May 1, 2020
Deutschland 83: Modern Love and Cultural Misunderstandings
When last we left Martin Rauch, alias Moritz Stamm, our reluctant cold warrior had completed his “one time only” mission and gotten pictures of the plans for deploying mo’ betta nuclear weapons in West Germany aimed at East Germany. Those photos sealed his fate—not that there was ever much doubt. Martin, your country needs you in your spectacularly well placed assignment indefinitely. In the second episode, we’re heading to a major conference with NATO and the Americans (not to be confused with The Americans although a crossover would be pretty awesome). Martin and his boss’s son, Alexander, are assigned by Papa Edel to be the advance team.
To make sure we get the picture of how important this shindig is, there are a lot of talking heads on the television debating who’s eviler (but alas no Television or Talking Heads on the new wave-infused soundtrack).
It’s a couple of weeks since the party. Renata, General Edel’s “crazy” sister-in-law, tells her sister she found an officer’s button in her bedroom, which sparked memories. What does she remember? Actually everything. The entire phone call Martin made to Annett in East Germany. But fortunately, Ursula dismisses her sister’s ravings as a “sexual fantasy.” She has more on her plate. Yvonne’s run away to an ashram, and her husband’s no help what with planning the nuclear apocalypse and all.
Speaking of sexual fantasies, the Doomsday 83 Planning Event! is taking place at a swanky old Bonn hotel. No sooner has Martin bounced on the new bed, eaten an orange and checked out the color television in his room (sometimes it’s good to be in the West), when there’s a knock. There before him is a leggy, shorthaired hottie wearing what looks like a classic French maid’s uniform. Sweet! But then she’s pointing a gun at his chest and asking him his real name. After he doesn’t crack, she tells him he passed the test. She’s Nina, and on his side. Gunplay is just her way of saying hello. His first task, plant a bug the room of NATO Planning Analyst (and Philip Jennings in disguise lookalike) Hendrik Mayer.
Conveniently, checking out Mayer’s accommodations was part of his agenda as advance man. The hotelier, who has a strangely familiar side part, shows Martin and Alexander the view from the balcony as he proudly proclaims, “Der Fuhrer loved this room,” thereby confirming our worst fears about Germany. Might he have been the lovechild of a certain someone and a hotel chambermaid? You decide:
Martin gets a short meeting with Tishbier—the mole academic we met last week. Martin wants to know the deal with his mother’s transplant. He’s told Lorena is “working” on it. Stasi’s as bad as the average American health insurance company. Then Tishbier goes off to his day job as a big-time speechmaker for the peace movement because apparently that whole “nuclear-freeze” thing really was a commie plot. Guess who is gushing after Tishbier’s talk like a besotted fanboy? Alexander Edel is who. Can you say future highly placed asset?
The bug was only the beginning. He’s has to photograph plans Mayer will leave in his hotel room safe. How can we be sure that’s where he’ll leave them? That he won’t have his briefcase handcuffed to his wrist? Or have armed guards watching them? Never mind. Nina stole him a room key while sexing up Adolph, Jr., and she also gives him a bag full of stuff that might come in handy.
Back in the DDR, Annett goes skinny dipping with some co-worker dude. In case we need it spelled out for us, we get definitive proof there are benefits to their friendship. Also he asks a lot of questions about Martin’s whereabouts. Is he afraid Martin is the jealous type, or could he be a Western mole? Or maybe the scene is a gratuitous way to showcase Annett’s bodacious body once again? Also back in die heimat, Martin’s mother, Ingrid, is not looking well.
The grown-ups arrive at the hotel, and Martin shows Mayer his room. General Jackson walks in and comments about how much better the view is. Mayer offers to trade. Uh-oh! Now Martin has to move the bug. He’s pretty good at this and manages to get the listening device into the right room, but he doesn’t have a key to Mayer’s new room, so that’s going to be a problem.
Besides a certain illegal in America, does Mayer remind you of anyone else? This guy maybe?
Strangelove may be what the writers had in mind because at the big meeting he reveals that every scenario he’s worked out ends with a boom. General Jackson also makes it clear that while the USA is all about the democracy, West German political considerations and its peace movement aren’t really a concern. The missiles are a done deal, and the U.S. really is thinking the unthinkable—a nuclear war they can win.
Was nuclear winter really coming? (And would it have included ice-zombies?) Jackson mentions going ahead with “Able Archer,” which was a real 10-day exercise that happened in November 1983, and culminated in a simulated nuclear attack. Because of all the fired up rhetoric (e.g. “evil empire”) the Soviets took it seriously and readied their nuclear weapons.
Somewhere to the east, Lenora visits Annett at the school where she and Mama Ingrid both work. Is she there because the Stasi knows she’s been cheating on Martin? Nope. She’s there to totally manipulate Annett into moving in with Ingrid, which takes her less than two minutes to do. Why does she do it? Lenora mentions something about her sister’s “susceptibility to Western influences.” Maybe she’s afraid Ingrid will defect to West Germany to take advantage of socialized medicine in a capitalist welfare state.
Martin gets to avoid getting outed by Lt. Sperber when General Edel sends him and Alexander to fetch Yvonne from the ashram because whatever. Turns out Yvonne is a disciple of Bwagwan Sree Ragneesh, a “real” guru known for his lavish lifestyle and super kinky sexytimes. Bwagwan lived somewhere near Portland (where else?), but his picture is prominently displayed at the ashram. He looks a lot like some other cult leader with lots of followers.
Martin plays good cop to Alexander’s bad cop and persuades Yvonne to come home for her worried mother. Manipulation must be a family trait.
When he returns to the hotel, it’s after dark and all of the conferees are downstairs drinking because nobody loves to party like NATO and senior military brass. Martin goes out his window and walks along the ledge unnoticed by the security detail surrounding the place, then sneaks into Mayer’s room. Now all he has to do is open the safe, take some pictures, and drop the microfilm down to the cohort waiting below. What could possibly go wrong?
Turns out the plans are on a floppy disk—that beloved 1980s artifact that was the latest in tech back then. Unsure what to do, he decides to take it even though he’ll be totally screwed because the theft will be obvious. Doesn’t look like there’s any way out, does it?
But Martin’s a lucky guy. When he’s gets back to his room, there’s a lady waiting in his bed who doesn’t seem at all disturbed that he entered via the window. Is it Nina or Annett? Nope. It’s a waitress who works at the hotel. Earlier that day they’d had a cute little misunderstanding. She comes up to him wrapped in a towel, takes out the long sharp hairpin holding her bun up, and tries to stab him with it.
She’s Chinese, which definitely adds some camp and possibly racism to her deadly ninja vixen act. The whole scene is Austin Powers-level ridiculous and a good example of the show’s ability—or inability depending on your viewpoint—to suddenly switch tone. Martin improvises an ice-bucket cover as a shield. The struggle goes outside the room, and she goes over a railing but lands on her feet. Then, when someone else comes along, she runs out into the night. What was her game plan? Had she come to steal plans she thought he might still have? We’ll never know.
A bloodied Martin, already exposed, calls out for help. Next we see General Edel listening to Martin’s story: He opened the door, and she must have knocked him out. The next thing he knew she was throwing something out the window. They struggled, and she ran out. Now it looks to everyone like the Chinese stole the diskette, or maybe she was with the Russians. Martin’s in the clear. Or is he? Edel sure looks skeptical, and we already know his wife told him something of what Renata told her. Edel doesn’t confront Martin, but tells him to clean himself up and come downstairs for a drink. He leaves Martin’s room.
A couple of seconds later General Jackson comes through the door with Sperber. Is this a test? There’s an awkward moment when Sperber stares at him. Martin says, “Sperber.” Sperber shakes his hand and says he’s so drunk he didn’t recognize him at first. Martin goes with it, asking how things are in back in Braunschweig. General Jackson leaves them to socialize, and then Sperber realizes they don’t have much to say to each other and leaves.
If it was a test, it looks like Martin passed (which doesn’t mean he’s in the clear forever).
The episode ends with Martin coming down to join the party downstairs. He meets Linda Seiler, Mayer’s attractive secretary. Bowie’s Modern Love plays in the background. Looks like Martin’s luck hasn’t run out yet.