The shouting match in “Northern Wedding” between Alexander, who only recently started picking out his own outfits, and his father, given name General, comes at first as a long time coming, second as a laughable parody, and finally as the whole shebang. Blame for the long cringe can be apportioned equally among everyone who let Alexander go straight to yelling, leaving him with nowhere else to go and us with a shrill telenovela instead of what could very well have been a scene of Marius and his grandfather in Les Miserables, or at least Douglas and his father in Not Fade Away. A dinner-table political argument across generations should be one of the more universal parts of Deutschland 83. This is a cartoon. And it’s now been two episodes since we’ve seen Alexander at work, a conspicuous choice not to complicate his ideals, whatever they really are.
And then Mrs. Edel takes a hard slap across the face from her husband for her son. That’s the show in microcosm, two warring sides, each furiously declaring its commitment to peace, one finally taunted into a first strike, not on his enemy directly but on whoever happens to be in the middle. That’s the big worry on Deutschland 83. Who really cares about all those Mrs. Edels in the middle?
Deutschland 83 isn’t especially forthcoming so far, but I think it’s safe to say just about everyone is only in it for himself. Even family members are at war, not usually as blatantly as the General and Alex, but similarly fractured. The Edel kids are in rebellion, the aunt is treated like a pest, I’m starting to think Lenora doesn’t really give a shit about Martin. The one exception in the realm of selflessness may well be, as Linda so tearfully protests, Henrik Mayer. This is a man introduced by telling the military to stand down, a NATO officer whose entire role on the show has been to temper enthusiasm for brinkmanship in the name of defense. “Northern Wedding” builds to a personal tragedy for Martin, but the greater tragedy comes later, when Mayer sits down at his desk and blows his brains out.
It’s a paranoid, plotty episode, and there’s nothing Deutschland 83 does better than gnarl its plot. It all starts with a janitor vacuuming up the bug from Linda’s desk moments after both Henrik and Linda have left for the day, she to surprise Martin in Daun. Soon enough Martin gets some tree-mail that he understands and we don’t, and for just about the rest of the episode, writer-creator Anna Winger keeps us constantly guessing his intentions. Is he supposed to frame her? Is he supposed to make her disappear? Is pointing the finger at Mayer a byproduct of trying to protect Linda, or is Linda’s protection a happy accident? It could go either way, murder or marriage. At a romantic lakeside picnic, there are moments where you think he might drown her then and there, moments where it looks like he changed his mind and is maybe going against his orders by keeping her alive, and moments of genuine sweetness. Ultimately it looks like his lovey-dovey act isn’t an act, at least not entirely.
But he fucks up when he tells Linda that Mayer will take the fall for this, because they’ve been in love for a while (Linda and Mayer) and she knows he’s the only thing keeping Germany from speeding off the nuclear cliff. Naturally for a story where something is lit in Brussels and explodes in Daun, “Northern Wedding” has an electric sense of connection in the editing and the structure. The scene where Martin proposes to Linda is intercut with a scene back in Berlin, where Ingrid discovers the ring is missing. Similarly, the moment Martin runs after Linda, in the heat of the action, we cut to Tobias in bed with a boy toy, because Martin’s about to call him for help. There are a bunch of little back-and-forths, culminating in Chekov’s affair. Linda and Mayer being involved is what seals her fate and his.
The thing is, Linda isn’t in any immediate danger with Martin in the hotel room, and she could have easily faked an excuse to leave. He had already told her to go home and feed some lies to the investigators. How’s he gonna know if she follows through on just the first part? Alas, she runs instead. She acquits herself pretty well, but among her oversights are a failure to call Henrik—or anyone—and tell them she’s running from Moritz Stamm because she’s pretty sure he’s a spy. So instead of a loose end, she’s an easily blamed culprit for the bug, and she winds up missing for all anybody knows. Only Tobias, who speeds up when he sees her standing in the road frightened, and Martin, who mourns and buries her, knows she’s packed in the ground in some gray forest outside Daun.
The biggest surprise is that Martin seems to have been genuinely in love with Linda. Standing in the forest witnessing the aftermath of the murder, he seems to be deciding between action, such as revealing himself and trying to save her or something, and inaction, hiding in the forest and letting her die, problem solved. He doesn’t seem to realize it was Tobias who ran Linda down. Yet he chooses to insert himself in the scene anyway. This on top of his affectionate day at the lake with her. It seems like Martin’s life in the West is eventually heading to him having to commit premeditated murder or abandon his post altogether. “Northern Wedding” spares him, but in a way that reveals how humane he really is deep down. When that day comes, it’s going to be a lot harder than the basic spy drama shenanigans so far would have suggested.
After Linda and after Mayer, Fischer-Z’s “Cruise Missiles” starts playing as Alexander gets kicked out and Martin dances with Yvonne. Boy does not waste time. The dance shots are a trip after this episode, the first gasp of breath after escaping the noose. But to what extent Martin is genuinely interested in the commune lifestyle remains to be seen.
Alexander is a lot plainer. He shows up at Tobias’ house with his bag at his side and his Joey Potter half-smile plastered across his face, and Tobias welcomes him to his new home with a kiss, and Alexander has never been happier in his life. The thing is, the gayness is the cherry on top. It’s easy to imagine Alexander being finally, physically pushed away from his father and to his new father figure, even to the point of moving in and dedicating himself full-time to the cause without a sexual component. Instead Alexander is outright seduced by a predator.
In a society where a gay man can’t freely be gay, he’s compromised. Not inherently but necessarily; the problem isn’t that he can’t control himself or that gayness is naturally wicked but that society has arranged in such a way as to back him into a closet. He can be taken advantage of and manipulated simply because the society saddles him with a secret. It’s another expression of oppression, and it’s the core of Basil Dearden’s Victim. What’s going on here is not that. What’s going on here is the old-fashioned fundamentalist vision of seductive, corrupting gayness. It’s Tobias the spider spinning a web to bust up a family unit and lure the young son into his way of life. The image of Tobias the Communist spy enjoying a post-coital cigarette with a boy toy in the lavish mansion afforded him by West German values could almost be West German propaganda. And the way Tobias seems to sense Alexander’s sexual curiosity, prey upon it, and ultimately bring it to the surface is a persistent stereotype that’s fitting for a spy drama but conveniently so. There needs to be room for bad people to do bad things on TV these days, and there needs to be room for gay villains. But Tobias’ relationship with Alexander is nothing like Martin’s relationship with Linda, and Deutschland 83 is so essentially simplistic, it’s hard to say if anyone even notices the homophobia.
- “Northern Wedding,” as usual, is written by Anna Winger and directed by Edward Berger. Lots of expressive imagery this week:
- On-The-Nose Song Of The Week: Both “Cruise Missiles” and “Hungry Heart” resonate with the show, but sadly neither were incorporated quite like “Call Me.”
- “You’re just a Nazi like your own father!” The tipping point in the Edel civil war is this accusation, which is most interesting for the reminder—up close and personal—that the Nazi era was in living memory during this time period.