Deutschland 83 episode two review: ‘A heady cocktail of the lethal and the ludicrous’

Ben Dowell finds our hero Martin facing a whole new set of headaches in the second visit to the C4 Cold War drama. But he’s glad to see the script also has its lighter moments…

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The second instalment of this intriguing German Cold War drama has really found its feet. We have established our East German spy hero Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) on the other side of the Iron Curtain as adjutant to US General Jackson, and the fun and games of life as an undercover operative have begun in earnest.

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Fun and games? Well, it’s a lot darker than that. Martin is treading a profoundly perilous path, and his boss – the steely, unscrupulous Leonora Rauch (Maria Schrader) – looks like she would snap his neck without a blink if she needed to.

Rauch’s ailing mother (promised treatment by the Communists as thanks for his work but looking decidedly peaky this episode) is another worry. And of course there is the lengthy prison sentence (or worse) he’d face if the Nato lot rumble him.

But there are many moments of light relief to be had in this episode. A particular skill of Anna and Joerg Winger’s script is their smart and sparing use of humour and absurdity: Rauch’s life hangs in the balance for nearly every second, but while this is rarely the most relaxing viewing experience, there’s always the odd observation, cock-up or coincidence to defuse the tension.

I loved Martin’s delight in the free hotel toiletries and sweets on offer, or his naivety about how the capitalist system of supply and demand works when he assumed that a waitress asking for his room number wanted sex and not the means to bill him.

The scene where Martin gets the listening device in General Jackson’s bedroom, only for the senior commander to decide at the last minute that he’d rather take another room thank you very much, was played out wittily. You got the feeling that the reality of spying in 1983 was probably a bit like that.

And amid all the mayhem caused by him nearly getting stabbed through the eye by a mystery assailant right at the end, Martin was also capable of seeing the amusing side himself. He fought his attacker off (who was she? Chinese secret service? KGB?) and then suddenly realised his good fortune. Now she could be blamed for his dirty work.

Of course I doubt even Martin will see the funny side of what his beautiful girlfriend Annett (Sonja Gerhard) has been up to during his absence from East Germany (she’s found a new swimming partner, who is proving a good deal more besides).

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It’s a weird cocktail of the lethal and the ludicrous that makes this drama so compelling.

Plus, we really care for Martin, even if he is spying for a totalitarian dictatorship we know will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of history. And once again it was also a nice trip back in time, with nostalgics able to enjoy a nifty soundtrack, with Blondie and The Cure added to the New Order and Nena we got in episode one.

What was The Cure song we heard a snatch of?

Boys Don’t Cry.

If Martin follows Robert Smith’s dictum, then he should be OK. But you never know…

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Deutschland 83 continues Channel 4 on Sunday nights