Berlin Station Season 2 Review: On Ashley Judd & More

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(L-R) Producer Bradford Winters, actors Ashley Judd, Richard Armitage, Keke Palmer and Leland Orser arrive on the red carpet for the EPIX ‘Berlin Station’ preview at The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, California, on September 16, 2017.

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.

Stop reading if you don’t want to run across spoilers. As of November 12, the show’s second season was about halfway complete.

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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 forgoes the cliched parochialism of its forbears. No, America is not 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 German hosts. 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 in the political and intelligence community maneuvering. Ashley Judd is a new character, and she’s a complex one; she navigates both inside and outside of the system, lending her just the needed amount of unpredictability to remain interesting.

thomas kretschmann, otto ganz

Actor Thomas Kretschmann plays Otto Ganz in the show.

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 daughter in tow. 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, and her sympathizers are also threaded throughout Germany’s intelligence service too. 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?

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?

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Actors Ashley Judd and Keke Palmer (R) arrive on the red carpet for the EPIX ‘Berlin Station’ preview.

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, but can he be trusted?; 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 (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 combination of wily slipperiness 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 number two.

It all works. Season 1 was entertaining, but season 2 is even better.

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