Recap: Babylon Berlin Season 1, Episode 5
Pieces move into place as Babylon Berlin explores the city’s grim days and opulent nights.
We open with a child in adorable pajamas—surely a harbinger of impending tragedy on this show—who promptly shoots his father while playing with his gun. So much for Chekhov.
Kardakov finds himself double-crossed by Svetlana for the final (?) time, when she appears in her fabulous drag outfit just as the Stalinists arrive. A desperate chase ensues, in which the ever-scrappy Trotskyite makes good use of a milk bottle, leaving one of the goons with an injured hand that leaves a convenient trail of blood throughout the building. He barricades himself in the attic and attempts to stretch a board over to the next ledge, but it falls. Svetlana arrives to deliver the killing shot, sending him tumbling from the window into the shallow water below, until a flashy zoom reminiscent of a silent film reveals his clenched fist.
Elsewhere, Lotte brings her friend Greta to the subterranean dressing rooms of the Moka Efti to set her up with a job, insisting that it’s not that bad once you get the hang of it. Greta appears reticent at first, then reveals the reason goes beyond moral scruples: she has an inflamed, fresh scar on her belly, likely the result of a C-section.
Lotte swings by police headquarters and makes a date to go swimming with Wolter’s assistant Jänicke (now Stefan), while Rath finds out where the mysterious film he’s investigating was developed. He calls Helga and talks about his brother’s horse Yucatan, reminded of a dream he had by the picture on the wall in the film, which is very Dale Cooper of him. He invites her to come to Berlin, but she seems less than enthusiastic, before Wolter lurks into frame with news of the deaths from the recent street clashes.
Outside, Dr. Volcker whips a crowd of protesters into a frenzy with tales of police brutality, and the mayor arrives to tamp down dissent. The men in power hatch a plot to show that the police were attacked first.
Lotte goes out to investigate Svetlana’s flat, finding it empty, and pulls a nifty move where she pretends to leave then sneaks back upstairs without shoes to pick the lock. She finds the knife that fell in the scuffle between the lovers and follows the assassin’s trail of blood down to where Kardakov fell, but nothing remains except a book with a bullet lodged inside. Kardakov might have nine lives, but even his luck can’t last forever. Lotte is less fortunate, and gets the cops called on her by the caretaker for her troubles.
Rath muscles his way into the studio where his film was developed, finding himself in a screening of an early Marlene Dietrich film. It’s interesting to see the show namecheck Dietrich, whose presence has loomed large over the production from Svetlana’s Morocco-esque getup to the overall sense of bleary-eyed glamor. Her silver screen presence could be another of many nods to the idea of performance and hidden lives, but for now it’s a fun Easter egg.
In his investigations, Rath learns that König only made one copy of his films, and a courier always took the negatives. He goes after Krajewski, who hops on a subway train and takes advantage of the understandably high anti-cop sentiment to have Rath thrown onto the platform by an angry crowd. He dusts himself off and goes to collect Lotte, a bit annoyed until he learns of the book with the bullet lodged inside and she tells him Kardakov is still in Berlin—Rath calls Svetlana’s gun a “weapon for the opera,” a piece designed for people who can’t shoot. The two share a tasty lunch of beer, mashed potatoes, and cigarettes and agree to attend a concert featuring Trechkov, Kardakov’s fellow musician, later that evening, and Lotte hails a cab in true jaunty flapper fashion.
Back at HQ, the chief of police spins a hackneyed law and order defense for the shooting deaths, then brings out a man in a wheelchair as evidence the police were fired on first. It’s the wounded father from the cold open—Chekhov’s gun pays off after all.
Meanwhile, Lotte turns in her application for homicide and picks up a flyer for a housekeeping gig for state councillor Benda, another opportunity for espionage, perhaps. We see young Jänicke reporting to Benda, possibly as part of an internal affairs investigation. (The web of surveillance is getting so thick you need a machete to hack through it at this point.)
Rath and Lotte and her very snappy dress attend Trechkov’s midnight show, which happens to be a drag performance in a cozy queer bar. The two of them question him after the show, and he’s only too happy to complain about Kardakov and his dreary compatriots, giving up the location of the “Red Fortress” where they made their headquarters.
A night of drinking and dancing follows (well, drinking lemonade for Rath, anyway), with Lotte eventually asking him if there’s anyone in his life. He replies that, as with most things on Babylon Berlin, “it’s not that simple.” It’s refreshing to see these two cut loose together, and the show excels at depicting the shimmering nightlife of Weimar-era Berlin in stark contrast to the poverty and unrest that mar its days. Tensions are ratcheting up, but for one night at least, it feels good to blow off a little steam.