Deutschland 83, Season 1, Episode 2, “Brave Guy”
Written by Steve Bailie and Anna Winger
Directed by Edward Berger
Airs Wednesdays at 11pm (ET) on SundanceTV
After Deutschland 83‘s pilot, “Quantum Jump“, seemed to set the series up as a stylish, welterweight version of The Americans, its second episode,”Brave Guy,” establishes the show as something lighter still. And that’s not a bad thing at all.
The overall theme of “Brave Guy” is that being a spy—even a very green one—is pretty badass if you have game. And boy, does Martin (Jonas Nay) have game. The episode requires him to run, skulk, flirt, and fight his way to a hotel safe containing top secret documents, and he delivers with more pizzazz than he has a right to. It’s hard to imagine poor, morally-exhausted Philip Jennings ever enjoying such boyish enthusiasm as he cut his teeth in the harsh espionage world depicted in The Americans, and it is through that difference in realism that Deutschland 83 completely distinguishes itself from TV’s other Cold War drama.
“Brave Guy” kicks off with some brief exposition regarding the political machinations driving Martin’s spy mission, as NATO generals talk sternly in a defense meeting. But the information is breezed over like a high school-level poli sci course, complete with Martin and his roommate Alexander (Ludwig Trepte)—General Edel’s (Ulrich Noethan) son—restlessly taking notes as their superiors bloviate about nuclear war strategies. The writers dangle some historical carrots—like Able Archer—for those who are interested, but neither Wikipedia nor one’s undivided attention are needed to get a grip on the plot.
The episode’s action is largely confined to a posh hotel, but instead of playing like a bottle episode, it takes on a nearly farcical tone as Martin’s various acts of skullduggery fling him far and wide on the vast property. He runs from floor to floor, planting and then replanting a bug in a NATO official’s room, lugging baggage here and there, and desperately trying to avoid an old chum of the real Moritz Stamm. He also scurries dangerously across a roof, flings himself onto a balcony, breaks into a safe, and encounters a strange piece of intelligence called a floppy disc. That he has a bloody, Bond-like battle with an undercover agent he finds draped on his hotel bed is just icing on the cake. It is haphazard and heart-stopping, but most of all, it is exceedingly fun. Nay is again fantastic as Martin. In an instant, his wide-open face can flicker from impassive to confused to terrified to awestruck and back again, a skill which he puts to great use as Martin runs the gauntlet.
And then there is the family drama. In the pilot, Edel was shown to be a somewhat beleaguered family man and “Brave Guy” underscores that dynamic. The scene in which he sends Alex and Martin off to retrieve artsy Yvonne (Lisa Tomaschewsky) from a Hindu commune gives Noethan a chance to lay down some put-upon charm, making it clear that happy marriages and nuclear strategy are not always compatible. Less enjoyable is the time spent with Yvonne. It’s hard to yet know if she’s a lost soul or just a spoiled brat, but it’s also hard to care. Martin, however, appears intrigued. After catching Yvonne’s hippie ingenue lounge act for the second straight episode, he is starting to feel her groove.
However it’s difficult to see how Yvonne will fit into Martin’s life when he also has Annett (Sonja Gerhardt) waiting for him back in East Germany. Except “Brave Guy” reveals she’s not waiting for him, but instead enjoying skinny dipping dates with a chiseled classmate. Her somewhat clunky scene with Lenora (Maria Schrader) at the school confuses matters, though. Lenora barely has to raise a manipulative eyebrow to get Annett to agree to move in with and care for Martin’s mother, who still hasn’t received the kidney transplant Lenora promised her. Lenora knows exactly how to bend people to her will. That most of those people happen to be family members makes it all the more creepy. As the series continues, it will be fascinating to discover just what makes her tick.
With “Brave Guy,” Deutschland 83 doubles-down on the breezy charm it displayed in its premiere. Looming family dramas could conceivably bog things down in coming episodes, but this episode proves that Martin—and Nay—are, so far, worth tuning in for.
Other Deutsch Details
– As if Annett and Yvonne weren’t enough, Martin also shares a promising cocktail with Linda, the beautiful secretary of the NATO general he stole the floppy disc from. Clearly, spies have more fun.
– General Edel’s sister-in-law Renate’s claim that Martin is a spy is not being taken seriously by Edel’s wife Ursula, so far. It could be because she drunk dances at all their family parties and smashes her car into their trash bins.
– The East/West German culture clash continues: When Martin is offered his choice of filet, rump, sirloin, or rib-eye steak, he politely says he wants “just normal steak, from a cow.”
– The drive to the commune allowed director Edward Berger to pop in a couple of lovely landscape shots. Unfortunately, they stand out because the rest of his direction has proven rather staid. The fast-paced adventures at the hotel might have packed even more of a punch if the camera work felt more fluid.
– ’80s retro tunes of the week include David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” and Blondie’s “Call Me.”