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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Deutschland 83: Edge of Your Seat and Memorable Espionage

Just caught the first five episodes of Deutschland 83 on Sundance last night - the new German produced English-subtitled 1983 Eastern German spy in West Germany series - and was impressed indeed.  Fast-moving story, appealing characters, twists and edge-of-your-seat action, all you could ask for in a spy drama, and more.

The obvious comparison is to The Americans, which also takes place in the same period, a time in which Soviet espionage was in high gear, in the keenly ironic position from our 2015 perspective of not being able to stop the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Soviet block less than a decade in the future.

In at least one significant way, Deutschland 83 has an edge on The Americans, which asks us to suspend our disbelief about how two agents, however capable, talented, and brilliant, are able to speak perfect American English despite their being born and raised in the Soviet Union.   In Deutschland 83, Martin the East German has no trouble speaking German in West Germany, because that's after all his language.  He is, understandably, not in touch with the latest in Western popular culture, and seeing him work around references with which he's not familiar is one of the fun parts of this story (and a little reminiscent of Daniel's occasional confusion about current culture after being locked away for so many years in Sundance's other masterful series, Rectify).

Unlike some spies - including those in The Americans - Martin is conscripted into espionage against his will, but once he's installed in Bonn, he makes the most of it.  Though he loves Annett back home, he has little trouble seducing a target's secretary, and comes to care for her so much that he can't bring himself to kill her when he's ordered to because she poses a big threat to Eastern German plans.  The other East German operatives apparently have no such compunction, which makes Martin a memorable and unpredictable character.

Kramer is one such ruthless operative, but he also plays an essential role in the story, being an East German spy well situated in the West German military, and usually able to smooth things out for Martin when the need arises.   But there's one continuing loophole, which I'll be interested to see if and how it's resolved:  Martin's cover, Stamm (quietly eliminated by the East Germans), is an accomplished piano player - something which Martin can't do.  The East Germans wrench Martin's hand, prior to his going under cover, and the bandage on his hand provides ample excuse when his West German boss, General Edel, asks him to play.  But the bandage is off by the second episode, so isn't it just a matter of time until Martin is asked to play a tune on the piano again?

He'll likely figure out a way out of this, as he's done, more or less, with all the other tight spots in which he's found himself.  I'm looking forward to the remaining three episodes of this series, and hoping they'll be more next year.


different kind of spies

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