Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Plot: Max McLaughlin is an American cop who arrives in Berlin in the summer of 1946 to help create a police force in the chaotic aftermath of the war.
Review: After watching this top notch series from Netflix, I feel like it should’ve been called “The Survivors” instead of “The Defeated” (also known as Shadowplay). At its core this is just that—a story of survival in the face of extreme difficulties in a time when the entire world had been affected by the events of World War II. Germany itself is left in shambles and as the allies divide the country in four parts (The French Sector, British Sector, Russian Sector, and American Sector) for the people left picking up the pieces (both literally and figuratively) it becomes a daily struggle to hold on to your morality and personal ethics.
Leading the charge we have Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor) as Max, an American cop who’s sent to Berlin to teach a handful of willing natives how to be police officers. Kitsch is an actor I feel has never really gotten a fair shake in roles that most deem forgettable. I’m actually one of the defenders of John Carter and I thought he was solid in True Detective. Here he delivers as the extremely likeable but deeply sad and emotionally broken detective who finds it harder and harder to stand by his morals as he’s forced to keep dark secrets by way of his brother’s actions. Kitsch had me rooting for him early on and, even when his character makes choices I didn’t agree with, as our lead protagonist he’s everything you want in a hero.
Kitsch doesn’t carry this series alone and it would take way too long to go through all of the performances. So I’ll just say other standout performances here are delivered by Nina Hoss as Elsie Garten, the German woman who put together a rag tag group and created her own police force to try and help survivors find some sense of security, and Logan Marshall-Green (The Invitation, Upgrade) as Moritz McLaughlin, Max’s older brother who went AWOL (he’s also the real reason Max comes to Berlin) and who makes serial killer Dexter look like a choir boy by comparison. Speaking of Dexter, we also have Michael C. Hall as Tom Franklin, Max’s liaison in Berlin who has an agenda of his own, Tuppence Middleton (Sense8) as his wife Claire, Sebastian Koch (Bridge of Spies) as the manipulative sociopath Dr Gladow aka The Angel Maker and Mala Emde (And Tomorrow the Entire World) as Karin Mann, a young woman whose descent into darkness is one of the saddest aspects of the series. All of the main players here manage to leave an impact, and considering how many storylines converge to create this first season, that’s quite an achievement.
Visuals, set designs, score, and costumes all feel authentic to the period and I got lost in The Defeated in the best of ways. They say history is written by the winners and the opening scene of episode one immediately confirms this as we’re bombarded with images of American propaganda that celebrates how much good they’re doing in helping the German people recover. These images then fade into scenes of people picking through rubble, looking for food, stealing and doing anything they can to survive. To think there was a time (called pre-internet) when the world bought into these cover stories. The Defeated touches on this a bit but the focus here is more on the individual than the whole, which some may argue is a failure on the part of the series. I took it for what it was though—a compelling mystery, wrapped up in a thriller with dramatic moments here and there that sometimes examine the deeper scars caused by war.
My other issue with this series might just be my cynical side showing but once again we have an American hero riding in to save the day. It’s something writers do way too often when it comes to these types of stories *cough The Last Samurai cough* and it wouldn’t have changed anything narrative-wise if Max and Mortiz were British or French or even German. Moritz is certifiably insane and yet he’s painted in a heroic light because the people he’s targeting are worse than he is. Nothing against both actors who deliver strong performances but let’s face it, the American hero saving the poor foreigners has become a trope all its own.
Negatives aside, I really enjoyed The Defeated. I don’t think it needed to be a series but structuring it as such did give me time to build real connections with these characters and spend time in a world that most people thankfully never get to see. And with such strong performances and interesting settings I’m positive I’ll be watching the second season whenever it comes our way.
Sommer’s Score: 7 out of 10
And you can check out more World War II-era drama below:
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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