sneaky! Except, when Kardakov opened the compartment in which the gold was housed, a deadly gas leaked into the hangar and killed almost everyone in it. Someone had booby-trapped the gold!
Kardakov, again seemed to have survived, although he was in a very bad way. But what was striking after he was in the hands of Der Armenier and his gang, was that they displayed the signs of being in a political movement of their own – the closing scene saw a full hall-full of people (mostly injured veterans) standing to attention. Which side were these guys on?
In fact, throughout these two episodes, there was a sense of various factions taking shape and amassing – the Communists were beginning to become emboldened, while Alfred Nyssen and his uniformed cohorts were gathering for hunting trips and overlooking with relish at secret training camps. We all know where this leads.
Elsewhere, we found out more about Rath – the woman he had been breathily conversing with back in Cologne was his lover, the wife of his deceased brother. This was obviously causing him some emotional turbulence. And there was Lotte, too. She was enjoying investigating on Rath’s behalf and she was using all of her wits and whiles to get where she needed to get to. She sneaked into Kardakov and Svetlana’s apartment and found out what had happened to him, and, while on a jolly trip to the lake, she flirted with a surgeon, and helped to conduct a secret, after-dark autopsy (unlikely) on the dead Russian. She seems so willing to do what it takes to get where she wants, including getting arrested and thrown in jail. Still, Rath was beginning to value her – both as an investigator and as a colleague. He also began to see another side to her: on a trip to interview one of Kardakov’s musical chums at a club, she downed tequila (I think it was tequila) and danced until the early hours with relentless energy and verve. I like Lotte and I hope she gets where she wants and deserves to go.
Perhaps the most emotionally engaging side storyline was that of Lotte’s homeless friend, Greta. Castigated by a man on the bus for being a vagrant and smelling a bit, Lotte tried to get her a job at Moka Efti. Weeping in the corner, Greta told her friend that she could not work in a place like this because… she pulled up her blouse and revealed a fresh scare from, what looked like, a back-street abortion. It’s these character details – and indeed political and social details – that are making Babylon Berlin required viewing.
For our episodes one and two reviews go here
For our episodes three and four reviews go here