||In 2017, the German television serial Babylon Berlin proved a huge success in its native land, proof that a crime series did not have to be British or Scandinavian to catch the imaginations of the wider audience across Europe, nay, the world. It was followed up by another season after which there was a hiatus as the producers - including co-creator Tom Tykwer, the closest thing this had to a star name in its behind the scenes personnel - drew up their plans to adapt another of the detective novels set in the Weimar Republic by Volker Kutscher. In 2020 it arrived, and most fans from before were just as impressed.
The previous two series had established our two main characters, Kommissar Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), a detective in Berlin's police force, and his assistant Charlotte Ritter (Lisa Liv Fries) who had ambitions to rise through the ranks of the law to become Rath's equal, if not better. They had investigated a pornography ring that had been intrinsically linked to blackmail of some very powerful authorities, and grown very close as the machinations that brought about the eventual rise of the fascists loomed in the background, our hero and heroine beginning to grasp the implications of what that meant.
The weight of history was very much on anyone's mind who watched Babylon Berlin, and part of the reason it was so well portrayed was down to the knowledge that there were some very bad things on the way for each and every citizen of Germany we saw here, to put it mildly. As we caught up with season 3, the main mystery was to find out the culprit who has murdered a film star at one of the then-world famous movie studios around the capital, who we initially witness as a Phantom of the Opera-style masked menace who causes a heavy spotlight to fall and land on the head of said celebrity, all very Andrew Lloyd Webber.
This Phantom thread continues throughout the third season, but there is more to it than that, as the business from the first two seasons has to be taken care of as well. Greta (Leonie Benesch) was last seen being framed for the murder by explosion of her employer, a well-placed and liberal member of the authorities, so yes, being 1929 the matter of the rise of the Nazi Party is ever more to the fore. Greta is now in prison, and indeed stays there for the whole twelve episodes while the other characters either seek to get her freed or attend to their own affairs, most of which are devilish in style and purpose.
So if Benesch doesn't get as much to do as last time except mope behind bars, how do the others fare? Kommissar Rath has trouble at home as he and his wife Helga (Hannah Herzsprung) have split up and she is causing him grief by frankly, stringing him along as she retires to relative luxury in a swanky hotel with new, mysterious companion. At work, meanwhile, he has to contend with the shady machinations of the Nazis who are infiltrating every strata of the powers that be, as we see when at every turn the heroes, who dwindle with every instalment, are gradually outnumbered and thwarted by the bad guys' scheming.
That is kind of a problem, especially if you like to see television shows where the good guys prevail, because as you will know even without reading the books, if you have any grasp of history the bad guys do indeed win, to the point of taking over not only Germany but a large part of the world as well. With that in mind, the efforts of Rath and Lotte quickly resemble them trying to plug a collapsing dam with, shall we say, inadequate defences, and while the Nazis were obviously beaten, that takes place a full sixteen years in this narrative's future. Therefore you do not watch Babylon Berlin with hopes sky high.
Meanwhile Lotte must counter the sexism she faces in her job as her male colleagues don't take her seriously, as well as having to be rescued again. Her love life is not much better, if you're shipping her and Gereon, don't get too excited, she does have a lesbian dalliance but that old cliché of a gay character getting bumped off to show how evil the villains are raises its head once again. Also, there's no getting away from it, in trying to ramp up the peril and the grimness of the foes, series three does get a bit silly, throwing in bits of Cabaret, Dr Mabuse the Gambler, Eyes Wide Shut and eighties slasher flicks to create a society of decadence that appear to have invited the forces of evil in, like vampires. The explanation of what was actually going on with the Phantom is especially bizarre, suggesting this is better approached as pulp rather than history. But as the season begins and ends with the stock market crash of 1929, things will only get worse for the denizens of this German Babylon…