New Cold War spy drama DEUTSCHLAND 83 banishes the ghosts of London Spy.
After the real disappointment of BBC2 drama London Spy in Autumn 2015, and the ending of Season 5 of acclaimed US drama Homeland, spy telly in 2016 is off to a flying start with Deutschland 83.
Having originally premiered in the USA in the summer of 2015 then Germany and Ireland later that year, UK Cold War and spy aficionados are in for a treat, with the opening episode shown on 3rd January 2016 on Channel 4 / Walter Presents.
When a spy drama comes on the telly, there’s an inevitable tendency – for me anyway – to critically examine the tradecraft employed. There’s a few examples in Deutschland 83 where either myself or fellow Twitter viewers highlighted things that in all probability wouldn’t have happened in the real world of spy skulduggery.
But in all honesty, was I bothered? Hell no. Remember, I’d previously endured five episodes of London Spy. Viewing it objectively on its own, it’s really good stuff. In comparison with Lo**on S*y it’s positively sublime.
By the first fifteen minutes, I was hooked. There will be some who are put off by the subtitles – that’s their loss. And it has to be said, with one eye on the telly and the other on TweetDeck looking at the #Deutschland83 column, Twitter was exploding. And while London Spy (I might as well get it off my chest again!) was provoking a completely mixed bag of confused tweeters who didn’t have a clue what was going on – never a good thing for a tv series – and lovers and haters, the tweets for #D83 were overwhelmingly positive. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t contributing to them.
It’s not just the Cold War plot that’s scoring points (take a bow, creators Anna and Jorg Winger). A bit of nostalgia never hurts and the decision to feature classic pop hits from that time was an inspired one.
Here’s the skinny on the episodes as they appear (all episodes are named after NATO exercises in 1983):-
EPISODE 1: Quantum Jump
At a time of heightened East-West tension, with anti-communist rhetoric from Reagan and Thatcher coupled with Eastern Bloc (especially Russian) paranoia, East German Border Guard Martin Rauch (played by Jonas Nay) is approached by his Aunt Lenora – who just happens to work for the HVA (East German Foreign Intelligence Service), masquerading as the Cultural Attache in the East German Embassy in Bonn.
Given the family connection, Rauch’s recruitment into the HVA isn’t exactly one of out-and-out blackmail, but neither are Lenora and her superior interested in being turned down.
His ill mother and the prospect of being apart from his girlfriend weigh on his mind. Needless to say, Rauch is hardly enthused by the prospect of being inserted into West Germany to pretend to be aide-de-camp Moritz Stamm (the real Stamm has an untimely death in the compartment of a railway carriage; assassinated coldly and clinically by a tall Germanic fraulein) to General Wolfgang Edel.
It’s obvious that a complete amateur spook like Stamm is going to make a few errors along the way. He drops a clanger in phoning his girlfriend across the border while at the General’s house party, only for his randy sister-in-law Renate to overhear it and get the willies (no, not that sort. At least not yet, one presumes.) Drastic measures are called for. He’s not alone at the party: fellow spook Karl Kramer is handily available to give young Stamm something to slip into Renate’s drink – which seems to do the trick. But Stamm’s adventures are just beginning.
EPISODE 2: Brave Guy
Stamm accompanies General Edel to a meeting of the NATO top brass, where their head analyst is due to present his report findings relating to short-range nuclear strategy. While some aide-de-camps may think this to be an opportunity to booze and schmooze among the military big hitters, Stamm has other things on his mind. Namely, being tasked with stealing the report!
He’s given the tools of the trade to help him in his quest: lockpicking gear, Polaroid camera etc. and isn’t alone in his mission. Nina, the multi-talented stone cold killer who previously took care of the original Stamm in the railway carriage in the first episode, is on hand planted as a member of the waiting staff.
But not before checking Stamm’s mettle by pointing her pistol at him and challenging his identity. Suitably satisfied, she becomes his courier, as well as facilitator throughout the mission.
When everyone else is getting royally stuffed and sloshed downstairs, Stamm is clambering up drainpipes and along the rooftop before indulging himself with some good old fashioned breaking and entering. He’s already bugged the room and for good measure is now heading for the room-safe. After successfully retrieving the report (although rather problematically, it’s on a floppy disk) and not falling off the rooftop (although his tootsies might be a tad sore after the safe fell on them), he retires to his room where trying to compose himself, he suddenly finds an attractive Oriental waitress who previously served him ‘cow steak’. She’s apparently in nothing more than a towel, and has her eyes on seducing young Stamm. Right until she tries to seriously duff him up, that is.
It’s full on fisticuffs, with Stamm’s timely gubbing of the assassin with the ice bucket across the chops a bit of a cinematic doozy. But she’s quick to recover and give him what for. Realising she’s not going to get her man (dead) or the report she may also be after, she does a runner. Impressive, given how she went airborne on the landing. This development came as a complete shock to me and most of the viewers if Twitter was anything to go by!
After all this, he still has to contend with coming face-to-face with a former colleague. Former colleague of the REAL – and now deceased – Stamm, that is. But our plucky imposter manages to wing it and get out of the umpteenth close shave in this episode.
Finally heading downstairs to join an evening reception, he sits down on an empty sofa and reflects on the evening’s ‘frivolities’ only to be joined by a glamorous – and leggy – young woman. A shared drink, several shared smiles and the episode ends….with the distinct probability of sexpionage to come, given her job!
In terms of practicalities and realism; sure the bug attached to the lamp was the size of a hairdryer, and the chances of Stamm being able to clamber about the rooftop is verging on nil, given how much OpSec there would be on the estate grounds. And doing all this in a light coloured shirt would have earned him a good duffing up back at spy school – had he attended one. But again, does one really care when everything else in this series ticks so many boxes?
Come back for the run down on Episode 3 !