BOXSET REVIEW: Der Pass (Season 1)

The Bridge does Deutschland.

SPOILERS

What’s the story?
Considering the proliferation of The Bridge’s intellectual property across multiple countries since it debuted nearly a decade ago, it’s perhaps somewhat surprising that it’s premise has never been filtered through German television until now. This is the third production from Sky Deutschland after Babylon Berlin and The Boat, both of which were fantastically expensive looking but a bit of a slog to work through. Der Pass (or Pagan Peak to give it it’s full native interpretation) seems to be an attempt to shift to something a little more commercial in a bid to spin up another lucrative franchise.

So you all know the drill by now – a body is discovered literally (and physically) bridging the snowy borders of Germany and Austria, causing both countries respective police departments to offer up a detective to investigate. In this case, it’s by-the-book German Commissioner Ellie Stocker (Julia Jentsch, who you may recall from 2017’s The Vanishing) – a dedicated officer but largely untested on a big murder case – and her counterpart (and complete antithesis), the heavy drinking oddball Gedeon Winter – played with considerable scenery-chewing flair by Nicholas Ofczarek (formerly of Tatort and The Team). And whilst the show might share a common strand of DNA with its parent show, it’s fair to say that’s where the comparisons stop – for better or worse.

What’s good about it?
Initially, the main thing that absorbs your time in the first few episodes is the complete imbalance of character development in this unlikely pairing. Winter gets all the best lines, and has the best back-story as a drug-addled loser who was transferred to the Austrian backwaters after spectacularly flopping his last big case – now content wiling away his time absolutely off his bonce on hallucinogens or providing a handy line in evidence suppression and body disposal for the local crime boss, who may or may not be connected by family relations. Ofczarek is clearly having a ball playing the character, starting with the basic cypher of our beloved Martin Rohde and then layering on all manner of silliness. It’s a spectacle of a performance that tends to absorb everything around it like a black hole – not least Stocker, who’s character is completely wafer-thin in comparison.

There’s an intriguing decision to show certain scenes from different people’s perspectives, playing out one narrative branch before rewinding back to play out another. It unveils the story in an interesting way, and certainly feels fresh and innovative – although what it actually adds to the narrative overall is debatable. In the first four episodes at least, there is a genuine sense of creeping dread as we pick our way through meticulously planned crime scenes nestled among snowy vistas (the scenery arguably being the main star of the show) – coupled with the story’s heart really being about the sinister ambivalence of nature, in a similarly creepy way that we saw explored in Jordskott or Dark. Certainly in this initial set-up, the show is engaging and fun to watch…for a while.

What’s bad about it?
Der Pass deviates from its source material by revealing the murderer very early on, and it’s in this switch to the narrative style where the show collapses in on itself. To some degree we accept the fantastical nature of the crimes we saw in The Bridge as their planning and execution happens off screen, and the thrill is in us guessing – sometimes down to the very last reel – who did what to whom.

Here, that ‘secret sauce’ of The Bridge is removed and we have to wade past endless scenes of killer Gregor Ansbach (Franz Hartwig, another Tatort alumni) grimace his way through frankly ludicrous plotting like a constipated gerbil. The dichotomy of his swift evolution to mastermind murderer is the definitely the weakest part of the show, a man who is bullied and meek but also a criminal genius and expert hacker who can exert almost superhuman feats at the same time. As his crimes escalate in scale and grim abandon, reality leaves the stage and we enter Bodyguard territory where you simply have to switch your brain off to cope.

It’s a shame as initially, the show had great promise in it’s opening half, only to descend into farce in it’s closing. Stocker is given the indignation of carrying the most boilerplate plot-line of any cop show ever (falls in love with her douchebag married boss, gets pregnant immediately), whilst also being the source of Gregor’s creepy infatuation with little to no agency for herself beyond being the butt of jokes about being a pushy German. Conversely, Winter might as well be the titular star of the show given the depth of plot the writers offer him in comparison – complete with “vision quest” style analytical skills. Considering how far apart these two are from their parent characters, it almost makes me wonder if they were squashed in from another show that was in development.

It all feels a bit like somebody dismantled the working parts of arguably the best crime drama of the last ten years and then reconfigured it into something with most of those parts removed, and in doing so took out the engine that really made The Bridge motor. Exchanging Saga’s iconic Porsche for a clapped-out banger, if you will.

Why it’s worth a binge…
Der Pass looks good, sounds good (Hans Zimmer no less!), and for the first half at least, runs good. If you can suspend your disbelief enough to weather the second half, then there’s entertainment to be had here whilst we wait for the Autumnal crop of shows to emerge.

Andy D

Der Pass is on Sky/NowTV now

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