Deutschland 83, Ep. 1.04, “Northern Wedding”

Deutschland 83, Season 1, Episode 4, “Northern Wedding”
Written by Andrea Willson and Anna Winger
Directed by Edward Berger
Airs Wednesdays at 11pm (ET) on SundanceTV

Things just got serious on Deutschland 83. Deadly serious. If Martin—or viewers—had any doubts as to the stakes involved in his accidental spy career, “Northern Wedding” dispels them with taut, gutting efficiency. As the series hits the mid-point of its 8-episode run, nearly every relationship on the show is brought to a head, and the fallout leaves literal and emotional casualties everywhere. Unfortunately, most of them are innocent bystanders.

The tension begins immediately, as the bug Martin planted under Linda’s expensive new antique desk in last week’s “Atlantic Lion” is discovered by a maid. Throughout the series, Martin’s inexperience has led him to make error after error from which he has barely escaped. It’s ironic that one of his more competent examples of espionage sets in motion the episode’s tragic events.

Martin’s romance with Henrik Mayer’s secretary Linda is the centerpiece of the episode, and watching it twist and turn to its dreadful conclusion is as uncomfortable as it successful. After the bug is discovered, East German intelligence tells Martin that he must either turn or eliminate Linda. Jonas Nay, so good at portraying Martin’s youthful wonder and exuberance in earlier episodes, shows that he is equally skilled with much heavier material. Seeing Martin consider letting Linda drown before her cries for help undo him is both chilling and heartbreaking, and later, his sick expression as he tries to assure Linda that they can get married and everything will be okay belies the underlying hopelessness of the situation. As Linda, Nikola Kastner matches Nay throughout the episode. At first, Linda seems to be naively buying Martin’s lies about working with the BND and the bug, but when she figures it all out and angrily tosses out the one piece of info that Martin had arrogantly not considered—that she was Mayer’s lover as well—Kastner makes it gratifying, even as it essentially seals her doom. In the end, Martin can’t save Linda or kill her; that deed is left up to Tobias and his speeding car. Her end is predictable, but it is also very effective. As Martin buries Linda’s mangled body, it doesn’t evoke anything near the horror of, say, Annalise’s epically gruesome demise on The Americans, but it’s as close as a show like Deutschland 83 is likely to get. That feels like a game-changer for Martin and the series.

“Northern Wedding” also ratchets up the tension between General Edel and Alexander, leading to an explosive fight that comes to its own unfortunate conclusion. Though Deutschland 83 is a youth-focused coming-of-age story, it doesn’t emotionally short-change its older characters. In fact, the frustration that Edel—who is on the frontlines of the world’s greatest nuclear threat since the Cuban Missile Crisis—feels toward Alexander’s vague peacenik leanings seems more than reasonable. And while throwing out a Nazi accusation in the middle of your average inter-generational TV squabble would normally feel ridiculously cheap, this is one of the few shows where its utterance feels inevitable, rather than easy. What doesn’t play as well, however, is Alexander’s over-the-top screaming tantrum, which leads to Mrs. Edel taking a slap across the face when she jumps in between her husband and son. Another innocent goes down, but the melodrama is so high by this point that it grossly undercuts the scene’s potential.

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Earlier in the episode, Alexander takes Tobias up on his invitation to see a press screening of The End of History. The shot of a missile being launched on the theater screen as Tobias strokes Alex’s thigh is pretty on-the-nose even for Deutschland 83, which revels in a certain lack of subtlety. But this scene sets up an understanding daddy figure for Alex to cling to in the aftermath of his fallout at home. That Tobias comes off as predatory is potentially problematic going forward, but not entirely surprising, given the broad strokes characterizations the villains receive on this show.

Speaking of broad strokes villains, Lenora attempts to blackmail Mayer into spying for the East after the bug is found. Unlike her depressing stabs at manipulating her family, Lenora’s scene with Mayer works because her motivations are clear for once. Give Maria Schrader any daylight and she’ll perform her ass off for you. Her underutilization is one of the biggest frustrations in the series so far. In any case, Lenora masterfully pulls all of Mayer’s strings, but in keeping with the episode’s theme of innocent players taking the fall, he chooses to put a gun in his mouth instead, betraying his country and bringing the biggest storyline of the season’s first half to a grim but satisfying close.

“Northern Wedding” proves that Deutschland 83 can effectively go dark when it wants to. However, the writers (primarily Anna Winger thus far) remain blissfully content to skim above deep, nuanced characterizations. Despite this, Nay’s abilities continue to shine. Martin has been irresistibly compelling throughout the show’s first four episodes, and as the season enters its second half, it will be interesting to see what Nay can do now that his character has been forced to get his hands—and soul—dirty.

Other Deutsch Details

– Linda’s jealous encounter with Yvonne feels extra soapy in an otherwise strong episode.

– AIDS gets a mention during a chat between Yvonne and her mom in “Northern Wedding,” which means the Edel household mentioned the health crisis once more than the Reagan administration did in all of 1983 and 1984. (Reagan didn’t utter the word “AIDS” publicly until September 17, 1985.)

– Renate is still the crazy drunk woman whom no one takes seriously. How long will Martin’s luck hold out on that front?

– The 80s retro soundtrack is a bit more subdued this week, with only Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” and Fischer-Z’s “Cruise Missiles” making appearances.

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