Deutschland 83, Ep. 1.03, “Atlantic Lion”

Deutschland 83, Season 1, Episode 3, “Atlantic Lion”
Written by Anna Winger
Directed by Edward Berger
Airs Wednesdays at 11pm (ET) and SundanceTV

Throughout its first two episodes, Deutschland 83 introduced its characters, plots, and politics with such blithe adventure and fun that it was easy to miss that all the pieces were being placed on the chess board. But “Atlantic Lion” pulls back to reveal the board and starts to slowly circle the pieces around each other, letting the show’s interweaving character dramas finally begin to percolate and providing a glimpse of where this may all be headed.

Fresh off of Martin’s successful pilfering of a NATO official’s floppy disc in “Brave Guy,” he is sent off with General Edel to a NATO conference in Brussels. The dynamic between Edel and Martin really works. Edel faces tremendous job stress, has a strained marriage, and feels his children, both of whom have pacifist tendencies, don’t respect him or his job. Martin, neat, polished, and attentive, seems like someone he can finally mold in his image and he tests his young aide’s political, profiling, and–fitting for the episode–chess savvy during their long car ride. Jonas Nay and Ulrich Noethen play nicely off each other, and their interactions have been intriguing all series long.

Less successful this week is Martin’s latest encounter with his aunt Lenora. Their meeting at a border gas station while Edel goes to the bathroom feels absurdly obvious and dangerous. That she suddenly whips out a phlebotomy kit and starts drawing his blood is just bizarre. Lenora tells Martin the blood is to determine if he is a match for his mother’s promised kidney transplant, but her true intentions seem shadier. Maria Schrader is an immense talent, but writer Anna Winger has so far left her without much leeway in her role of dastardly aunt. A scene or two where she isn’t simply dragging on a cigarette and running roughshod over the autonomy of her family members would be a welcome change.

During Lenora’s rendezvous with Martin, she tells him that the slick moves he put on Linda (Nikola Kastner), NATO Security Chief Henrik Mayer’s secretary, at the end of the previous episode have earned him the right to use his manly charms for his country; East Germany isn’t about to let that kind of proximity pass them by. While Martin’s feelings for Annett made him decline the advances of a killer spy last week, he doesn’t seem overly troubled by the thought of infidelity this week. But then Linda is very, very attractive, and, as it turns out, her position at NATO not only makes her a promising mark but a relatable one. As Martin and Linda flirt their way through Brussels nightlife–enjoying a Walkman that Martin bought on the black market in a joyous scene earlier in the episode–the connection they feel seems real enough to earn their eventual tumble into bed. Martin uses his tryst to plant a bug under Mayer’s new desk, but Mayer suddenly gifts the desk to Linda. That twist could be prove troublesome for Linda going forward, and Martin’s burgeoning feelings for her could easily trip him up as well.

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That all of this happens in the same episode that Annett moves in with Ingrid and admits she’s pregnant with Martin’s baby is a bit soapy. However after two episodes of concentrated spy games, a turn toward emotional drama adds satisfying depth to the show. Of course, Annett is now a spy for Lenora too, peering and poking through Ingrid’s home looking for signs her would-be mother-in-law is feeling the sinister pull of Capitalism. But she seems a little too eager to snoop around given the kindness Ingrid has shown her. Episode director Edward Berger seems a little overexcited by Annett’s clandestine activity as well; when Annett discovers a secret room filled with banned books in the cellar, he cuts to a horror film-like shot of a bare, swinging light bulb. Unless the next episode reveals there was also a passageway to a Satanist alter and a creepy crib in that room, the shot feels perplexingly out of place.

But feeling out of place can also lead to compelling drama. Alexander heads to another anti-war gathering but finds he matches up better with Tobias than the group. As Tobias, Alexander Beyer embodies just the charasmatic seediness necessary to attract wandering souls, and Ludwig Trepte convincingly sells Alexander’s wary longing. While Yvonne’s lost girl story has so far proven to be a dud, Alexander’s arc has the potential to be politically and sexually explosive.

Last week’s enourmously entertaining “Brave Guy” didn’t move the plot along much, but “Atlantic Lion” takes all the ingredients Deutschland 83 has added over its first two episodes and begins to stir. Not all of it works, but the simmering character interactions push the story forward and hint that the show’s fun coming-of-age tale may yet veer into deeper, darker territory.

Other Deutsch Details

– Martin’s introduction to a Walkman–and Duran Duran–exquisitely captures the glory of discovery, be it musical, technological or self. It is by far the show’s best use of its ’80s soundtrack.

– Martin has run-ins with both a cat and a dog this week. Thankfully, he is just allergic, not cruel.

– Last week’s mysterious floppy disc continues to befuddle and bedevil East German analysts because it doesn’t fit into their computer drives and, when they finally acquire an IBM computer from the West, they find the disc is encoded. Damn those clever Capitalists!

– ’80s retro songs of the week include David Bowie’s “China Girl,” Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like The Wolf,” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by The Police.

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