Deutschland 83, Ep. 1.08, “Able Archer”

Deutschland 83, Season 1, Episode 8, “Able Archer”
Written by Anna Winger
Directed by Samira Radsi
Aired Wednesdays at 11pm (ET) on SundanceTV

DEFCON 1 is literally and metaphorically reached in Deutschland 83‘s season finale for better and for worse. “Able Archer” suffers from the problem many dramas set against historical events face: The audience already knows the outcome. This means that Martin’s fight to convince East Germany and the Soviet Union that West Germany, the United States, and NATO are just running an elaborate test–as opposed to gearing up for World War III–lacks some of the tension a fictional event could have mustered for viewers. However, Joerg and Anna Winger’s improbable summer hit has effectively used family drama as an allegory for its East/West historical plot all season, so the finale is much more about how all the characters process this near miss than the near miss itself.

Nowhere is this storytelling strategy put to more striking use than in a cut-to scene near the beginning of “Able Archer.” Martin, attempting to sneak his way back into East Germany after voluntarily blowing his cover, crawls into an unsuspecting family’s vehicle. As he burrows among the baggage in the back of the car, the camera cuts to General Edel–in a radiation suit–escorting the same military intelligence officer from “Brandy Station” into his office to discuss the fallout of Martin’s espionage. As Edel explains that Martin infiltrated his family by befriending both his son and his daughter and also dismissively says the officer should feel “lucky” not to be in protective gear, his entire season and ultimate fate are encapsulated. The Edel family has been ground zero for all of Deutschland 83‘s intersecting geopolitical and character-driven storylines, and no one has taken more damage that General Edel himself. It’s no wonder he’s ready to throw in the towel. When he meets his actual end–after the war games come to an impotent conclusion, and he returns home to a note that Ursula has left him–the gunshot feels inevitable. That it’s still startling and heartbreaking is a testament to both Anna Winger’s writing and Ulrich Noethen’s performance.

Next is the matter of Annett and Yvonne. Though this arc was likely supposed to contrast Martin’s choices of Eastern traditionalism and Western freedom, it has never felt like more than an on-the-nose, slightly sexist waste of time. Annett’s misguided devotion to the state holds plenty of drama without the forced stalker storyline. This is brought into stark relief by a satisfying scene in which Ingrid pops Annett’s pious bubble by letting her in on some family secrets. In a twist that should surprise no one, she tells Annett that Walter is Martin’s father. While this reveal is a bit Darth Vader-esque, it is wonderful to see how Ingrid, who has been so quiet and meek all season due to her illness, bravely uses her leverage with Walter to free Thomas from custody and to try to wench Martin back from his father’s manipulations. Her unexpected assertiveness is a welcome counter to Annett’s trite arc, and it also brings a needed sliver of stability to the home front just as Martin reappears.

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As for Martin himself, most of Deutschland 83 revolved around the question of who he is and what motivates him, but those questions were answered in last week’s “Bold Guard.” Martin is a hero. In the face of madness, Martin acted on the behalf of others, not himself. In “Able Archer,” he reinforces those characteristics in a confrontation with Walter, whose twisting of intelligence reports is finally revealed. The scene lacks the power it might have had because Martin still does not know that Walter is his father. However, the lack of that information allows Martin to act purely, without his motivations being muddied. The Martin who left East Germany in the premiere episode was a boy who knew little, and cared less, about the geopolitical machinations going on around him. The Martin who returns in the finale is a man who defied his government and his family to try to stop a nuclear war. And now he must deal with a pregnant girlfriend who shares none of his newly-minted beliefs and the looming revelation about his father. How will he handle life back in the East with his new convictions?

Deutschland 83 appropriately ends with a shot of Martin standing by a bonfire, the camera moving across Jonas Nay’s ever-expressive face before dipping behind the flames, making it appear as though he is being consumed. The scene is a fitting conclusion to the season and, possibly, to the series itself. Joerg and Anna Winger want to continue the series by jumping ahead three years to Deutschland 86 and then conclude with Deutschland 89 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Three stand-alone series make sense, and it would be fascinating to revisit Martin et al in three year intervals as the Cold War further marinates their family interactions. While making a number of tonal mistakes throughout the season and often leaving the motivations of characters maddeningly vague, Deutschland 83 has been an exciting and moving ride featuring a number of remarkable performances by a gifted cast. It would be a shame if the show was not allowed to continue, but the ending is satisfying should the story end here.

Other Deutsch Details

– The scenes of Alex getting tested for AIDS and Tobias saying goodbye to a dying Felix as he thinks the bombs are about to drop were gut-wrenching. Would Alex still be alive in Deutschland 86?
– It figures that Lenora had an escape plan all along. Did she choose Mozambique because it was a communist country far away from any potential nuclear fallout? Here’s hoping that Lenora and her cigarettes find their way back to East Germany in time for Deutschland 86.
– The final ’80s retro songs featured this season are “No Bomb” by Berluc, a reappearance of “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure, and “Under Pressure” by David Bowie & Queen.

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