Deutschland 83: “Bold Guard”

Deutschland 83: “Bold Guard”

“The calm before the storm” is the ominous last line in “Bold Guard,” which is itself the calm before the storm, give or take a couple dramatic moments like, oh, Martin confessing he’s a spy to General Edel. But even that is handled with a relatively cool temperament. Edel doesn’t flip out, Martin easily evades him, and from there it’s the same tense thriller as the rest of the hour. So maybe “calm” isn’t quite right, but the sense of mounting tension defines the episode.

Take the Annett story. One of the first things she does in “Bold Guard” is smoothly cover for how she knows Walter. He notices. I mean, he can’t not, but the camera catches him clocking that information. Annett might be useful to him after all. The fact that all of this is happening under the surface is generally how the episode works, amassing worrisome details until the breaking point. This is all heading somewhere, just like the Udo Lindenberg tour bus, but not knowing where gives us dread. The other things Annett does this week include covertly passing Thomas’ license plate to Walter (although it’s been six weeks since the last episode; why hadn’t she done that already?), getting assigned to greet the band (at which point we’re already bracing for the possibilities of the baby mama meeting the mistress), and telling Yvonne she’s single and planning to stay that way. Every step she takes puts us on edge. Is she just keeping her cover? Won’t Yvonne see a picture of Martin at Ingrid’s place? What exactly is going through Annett’s head? As always, though you wouldn’t know it from the raves this subtitled series gets, the confusion in Annett’s story is as likely to be an accident of writing and performance as it is a productive source of tension, but in an episode where the wave climbs higher and higher as it prepares to wash over Germany, it’s a powerful force.

So are the two groups of extras, the Udo Lindenberg bus rocketing across the country from NATOville to the capital of the East and the peace protesters crowding Daun. The bus is our first look at Yvonne’s new gig as a backup singer, and nothing happens. We simply get a look at people on the bus singing and whatnot, a dissonant moment amid the storm brewing in every other setting. Again, Deutschland 83 is no stranger to dissonant editing, but here it tingles. The hairs on your neck stand up and you wonder how all this ties together, like the sudden cuts to a new character in Rubicon’s penultimate episode. The peace protesters are a more traditional source of tension, a mob of people with no names shouting louder and louder at some already very tense, very powerful people. Can that possibly end well?

It can, or at least, as of “Bold Guard,” Anna Winger has found a way to let the protest generate tension without having it boil over. Instead, the protesters are the background to the Tobias-Alexander-Wolfgang chamber drama, the walls that force these three characters to confront one another. First Alexander, dragged like a child by his father to the gates of the base to dismiss the protestors, crosses the line and joins them, not only disobeying a direct order—which I guess is okay considering all the fallout from Alexander’s involvement in Karl Kramer’s death—but embarrassing the general to boot. So Wolfgang asks to speak with Tobias in his office. What’s motivating Tobias every step of his journey is as unclear as what’s motivating Annett, but, naturally as a double agent, Alexander Beyer is always playing the subtext. One of the best moments of the episode is when he sort of smiles to himself when he sees Alexander and Martin, his two proteges, on the opposite side with the assignment to disperse the crowd. It’s a smile that says none of these nameless people matter. This is a game among the three of them and General Edel. In Edel’s office, he has the virtue of being right, so he keeps needling the general simply by standing up for himself. “Pacifism isn’t a fantasy.” It’s in Edel’s house. They have a right to protest.

Oh, and Alexander’s his fuck buddy. Edel cuts him off before that last part, but they both know what he was going to say and that the other knows it. Is Tobias just trying to scorch the earth on his way out the proverbial door? Outside he’s responsible for one of the other high points in the episode when he formally breaks up with Alexander. “There can be no ‘we.’ And I have to tell you something. Something very unpleasant.” It hurts. Beyer looks like he’s already given up. I was hard on the treatment of Alexander and Tobias relative to Martin and Linda at first, but in the end the two men were treated with equal sensitivity, and Tobias is in the running for the show’s most fully formed character. (In retrospect my only disappointment comes from the pilot montaging past Tobias putting out feelers for Martin if you catch my drift.)

Tobias’ behavior toward Martin is much colder, primarily highlighting the irony of our peace protester in chief working overtime to provoke a war. Martin appeals to him for help convincing the East that the West is just running a military exercise. Tobias says, “You’re in no position to evaluate that.” To which I shouted along with Martin, “Yes, he is!” The people in power have never more brazenly spoken out of both sides of their mouth. All this time the party line has been that Martin is in an incredibly valuable position, the only one who can get the right documents. Then the higher-ups ignore his reporting and tell him he’s too ignorant to understand it anyway. Tobias adds, “There are hundreds like you!” First of all, no, there clearly aren’t, but assuming there are, I guess they don’t need Martin’s services anymore and he can go home. Maybe that occurs to Martin, hence his escape, but one last thing about Tobias: He calls Lenora and confirms that Able Archer is grounds for a preemptive strike. So he was at the protest in order to report on it? And he implicitly claims he’s in a better position to interpret Martin’s surveillance than Martin? And without a single shred of new actionable intel on this visit, he reports that he’s sure the West is going to war? Suddenly I’m not sure what his goals are, but it looks like he’s already playing his own funeral dirge.

Martin’s confession is the climax amid the larger sense of rising action. He threatens Lenora with burning himself in the opening, and then she tells Tobias they can’t take that risk, whatever that means. That’s the driving tension in the episode, Martin’s drive to prevent war versus Lenora’s drive to protect the East’s interests. She remains sympathetic to her nephew, but not enough to actually listen to his assessment of things, so she’ll reap what she’s sown, specifically, Martin’s confession to General Edel. He doesn’t reveal any other secrets or bugs or East German tradecraft, but he does tell the general that the East is committed to the belief that Able Archer is cover for an attack, despite the fact that the Pershing-II missiles are still out of the country. In the coming-of-age story, this is the moment we find out what Martin really stands for. He’s not doing any of this out of self-interest. His values are those of Mayer’s: He’s standing up to the entrenched military might of the West to prevent war. Our little boy is all grown up.

Edel has had a hell of a day—this probably tops hearing about his son’s sex life, but it’s close—so he doesn’t respond with full sobriety. Instead he just arrests Martin, or tries to, or, well, he turns around and intends to lead Martin back to the room with all the other officers for them to arrest him, somehow not remembering that a prisoner wants nothing more than to be free. Martin runs off, shakes the guards, and drives off into the night to what must be among the best uses of “White Wedding” in TV history. Now the West prepares a military exercise it knows will be taken as grounds for war by the East, the East takes lack of proof (radio silence) as proof of the West’s ill intentions, and Deutschland 83 cranks the pot to its boiling point just in time for the season finale.

Stray observations

  • “Bold Guard” is written by Georg Hartmann and Anna Winger and directed by Samira Radsi.
  • Poor Thomas gets interrogated for trying to bring some banned culture to sleepy Wittenberg as Martin Luther intended. Where is that going? They can’t kill him for that, right? Why the drawn out interrogation?
  • On-The-Nose Song Of The Week: Everyone on the Udo Lindenberg bus sings, “Sonderzug Nach Pankow,” which basically means “special train to Berlin.” Perfect.

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