The first two seasons of the German series Babylon Berlin were excellent. The third, released on Netflix at the beginning of March (i.e., a hundred years ago), is absolutely superb. It builds brilliantly on a lavish, addictive foundation, weaving a complex, multifaceted plot across a historical era filled with mystery, intrigue, and political peril.
Set in Germany in 1929, the show chronicles the many cases of Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), a troubled inspector on the Berlin police force. A problematic but generally honorable man, Rath divides his time between battling crime and his own inner demons — the latter having roots in his traumatic experiences as a soldier in World War I. Rath has a busy caseload, headlined by the mysterious on-set death of a a film star, but also a complicated personal life. He’s now living with his brother’s widow Helga (Hannah Herzsprung) and her son Moritz (Ivo Pietzcker). Gereon’s troubled, once-secret romance with Helga, now public, fills him with guilt. The relationship hits the rocks, made all the worse by the fact that Gereon clearly has feelings for his assistant inspector, Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries). Charlotte is a former dancer, prostitute, and clerk who has become Rath’s protege. Despite the toxic male environment of her workpace, Charlotte is diligently attempting to build a case for herself as an inspector in her own right, and proves herself time and again. Her resourcefulness is put to the test, though, as she juggles her casework with Rath against duties to the people of her impoverished home life. Plus she’s working, with Rath’s help, to save the life of her good friend Greta Overbeck (Leonie Benesch), who was tragically manipulated in a devious plot and got caught in a clandestine war between the nascent Nazi party and the communists.
Babylon Berlin is opulent historical noir, gorgeous and riveting. Its world is rich and vibrant, and its narrative is fiendishly complex, interlacing dark plots and subplots and B stories seamlessly into an intriguing tapestry. Bruch and Fries are extremely appealing leads with legitimate chemistry, and there are scores of memorable supporting characters surrounding them: fellow police officers, gangters, journalists, activists, prisoners, and more, all set against a fraught backdrop with the ominous weight of history hanging over it. The perfectly realized setting couldn’t be more timely, as the privileged and burgeoning wealth of an era crashes headlong toward catastrophe. But through its darkness, Rath and Charlotte are beacons of hope and endurance, as are the seeds of anti-Nazi resistance starting to turn up in the show’s many, vivid niches. An enthralling historical mystery and glorious season of television.