Taking inspiration from headline-makers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, Berlin Station focuses on the CIA’s efforts to stop a leak by any means necessary. Hannibal's Richard Armitage takes the lead as Daniel Miller, an American spy who grew up in Cold War-era Berlin and who is reassigned to his hometown to catch the whistleblower known in the press by the alias “Thomas Shaw.” Meanwhile, the growing threat of ISIS and fraying diplomatic relations with Germany complicate the internal investigation.
Berlin Station makes a few big reveals early in the series that shake the standard spy-thriller arc: rather than tease the mystery of the whistleblower across several episodes, the show opts instead to focus on the tension that exists when the audience knows the antagonist’s identity and the main characters do not. Thus the mystery becomes Thomas Shaw’s underlying motivations – what events caused him to turn traitor? As the season plays on and these motivations become clearer, it will come as no surprise if the audience should feel increasingly sympathetic to the apparent villain. By the end of the second episode, we know far more about Thomas Shaw than we have learned about Daniel Miller.
Rhys Ifans (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Michelle Forbes (True Blood), and Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) round out the supporting cast as Daniel’s fellow CIA operatives, each of whom struggles to maintain some distinction between their private and professional identities. In particular, Rhys Ifans as Hector DeJean, a veteran agent struggling to protect the life of his main contact (a Saudi prince who faces death should he return from Berlin), brings compelling depth and disillusionment to the role.
Comparisons to 24 and Homeland are inevitable (and deserved), but Berlin Station might be closer matched to House of Cards than any cable thriller. With its heavy atmosphere and fast-turning machinations, the tone of the series closely resembles Netflix’s critically lauded hit (minus the frequent asides). EPIX has clearly invested heavily in its first prestige drama, and the result is a worthwhile and timely look at the lives of the people who handle state secrets and the toll those secrets can take on them.