Sunday, October 23, 2016

REVIEW: 'Berlin Station' - Daniel Follows New Leads While Also Being Watched in 'Lights Don't Run on Loyalty'

Epix's Berlin Station - Episode 1.02 "Lights Don't Run on Loyalty"

As Daniel pursues Shaw, Station Chief Steven Frost, Valerie Edwards and Robert Kirsch gather intelligence on a Georgian Islamic radical in order to avoid an extraordinary rendition by Langley.

Berlin Station had a solid start last week. The premiere did a good job setting up this world, the characters and their core conflicts. The show is still just setting its plots up in its second episode, "Lights Don't Run on Loyalty." But it's also clear the show isn't afraid to move quickly with these plots either. The tension is already starting to mount and anything realistically could happen. The audience already knows so much about the main mystery of Thomas Shaw. And yet, the motivations of the characters and what they are willing to do is still shrouded in secrecy. That's where so much of the suspense and tension comes from. This hour largely keeps its plots separated. It has a lot of work to do in introducing story to keep all of the characters busy and isolated from one another. Big things happen that help our understanding of who these people are. But that only leads to further complications that should become even more enticing as the season progresses.

Learning the truth about Shaw is a personal mission for Daniel. He alone is tasked with exposing this whistleblower before he is able to release any more sensitive agency secrets. Daniels spends the hour isolated from everyone else. This show truly gets at the paranoia that comes from the espionage trade. If you're not watching someone and monitoring their actions, then you're likely being the one watched. It's a very sensitive business that could go wrong in any number of ways. The CIA has their goals and is willing to go pretty far to obtain them. They skirt the line of legality. Shaw is exposing those dirty tricks and compromising those missions. The officers pay for it severely. Gerald wasn't able to enjoy a new life with his family in Budapest. Instead, he's doing jail time back in the states. This is a dangerous profession. Anything can go wrong at a moment's notice. Claudia was killed before Daniel was able to get any useful information out of her. And now, he's trying to find her killer while also keeping his movements in secret.

That's a far more difficult task for Daniel because he's not the only spy in this world. He's working alongside some people who are just as trained as he is. He has no idea how embedded Thomas Shaw is in the CIA. He has no reason to suspect Hector of being the man behind all of this. Hector's motives are still shrouded in mystery in that regard. And yet, he is aware that Daniel has come to Berlin to investigate Shaw. That's the reason why Claudia was killed. The tall man was afraid that Daniel was getting too close to the truth. So, he acted without Hector's permission which has caused a lot of problems for him. But again, Daniel is just trying to make sense out of all of this. He has no interactions with anyone from the CIA until the very end of this episode. He's in deep and trying to uncover the truth. He's doing his best to maintain his cover. But it's clear the intelligence community is on to him and his true mission in Berlin. He tries reaching out to Ingrid the reporter to make her question Claudia's death. That doesn't go well because she doesn't want to believe her prized whistleblower could be a murderer. She sees it as the Americans vilifying this public servant so they can be justified when they ultimately kill him. She's not wrong to be skeptical of this information. Of course, the audiences knows it to be true. Plus, Daniel has a picture of the man. So, his investigation is far from over.

And yet, things are still pretty tense for Daniel. He's being followed around the city as well. He has no moment for peace. He's being looked at under suspicion too. He can't enjoy a visit with his cousin and her kid because he's worried about the man outside watching him. He's being followed and doesn't know by whom. Of course, he proves to be the smarter agent by flipping the table and forcing a meeting. He has a sit down with a woman named Esther and gives her the picture of the man who killed Claudia. So now, the government agencies at least have a lead to follow in their pursuit of Shaw. It should just be interesting to see how forthcoming Daniel will be when it comes to sharing information. He has his guard up with Esther. It's down when he's interacting with Hector. That should not be the case. The show hasn't done a great job explaining their friendship. It's just important that they have some kind of history and are comfortable together. That's why it's a big deal that Hector is a part of the Thomas Shaw plot. He's not doing anything to silence Daniel. There's nothing that can lead back to him. He's just making him more nervous and coyly teasing the fact that all revealings of the truth only lead to more secrets that need to be solved. It's a part of the business. It has warn Hector down. But he's still effective enough to handle this situation with Daniel without tossing him off the side of the building.

However, it sure is intriguing to see Hector actually struggling with a moral decision elsewhere in the hour. He's a man who seemingly has no morality. He's not afraid to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. He's a man who can make things happen. He can get an asset to pick up his groceries for him. He can get an asset to make contact with a money laundering operation for him. He is capable of getting things done. And yet, he's completely helpless when it comes to getting his asset, Faisal, out of dangerous situation. It's as if this is the first time an asset has fallen in love with him and he's not sure of what to do. He's looking to Robert for advice. Robert just wants to focus on the mission. He doesn't care what ultimately happens to Faisal. He just wants to get as much information out of him as possible. He doesn't want to set him up in a middling life in New Jersey. He's just concerned about stopping a potential terrorist from striking somewhere in the world. Hector is more compromised with his emotions because he genuinely cares about Faisal. He gave in and had sex with him. It was to keep him happy in their arrangement. But it also opened the door for his untimely death. It was an eye-opening experience for Faisal and he no longer wants to be living a life in secret. Either he is exfiltrated out of his embassy or he is sent home for his death. Those are his options. Hector gets the information from him but ultimately has to accept that Faisal will die. No one cares except him.

The actual plot that Faisal is providing intelligence for is a little murky. It's introduced in this hour to give the rest of the CIA officers something to do. They are tracking a man named Aleksandre Iosava, an Islamic radical who may be reformed or may be plotting a new attack in Berlin. Valerie is basically running point on this operation. She's the one gathering information, coming up with strategies and presenting them to the director. Her asset isn't being completely truthful with her. He claimed he had no contact with Iosava. That was a lie. She learned that fairly quickly too. However, the show hasn't really presented the audience with a reason to care about this plot. It gives the rest of the characters something to do. They can't all be on the search for Thomas Shaw. Their lives include much more than that. They are affected by the leaks but they aren't actively searching for this whistleblower or how he gets his hands on this classified information. They are too busy trying to stop this potential terrorist. The actual story though largely presents as a conflict between Valerie and Steven over who is really in charge of the station. Valerie may be coming for Steven's job. She's putting in the work and impressing the director. Meanwhile, Steven's just sitting around complaining and worried they are rushing into this situation without knowing all of the facts. Ambiguity has been a key factor in these opening episodes. The audience knows the answers to the mysteries. But the motivations and what the characters are capable of doing is still shrouded in secrecy. That gives the show an unpredictable energy that has been very effective in these opening two episodes.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Lights Don't Run on Loyalty" was written by Olen Steinhauer and directed by Michaël R. Roskam.
  • Valerie is taking control of the situation herself. She's the one actually replacing Gerald in terms of asset management. And yet, what does the rest of the CIA think Daniel is up to? He's never around. He's suppose to be Gerald's replacement. Because the two stories never intersect, it's not a huge problem. But people should take notice soon.
  • All it takes is Steven talking things out with his wife to learn how best to approach this complicated situation with Valerie. But it's also important that he's opening up to her despite the classified nature of his line of work.
  • Steven largely decides to talk with his wife about his problems at work because Sandra is still not willing to start their romantic relationship again. She doesn't want to be the woman who he talks to about all of these problems.
  • The Germans have their eyes on Iosava as well. And yet, they aren't yet motivated to do anything about him. However, Hans gives Steven permission to start actively collecting intelligence on this man in the hopes of preventing an attack.
  • Daniel's mother was killed in Berlin when her secret lover from West Germany was targeted. She was collateral damage. Daniel is still racked with guilt about that and wonders if he could have said something to save her life.