Rachel Bellwoar reviews the complete box set of Deutschland 83, 86, & 89…
Spies don’t come much more reluctant than Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay). It’s Martin, though, who’s the subject of Anna and Jörg Winger’s Cold War drama, Deutschland 83, and its sequels – Deutschland 86 and Deutschland 89.
Much like the series itself, which saw each season jump ahead three years, Deutschland hasn’t always been the easiest show to keep track of due to long gaps between seasons. Now all three seasons have been collected in one box set (with a few bonus featurettes on season one and photo galleries on the others), but it’s still the original season that’s supreme.
Drugged and tricked into joining the HVA by his aunt, Lenora (Maria Schrader, who brings new meaning to the question, “If you can’t trust your family, who can you trust?”), Martin might’ve refused if it weren’t for his mother (Carina Wiese). She needs a kidney transplant and Lenora can get her the operation, but the decision’s essentially taken out of Martin’s hands anyway when he wakes up from a spiked coffee in West Germany.
The mission: go undercover as an aide to West German general, Wolfgang Edel (Ulrich Noethen) and report back on whether the West is planning a nuclear attack. So just your run of the mill first mission, and because the series uses a training montage, there are plenty of gaps from which to explain how Martin was able to learn the ropes so fast (unless it’s all in the genes). It also helps that while Martin’s success rate is remarkable for someone so green, Nay plays his triumphs like happy accidents. He’s James Bond without the bravado, which is also why he’s able to be convincing – both as a spy and someone people would trust.
Compared to the seasons that follow, Deutschland 83 has a much tighter focus, which is why there’s so much more to invest in. On top of completing assignments, Martin has a cover to maintain, so there are always complications and lies that have to be told, and the bottom line is, while Lenora is willing to put family second, Martin never wanted this life. Not only does that make him unprepared for what’s to come, but it has him make choices that are different from the ‘greater good’ thinking that usually pervades in spy dramas.
Deutschland 86 sees the action move from Germany to Africa, where Martin has been in exile for the last three years. This time his aunt is able to convince him to help because he wants to see his son, Max (Oscar Reim in 86, Ari Kurecki in 89), who’s in East Germany. What this season is missing is an overarching storyline like season one had. Instead, the show returns to Europe about halfway through and starts to lose steam. Some of the storylines to include cast members from season one feel contrived as well. It’s easy to make allowances when the spy craft is working, but not so much when the objective keeps changing.
Deutschland 89 takes place right as the Berlin Wall is about to come down and sees the show suffer two major cast losses in Ludwig Trepte and Sonja Gerhardt. The problem this season is characters are made to do things that feel out of character to serve the plot. Basically, Martin’s too good at his job, so when the show has to make him mess up it feels forced, like introducing a new girlfriend (Svenja Jung) whose judgment is poor.