One of the more spectacular crime dramas of recent years, Babylon Berlin – costing tens of millions per episode – is back to tell its story of corruption, political manoeuvring, underhand skullduggery in Weimar-era Berlin.
Underpinning the whole story is Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), a tormented homicide detective from Cologne now fully integrated into the capital’s stürm und drang.
After the tumult of series two’s weaponised train excitement, Rath’s own personal meltdown fuelled by grief, guilt and morphine addiction, Communist and Right-wing plots, and the rise of the Black Reichwehr (a secret group of nationalists outraged at what they see as the humiliation of the Treaty Of Versailles and a group intent on creating a secret army in order to perform a coup d’état and bring back glory to Germany), I was interested to see where this series would go.
Initially, it looked as though we were going to get a straightforward murder mystery story.
On the set of a German silent film (lest we forget this was the golden age for German expressionism) superstar actress Betty Winter came a cropper, thanks to an enormous falling light falling from the rafter that has been tampered with by a cloaked figure.
(I loved this. I mean, not for poor old Betty whose head was bashed in, but the actual mode of death… In an age technical wizardry, this was a reassuringly old-school murder, the kind you used to see in old black-and-white movies.)
Hotshot producer Bellman wanted this to be an open-and-shut case – or accident – but with Rath and assistant detective Charlotte Ritter on the case (who had been trying to pass her forensics exam to no avail), they sensed that there was more to the incident than that.
Now, if Babylon Berlin stuck to this one case – which was fascinating and intriguing on its own – and gave us lashings of procedural, investigative shenanigans all played out beneath its canopy of sumptuous production design and faithful recreation, I would have been perfectly happy.
However, this is Babylon Berlin, and they do not do that sort of thing.
Instead, these first two episodes were crammed with other strands and stories. Why have one when you can have half a dozen?
Armenian gangster Edgar ‘Die Armenian‘ Kasabian – and his brutish brother, who had been released from prison – was keeping the pressure on film producer Bellman to carry on filming the epic going because of their investment. (Carry On Weimar, anyone?)
Elsewhere, Rath and his brother’s ex-wife Helga were having problems thanks to the continuing spectre of said dead brother, and the teenage son Arndt looked as though he was about to fall in with the Hitler Youth, or at least the precursor to that movement.
And then there was the Berlin financial crash of 1929, Charlotte’s family intrigue, and the unspoken constant in the series: the rise of the National Socialists, or the Nazi Party.
With Greta in jail for blowing up Benda in the last series – after being tricked and radicalised by right-wing extremists – the pressure was on to make her finally confess to the crime. Rath – who had promised Benda’s widow that he would find whoever Greta was in league with to justice – was being courted by Councillor Wendt, an Arian-looking chap with a scar down one side of his face (archetypal Nazi alert) who wanted to sack Benda’s replacement and, what looked like, bring Rath in as his replacement.
But it was revealed that Wendt was in league with the Nazis, and this is what the NSDAP did – they sought to control the media by manipulation, bump off moderate figures in the police force and other institutions and blame their rivals, exploit the stock market crashes to their benefit and generally cause mayhem but in a very underhand and sneaky way.
All this was happening at the same time as the investigation into the murder of Betty Winter, so you can safely say that there was a lot going on. Almost a dizzying amount. Perhaps too much.
With another 10 episodes left to go, this series delights as much as it perplexes. But I’m in for the long haul, and I’m intrigued to see where this might go and how storylines and characters criss-cross. After all, it’s not long until Hitler comes to power and his dreadful ideology becomes sacrosanct in Germany.