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If you’re looking for a new binge-worthy series, you might want to consider the sophisticated Berlin Station Season 2, which is airing on EPIX. The series, which brought actress Ashley Judd to the small screen for its second season, is like Homeland without Carrie to get in the way and annoy us. In other words, it’s a thinking person’s 24 with fresh-feeling characters and milieux and more geopolitical drama.
Stop reading if you don’t want to run across spoilers. As of November 12, the show’s second season was about halfway complete.
You’ll find some of the modern spy series tropes here; of course, the CIA agents in Berlin Station sometimes go rogue because it’s for the greater good as they outwit shady superiors. Of course, they’re trying to stop a terror attack, and time is running out (just not one on U.S. soil, as the series eschews the cliched parochialism of its predecessors. No, America is not always the center of the world in Berlin Station.) Of course, there’s a mole in CTU (well, actually, there was a mole inside the CIA itself in season one of Berlin Station, but never mind.) In season 2, there’s a mole, but he’s working for the CIA, and he’s infiltrated a neo-Nazi group that is trying to influence the German election. That’s an election of great concern to the American president.
However, the show’s Berlin stagecraft keeps it fresh; everyone’s at the top of their acting games, and Berlin Station’s geopolitical intrigue demonstrates the broader concerns at stake as the Americans’ interests collide (and sometimes coincide) with those of their uneasy German hosts. Think Spy vs. Spy. It’s not a shoot-em-up drama primarily, and that’s one aspect that makes it particularly clever; although there’s a little blood and guts, the real action occurs within the political and intelligence community maneuvering. Ashley Judd’s BB Yates is a new character, and she’s a complex one; she navigates both inside and outside of the secret-riddled system, giving Yates just the needed amount of unpredictability to remain interesting.
The plot seems stolen from the headlines, to some degree, and we’re led to make obvious parallels to them. In season 2, Daniel Miller (the protagonist from season 1, who is played with brooding intensity by Richard Armitage), has infiltrated an alt-right (neo-Nazi) group with shady ties to the rising, right-wing German political candidate. You might remember East German-born Thomas Kretschmann from The Pianist; here, he’s playing a Nazi again, this time named Otto Ganz and with a precocious, slightly punk but crafty teenage daughter in tow (who keeps bringing to mind a younger Franka Potente in Run Lola Run). Complicating matters: There’s a new American president whose very political, hard-nosed ambassador and administration are not-so-secretly sympathetic to the aforementioned right-wing candidate (but how far are they willing to go?), and her sympathizers are also threaded throughout Germany’s intelligence service. What is the CIA to do when it receives intelligence that she’s secretly funding alt right thugs to stage a terror attack in order to gain a few extra points in the polls? Who can be trusted? No one probably, in a world with agendas.
Showrunner/EP Bradford Winters told Deadline: “The idea behind the second season is the station taking power into its own hands having been the subject of forces beyond its control. It’s very much a flipping of the table.” However, in season 2, what’s the CIA to do if the American government is working against it, too?
Everyone’s going rogue due to the complex nature of the dynamic. Judd’s CIA station chief, BB Yates, keeps Miller’s activities off the books (at least at the start), surprising her new subordinates; the candidate’s charismatic chief strategist is getting pretty cozy with Michelle Forbes’ steely CIA agent, Valerie Edwards; Hector DeJean’s slippery ex agent is holed up in a Spanish mansion living up a life of semi-happy exile before Daniel knocks on his door; Richard Jenkins’ Steven Frost is working for the ambassador on the sly in sort of a shadow Berlin Station (at least the ambassador thinks so); and German agent Esther Krug (Mina Tangder) isn’t being upfront with her bosses, either. The series takes the viewer to exotic locales worthy of a Bond movie without the cliches (or at least The Night Manager), from Spain to Norway to Germany.
Rhys Ifans crackles in every scene he’s in; his Hector is a scene-stealing combination of wily slipperiness and intelligence that hides a softer core. The villains here can become tough to dislike, which highlights the series’ sophistication. Otto and Daniel develop almost a brotherly bond (or is the latter just using it to flip the former into a witness?) Hector develops a soft spot for Otto’s kid (or is he just using her as leverage to go back legit? Or both?) The improv cover story tag teaming between DeJean and Miller is season 2’s highlight. The season is a mixture of old and new faces; Keke Palmer is new as the young recruit, April Lewis, but Robert Kirsch is back as BB’s exasperated and puppy dog-eyed number two.
It all works. Season 1 was entertaining, but season 2 elevates its game to a higher level.