The downside of the Golden Age of TV is the agonising deliberation over what to watch next. The market quality has never been so high yet so saturated, with new shows every week vying for our attention. Sometimes a helping hand in choosing a worthwhile show is required. This article is that helping hand.
While big-budget shows such as Westworld have been well publicized and the likes of American Horror Story are returning with ready-made fanbases, certain series can fall under the radar. Berlin Station is one of those series, a surprise hit located on cable channel Epix, thrilling enough to part with your precious time.
The premise in itself isn't unique: Set in the titular city, CIA agent Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) has been sent on a clandestine mission to the German capital to try and uncover the identity of Thomas Shaw, a mysterious CIA whistleblower. However, a lack of uniqueness in premise is outweighed by the show's subversive nature.
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The term espionage sounds outdated, but Berlin Station repackages the spy genre with a metaphorical finger on the metaphorical pulse. It taps in to modern, post-Snowden paranoia with pinpoint accuracy, highlighting the lack of trust in governmental organizations — particularly with the rise of technology — as well as the moral questions raised over surveillance versus security.
A Espionage Thriller With A Modern Twist
Far too often, espionage storylines can flirt with polarized views, creating an us versus them mentality. However, the show distinctly avoids being pro-American, instead portraying a balanced depiction from both sides of the argument. The CIA are both victim and perpetrator, a double standard that adds to the undertone that no one can be trusted.
Whistleblower Thomas Shaw himself is a combination of conspiracy exposing revolutionaries Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, with the added omnipotency and public support of hacktivist group Anonymous. The fast pace of the show, helped by strong direction and quick edits, fits this world perfectly.
One of Berlin Station's great strengths is how it encapsulates the impact that events have on individuals as well as the ripple effect that has on those around them. It doesn't lose sight by focusing on the overarching conspiracy — instead it takes time to develop a collection of compelling and nuanced characters.
While Armitage proves himself effortlessly magnetic and commanding in the lead role, the entire cast oozes charisma. Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins is excels as CIA's Chief Steven Frost. Rhys Ifans also particularly stands out in his role as Hector DeJean, an enigmatic and maverick agent with questionable motivations.
DeJean is also an refreshing LGBT depiction; he's a typical, no nonsense alpha male who also develops a sexual relationship with a male informant and makes no qualms discussing this with his superiors. Infusing the eccentricity and excitement of Berlin, DeJean indulges in the unique nocturnal life of electronic music and debauchery, one of the many facets of the city that is accurately captured.
A Worthy Opponent To Misrepresentation In The Media
LGBT isn't the only theme that is handled in a way that deserves a mention for smashing the through the glass ceiling of unfortunate misrepresentation that still exists in mainstream media.
When it comes to a depicting a potential threat from the East, a 2007 study by the Islamic Human Rights Commission found "crude and exaggerated" stereotypes to be widespread. In particular, similar series Homeland faced controversy for its depiction of Muslim areas, with commissioned graffiti artists scribing "Homeland is racist" in protest. In an interview with The Guardian, artist Heba Amin said:
“We think the show perpetuates dangerous stereotypes by diminishing an entire region into a farce through the gross misrepresentations that feed into a narrative of political propaganda.“It is clear they don’t know the region they are attempting to represent. And yet, we suffer the consequences of such shallow and misguided representation.”
In a commendable deviation from the type of misrepresentation Amin refers to, Berlin Station features a scene involving a potential terror suspect who is visited at a Mosque. The religion of Islam is depicted in a positive light, while also humanizing the suspect in question rather than paint him as a fictional pantomime villain.
Furthermore, in what the BBC discovered to be a surprising and widespread taboo in the entertainment industry, Cold War veteran Frost engages in sexual innuendo with his wife, instantly dispelling the myth that anyone over the age of 35 instantly becomes a born again asexual.
All in all, Berlin Station is an exciting, up-to-date espionage thriller that effortlessly breaks boundaries while maintaining the attributes that make spy fiction so compelling. It could be one of the hidden gems of the year and a worthy contender to win the battle of "what to watch next."
Berlin Station premieres on Epix on October 16, 2016.
Will you be watching Berlin Station?
(Source: The Guardian)