With Deutschland 89, Anna Winger and Jörg Winger conclude their pointed political series that has investigated the fraught, split political system that ruled Germany from the end of WWII through the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the middle of it all was Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay), who began as a young border agent and ended up as a world hero and superspy. In the first installment, Deutschland 83, Martin was recruited by his Aunt Lenora (Maria Schrader, who recently won an Emmy for directing Netflix’s Unorthodox) and became a double agent between East and West, managing to stop a nuclear war in the process. (The whole heart-pounding affair was based on Abel Archer, and is well worth a Wiki read).
In the follow-up, 86, the show put Martin in Africa, where he attempted to hide out while the East and West escalated their proxy war, only to be eventually (reluctantly) brought back into the game. Now, in 89, he’s being pursued by every alphabet agency—HVA (East German Foreign Intelligence), CIA, KGB, and BND (West German Foreign Intelligence), with a few mentions of MI6 and Mossad thrown in for good measure—who want to use his skills and connections to forge ahead in this new hugely uncertain world where the Wall has come down. And for the displaced Martin and his fellow agents, they need to find a new home and a new way forward as well—especially as Martin’s primary objective is to protect his son.
If that sounds complicated, it was and is. Tracking a tumultuous decade in Germany history, the Deutschland seasons have always thrived on thorny, perhaps even pulpy, plot twists and turns. But even for those of us who have been keeping up, the gap between the first season (which aired in the US in 2015), the second (which aired in 2018), and now final season is hard to overcome. Remembering the show’s many characters, their allegiances (many of which have changed), and their connections to Martin himself is dizzyingly difficult, despite a great micro-exposition dump in the third episode when Martin is drugged with shrooms.
That entire sequence, which really shows off Jonas Nay’s comedic chops, is part of what made 83 so fun in the first place. The show deals with incredibly difficult topics, but it maintains an important sense of humor. That burden is mainly carried in the new season by HVA agent (and Martin’s true father) Walter Schweppenstette (Sylvester Groth), who is put into an Americans-type situation with a sham marriage as he courts a West German bank. Lenora, meanwhile, is at odds with Martin after she left him for dead and he later sold her out, but they are forced together again when Martin (as is his way) gets accidentally caught up in an assassination plot that he must fight his way out of (not as funny!)
There will be some who find the complicated plotlines and myriad spycraft twists to be exhilarating, but for those who enjoyed the simplicity of 83’s primary “will Martin’s identity be exposed?” question, 89 lacks that necessary character depth. While the political discussions are polished and sharp, the interpersonal scenes are dull and blunt. That is particularly true in the case of Nicole Zangen (Svenja Jung), a new, very attractive teacher at Martin’s son’s school who you know immediately will be the new love interest. But her subsequent dogged pursuit of him, meant to make us wonder if she’s yet another agent trying to control him, comes off as creepy rather than charming—and a love story more forced than full of feeling.
Further, the less said about any American characters or scenes primarily in English, the better. Perhaps this is how Germans experience the series (while lauded abroad, it has never been a hit at home), and I’m just far more forgiving of anything with subtitles because I have no idea how well the lines are actually being read. Still, there are some bright spots throughout this final season, most particularly the return of Carina Wiese as Martin’s mother Ingrid, who really deserves a spinoff of her own.
The muted tones and sea of browns that define this late 1980s aesthetic are not the most exciting (like, say, the shoulder pads and chunky jewelry of 83), and in general 89 lacks the same fire of 83 or even 86. The German people apparently love to debate political theories, philosophies, and and the merits of various systems of government in great detail, which is a very worthy way to spend one’s time (especially as your government crumbles around you). And yet, it doesn’t always make for the most riveting television.
At the end of this final, eight-episode run of episodes, Deutschland 89 attempts to create a parallel between the Berlin Wall and a loss of freedom with President Trump’s border wall, as well as other highs and lows of international statecraft since 1989. “Capitalism and democracy won,” Martin says at the end of the series. “The Cold War is over. Why would they still need spies?”
Deutschland 89 premieres Thursday, October 29th on SundanceTV.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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