The first thing “Brandy Station” has to do is shore up its premise. At least, as a viewer, seeing the entire set-up of Martin becoming a West German mole disintegrate last week, I expect the characters who are actually living that premise to see it, too. Last week nobody brought up the prospect of Martin trying to get out of the spy biz. I’m starting to think that has less to do with carelessness and more to do with tidiness. In real life, Martin would have been thinking about the advantages of going home as soon as he got the assignment. But episodically, it doesn’t really matter until he sees the dilemma in front of him, so all such talk gets consigned to this episode. Less emotional clutter that way.
Not only does “Brandy Station” address Martin returning home. It gives a weighty subject three hefty scenes. First Annett comes to see Martin. Her big “You can tell that asshole _____” cliffhanger turns out to have been a writerly front, but that’s okay because the Alexander cliffhanger was very much not a front. She repeats her dumb ideas about the state and the value of Martin serving his country this way, and it’s like the scales fall from his eyes and for the first time he sees how shallow she is as a person. And then he rants about his serious doubts about what kind of person he is, what kind of work he’s doing, and how any of this really matters. It’s the core of the show. What is driving the main character?
She, meanwhile, plies him with East German goodies: a fancy apartment and maybe a car! There’s some talk in “Brandy Station” about General Edel being a puppet for the Americans, but the episode is sprinkled with sly examples of others acting as mouthpieces, starting with Annett. It’s not an accident that she repeats some of the promises from the premiere. She leaves Martin’s hospital room and goes straight to a rendezvous with Walter, where she reports on her baby daddy. Then there’s General Jackson reading cue cards written by Alexander and Walter acting on behalf of what he thinks the Soviets will want. We know Edel isn’t an American puppet, but it’s a good question. Who is being maneuvered by whom?
After Martin has rejected patriotism as a reason to get back in the game, Walter comes up with the real key to his obedience. There’s going to be an imminent attack, he claims, and Martin is in a better position than anybody to find out about it. That does the trick for Martin, but it’s also a foreshadowing for Walter’s story. This is a man who hears in no uncertain terms from the expert who has read the American nuclear strategy that the West has no intentions of striking first and does everything in his power to hide that information. It’s like that scene in In The Loop where they delete all the facts in the report that might slow down the drive to war, only dead-serious. Walter isn’t fighting for security. He’s fighting to perpetuate his own status quo. That is, his only goal is to help perpetuate the Soviet/East German intelligence machine. Follow that thread back a little, and getting Martin to abandon his family to go back into the field is just moving a pawn across a chessboard.
The final stop before Martin’s return to the West is his mother’s hospital room, and she tells him the truth: “Martin, they’re just using you.” He replies, “It’s my own decision. I know what I’m doing.” Hopefully that means he has some personal goals in mind, because so far it looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing at all.
Those three early Martin scenes are essential foundation, as well as smart answers to questions I’ve been asking, and they’re not even close to the meat of the episode. They’re just set-up. Now that is some thorough writing.
Instead what “Brandy Station” is about is a radicalized, weaponized Alexander Edel shooting up a bordello frequented by state officials. The story unspools without exposition, because Alexander’s acting all alone, which makes it all the more thrilling. Even if we had all the context, I suspect that shot of Alexander sitting in a parked car and loading his gun would have been worrisome. At that point I figured he wouldn’t survive the episode, and the Edels as a family wouldn’t survive the season. That last part might still come true. So we don’t know how Alex got here, but we do know West German military intelligence henchman Werner Freisinger is onto him, we know pretty quickly that the bordello is bugged and that Lenora is listening in, and we know Karl Kramer and Martin are in a position to intervene in some capacity. Might their goals diverge from General Edel’s though?
Lenora laughs recalling how Alexander volunteered his services to the front desk secretary. Werner might have been way ahead of Alexander, but so is Lenora. She says they couldn’t have used his services anyway because he walked in the front door, which the West surveils. Apparently he had several insane ideas to help the cause, but she sent him packing, so now he’s a lone wolf executing one of those insane ideas, which was to hold General Jackson hostage and videotape him confessing American military aggressions. So he walks in, and the first thing that happens is the madam presses a silent alarm. Already this scene is stacked against Alex, and then some guy comes up behind him with a gun. Alex whirls around and shoots the man in his gun hand. Then he gets up to some comic stuff with General Jackson reading the cue cards. Alex notes him: more conviction! But there’s danger, too. The madam keeps whimpering. All the while, the Interior Minister is at the bordello, hiding somewhere. That’s why it was bugged in the first place. And he’s late for a meeting, so the cops were called. There are so many active parties in this little lone wolf hostage crisis that it makes a nice appetizer for The Hateful Eight.
Eventually, Alex and Jackson reenact their favorite moment in Edel family history, the two of them locked in a physical struggle and the madam in the middle, standing in for Germany, taking a bullet. Then, during the escape, some cop shoots Karl Kramer, who I guess this whole thing will be pinned on. For such a tidy show, there are a lot of loose ends, because the control of information is the whole point. But after the bordello scene gets us all wound up, we get to the Edel home feeling very suspicious. Why does Werner take Alexander off to the kitchen alone? What is General Edel thinking when he sees Martin making out with Yvonne? And what will he do when he finds out what exactly happened at the bordello? Maybe Deutschland 83 is just suggesting intrigue where there is none, but given how seriously it’s starting to take Martin, it’s time to test the resolve of all four stubborn Edels.
- “Brandy Station” is written by Ralph Martin and Anna Winger and directed by Samira Radsi.
- Happy to hear ratings have been steadily rising. They’re well below even Looking numbers, but Deutschland 83 is on track to match Rectify, which Sundance just renewed for season four. I don’t know if that matters to the show’s production company for a second season, but it’s nice to see a decent show get more eyeballs every week.
- Setting the mood for the episode, Martin listens to Grace Jones on his Walkman.
- On-The-Nose Song Of The Week: Another Fischer-Z ending, this time “Berlin” over shots of Walter’s meeting from progressively further and further away. It’s more about the episode than the scene, but that final verse we hear (“Young faces, new ideals / in search of paradise / they merge into the history / the theater of memories / that make up the feel / of Berlin, Berlin”) is on target.
- Loved the moment where General Edel embraces his son, their first scene since the fight. How much is performance, though? What happens when Werner leaves?
- Tobias is driving with some stud from the peace group, and the guy pulls down his shirt to reveal lesions. Tobias just slumps. The doctor says the comrade has six months. “It’s highly contagious.” That phrase. Deutschland 83 used HIV panic to sell Alexander’s fake illness, and once it had thoroughly distracted us with that, the phrase reverted back to HIV. And now Tobias might be sick. His reaction is denial—“But we only did it a few times. Not even recently”—and that makes it all the more moving.
- As the cops sweep the bordello, they find the Interior Minister hiding in a cabinet. He calmly gets out and commands, “No one finds out about this.”