Deutschland 83, Season 1, Episode 7, “Bold Guard”
Written by Georg Hartmann and Anna Winger
Directed by Samira Radsi
Airs Wednesdays at 11pm (ET) on SundanceTV
Shall we play a game?
The year that War Games hit theaters, 1983, was also the year that the world came the closest it had to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis. While that film depended on a computer to figure out the concept of mutually assured destruction, Deutschland 83‘s penultimate episode of the season, “Bold Guard,” places that burden squarely on Martin’s young shoulders. Of course, a computer simply analyzes a situation based on hard data and spits out a conclusion. In War Games, the data told the computer, called Joshua, that the only winning move is not to play in the first place. Unfortunately for Martin, he is dealing with humans, and unlike computers, humans are rarely motivated by data alone.
“Bold Guard” uses the 1983 Bonn anti-nuclear protests and the execution of simulated war game Able Archer as a backdrop for a series of frothy and satisfying confrontations between most of its major characters. Primarily, the episode works as a thriller, focusing on the fact that Martin knows Able Archer is just an elaborate war game and on his efforts to diffuse the growing tensions between the East and West Germany. But is also works as a character study of the complicated and murky personal motivations that sometimes go into geopolitical conflicts. Earlier in the series, Martin wouldn’t have had the experience or the spine to push his convictions past superiors who are fiercely guarding their own positions, but he has now earned his own trust. Boldly and desperately, he calls Lenora and threatens to blow his cover if she doesn’t tell the East to stand down. It’s an interesting moment between them because Martin finally gets to manipulate Lenora. She calls him naïve, but she is also rattled, and the audience should know by now that if Lenora gets rattled, things are serious. She dispatches Tobias to Martin’s military base to get the situation under control and he attempts to do so by threatening Martin’s unborn child. Their scene is tense, but again, Martin is beyond this sort of manipulation, whether or not Tobias sees it.
Of course Tobias is distracted by a personal crisis, and his presence at the base sets up a collection of emotionally devastating scenes between himself, Alex, and General Edel. First, Alex humiliates his father by joining the peace activists outside the base when he sees Tobias in the crowd. Next, Tobias and Edel have a gutting conversation in the general’s office that is ostensibly about Alex’s involvement with the peace movement but really Edel’s way of confirming his son is gay. Instead of being bombastic in these scenes, Ulrich Noethen–wonderful all season–quietly crumbles, and it lays the groundwork for his interactions with Martin later in the episode. Lastly, after purposefully eviscerating the father, Tobias then reluctantly eviscerates the son by telling Alex they cannot have a relationship and, much worse, he may have exposed him to the AIDS virus. The scene is heartbreaking, and Alexander Beyer and Ludwig Trepte do their best work together of the season.
In a less successful moment, Walter sends Annett to essentially kidnap Yvonne, who is on a rock tour with Udo Lindenberg. The series has already overplayed its hand by having three love interests for Martin this season and it does itself no favors by playing the jealous stalker card here. Much more interesting is Walter’s dinner scene with Annett and Ingrid, which reveals that Walter and Ingrid had a past. It appears Walter’s wistful expression while discussing fatherhood with Martin in “Brandy Station” may have had deeper meaning. This makes Walter’s blatant intelligence tampering and warmongering all the more horrifying and sets up some fascinating questions for the finale.
In the end, Martin finds that no one will put aside their personal motivations even under the threat of nuclear war, so he pulls a Joshua, deciding that the only way to win is to stop playing. This sets up Martin’s long-awaited coming-of-age moment: He confesses to General Edel. These two have shared a subtle but fascinating father-son bond the entire series, with Edel’s children spurning him and Martin’s father being absent. Given that Martin has spent the series accidentally telling everyone in West Germany that he’s a spy, it’s actually fitting that he turns himself in. Also, the fact he thinks that Edel will shut down Able Archer once he reveals himself is naïvely touching. Noethen is, again, terrific in this scene. The look he pulls as he says, “You’re the mole?” reveals betrayal way beyond an intelligence breach. On another day, this may have gone differently, but Edel’s world is disintegrating. He ignores Martin’s information and orders his arrest, sending Martin on a wild dash to escape the base and make it back East.
This is starting to sound redundant, but “Bold Guard” is the best episode of the series. All of Deutschland 83‘s sometimes disparate tones–family soap opera, coming-of-age tale, historical fiction thriller–successfully blend together to provide the season’s biggest reveal. It should bode well for the finale that the each of the last three episodes has proven stronger than the last, but it could also signal a let down ahead. This episode answers a lot of questions, but it raises even more. Let’s hope that writer Anna Winger knows how to stick the landing.
Other Deutsch Details
–Walter dancing to Udo Lindenberg provides one of the few laughs in the episode.
–Lenora has a lover and a visa to Mozambique! Of course she does.
–With Martin’s confession, the Crazy Renate watch is now over. She can go back to drinking in peace.
–If Deutschland 83 is renewed, what will a second season even look like with Martin’s cover being blown?
–The ’80s retro songs are especially strong this week with Udo Lindenberg’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo” cover “Sonderzug nach Pankow,” ZZ Top’s “Give Me All Your Lovin’,” Greg Kihn Band’s “Our Love’s In Jeopardy,” and Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.”