Babylon Berlin recently finished its first season, and was absolutely stunning from start to finish. It’s a complex paranoia thriller, a noir mystery set against the backdrop of political intrigue, police corruption and revolutionary fervour – drawing each of its threads together into a compelling and skilfully executed larger story. The series carries itself with a certain confidence, and it’s an entirely deserved one.
There’s something almost relentless about Babylon Berlin – not in terms of pace, where the show is considered and measured, but rather in its zeal and dynamic. At times it’s positively electric, centred as it is at the eye of the storm at a time when the world is changing. With its focus on rising extremism from both sides of the political spectrum, Babylon Berlin depicts a way of life the audience knows will soon be cut short – something that adds to the current of urgency that underpins the series.
Much as Babylon Berlin is concerned with the bigger picture, though, it never loses sight of its characters, each of whom are powerful creations. From detective Gereon Rath, struggling with PTSD after his experiences in World War One, to police assistant Charlotte Ritter, ambitious yet with a commanding presence in her own right, to failed revolutionary Alexej Kardakow, each character is deeply engaging. A lot of this is due to the strength of the actors; Volker Bruch is a strong lead as Detective Rath, anchoring the series around his nuanced performance, but it’s Liv Lisa Fries who stands out the most. Imbuing Charlotte with a certain charm and charisma that lights up the screen whenever she’s around, it’s difficult not to be continually impressed by Fries. Of course, by the same measure, these characters succeed because the script is interested in their lives – these are more than just archetypes, even if you can argue that’s the starting point, but people rendered in intimate detail.
It’s worth remarking, too, on just how high the level of production is. Babylon Berlin is, in short, quite beautiful; it’s broad and expansive, and never shy of showing its range. Indeed, the series was the most expensive German television series ever made – costing $38 million, and filmed in over 300 locations – and you can see every penny on screen. Babylon Berlin perfectly evokes the aesthetic of the 1920s, juxtaposing decadence and debauchery with stark poverty. A little detail that stood out was just how well lit it was; something one wouldn’t necessarily pick up on, but just another facet of a wider whole that makes Babylon Berlin such an impressive visual feat. It’s the perfect backdrop for the series’ already deeply involving plotline, and helps realise the script’s powerful, immersive world.
And, of course, the soundtrack is deserving of a mention too – a huge amount of what makes this series so powerful is the rich sound design and howling score. Babylon Berlin sounds like nothing else on television, and in turn feels quite unique – a potent reminder of just how crucial the sound of a series ultimately proves to be. It lends the series a real vibrancy, with a palpable sense of frantic, frenetic energy; indeed, it’s this that makes the show quite so mesmerising, easy to get caught in its allure.
The second series continues tonight on Sky Atlantic, and looks set to be another heady – even intoxicating – instalment of the drama. If it reaches the same quality as the first season, or even surpasses it, this will undoubtedly be a show to remember.
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