So! Berlin Station… a 10 part original series scheduled for fall of 2016 on EPIX. Isn’t it exciting? I couldn’t have been more thrilled when we learned two weeks ago that Richard Armitage was cast as the lead character, Daniel Meyer, described as something of a rookie CIA case officer, evidently a former analyst… oh please, please, please let this mean he might have a bit of nerdy vibe, or even wear spectacles! Something I’ve been waiting to see… hot men in spectacles really do it for me!
From what I’ve gleaned, Meyer is to be stationed in contemporary Berlin with the covert task of spying on his own CIA colleagues to uncover a mole who leaked information to a “Snowden-esque” whistleblower Thomas Shaw. The fact that he’s more of an analyst than a seasoned operative should put an interesting twist on things. We know Richard’s talents in the spy and special-ops genres, but we haven’t seen him do much in the way of “rookie spook” and I wonder… will that open the door for a touch of humor? I’m not expecting heavy comedy, you understand… but certainly any rookie is bound to make a few mistakes, and mistakes can sometimes be comedic.
Since this is an original series, rather than based off a book that has already been written, like so many of Richard’s recent roles, I was a bit stymied. My usual pattern is to rush out and read Red Dragon, or Brain on Fire, or Summer, or Urban Grimshaw and The Shed Crew… but here, there wasn’t much in the way of advance reading material. Until I stumbled onto this blog post, read the line “The idea of Steinhauer penning an entire TV season (as crime novelist Nick Pizzolatto did so successfully on True Detective) is pure catnip for this spy fan.” Now I realized that I could at least check out the works of the series writer/producer Olen Steinhauer, to get an idea of his writing style. Not that it’s guaranteed that his script writing will be exactly like his novel writing, but I like a good book and this blogger said “catnip” which was good enough for me.
So, I opted to download the first book in Steinhauer’s Milo Weaver trilogy, titled The Tourist… and I wasn’t disappointed. I thought it was a taut, well-written book that made me care for Milo Weaver, had plenty of twists and turns, and even had me dreaming about some of the scenarios. I didn’t love the narrator, and was therefore really relieved when, upon finishing the audiobook this morning, I went to immediately download book 2 and found there is a new narrator (with better reviews) who narrated the next two books in the series. Milo Weaver’s story has nothing to do with Berlin Station, as far as I know, and he’s quite the opposite of Daniel Meyer in some ways, because he’s a seasoned CIA operative, (the author’s euphemism for this type of field agent is “Tourist”)… although as the novel begins, Milo is a bit “rusty”, having retired from field work and spent the last 6 years as an analyst after starting a family. I was able to get a good impression of the author’s version, or vision, of how the murky world of “tourism” (espionage) operates, and the storyline was compelling enough for me to want to continue, regardless of it having no direct ties (aside from the author himself) to the upcoming Berlin Station. I understand that a succession of companies have acquired the rights to the Milo Weaver stories, but as far as I know, no adaptation is in the works as of yet. By the way, if you’re thinking of reading this, there are some spoilers below.
Aside from the obvious action and intrigue, what I particularly liked about Steinhauer’s writing was his portrayal of Milo’s disillusionment and the resultant paranoia rampant in the black op and espionage culture, his inability to trust and the ways that it influences his family life. The author also draws compelling secondary characters and even manages to get some humor in there. One of my favorite more humerous aspects was the (probably) mythical “Black Book”… the existence of which is a rumor that circulates among “Tourists” and comes up several times throughout the story. Exerpt:
“Let me ask you something,” Roth said. “What’s your opinion on the Black Book?”
“The What Book?”
“Stop pretending, please.”
Within the subculture of Tourism, the Black Book was the closest thing to The Holy Grail. It was the secret guide to survival, rumored to be planted by a retired Tourist, twenty-one copies hidden in locations around the world. The stories of the Black Book were as old as Tourism itself. “It’s bunk,” said Milo.
But Milo, and apparently all the spies, nevertheless have at various times tried to track it down, and though of course Milo never found a copy, he isn’t above pretending that he did, when it comes in handy to impress (and distract) a younger agent Milo is forced to collaborate with later on in the story. I found this to be quite comedic, and I can’t help but hope that perhaps Steinhauer has some similar devices in store for the presumably somewhat naïve character of Daniel Meyer.
If his script writing follows his novel writing style, we can definitely count on plenty of twists and turns in the plot, and possibly some time jumps as well. Steinhauer has a pattern of laying out certain aspects of the story, placing his characters in situations that don’t seem to follow logically from the previous chapter, or introducing new characters that don’t seem to make sense, making the reader think “Wait… how the hell did that come about” or “Just a minute… who the hell is this guy?” and then, sometimes several chapters later, going back and laying the groundwork for how these characters fit into the story or what happened before to bring us to the current action. For instance, Milo may be on the run for his life in one chapter, and then undergoing brutal interrogation, having turned himself in, the next chapter. Only later does the author reveal the scenario that led to him turning himself in, and still later reveal the master plan that has been cleverly set in motion by these events.
So if Daniel Meyer is the protagonist and is anything like Milo Weaver, we can probably expect him at least eventually to have a deeper game than what is at first apparent, and there may be more to his history than meets the eye. I’m definitely looking forward to this movie. If the script is as well done as the one novel I’ve read, and the characters as well-drawn, it’s going to be some great material for Richard. And, well… Richard can take even pretty lame scripts and make the most of what he’s given. So I have high hopes for this one!