Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Subscribe in a reader
Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Defeated’ On Netflix, About An American Cop Trying To Solve Crimes In Chaotic Post-War Berlin

The German series The Defeated doesn’t offer an alternate history of Berlin after World War II, but does offer a fictionalized account of the chaos in Berlin as the Allies jockeyed for power there in the war’s aftermath. It has an interesting premise, with an execution that can best be described as a slight miss. Read on for more.


Opening Shot: Newsreel footage of post-World War II Berlin, explaining that control of the city was split among the U.S., Russia, France and England. The narrator explains that the people of Germany are happy to be free of Nazi rule.

The Gist: The reality in 1946 Berlin is much different from what the newsreels. The city is in ruins from the war, and chaos reigns in the streets. Elsie Garten (Nina Hoss) talks to the makeshift police squad she leads about a young woman who was found murdered. She wants her squad to spare nothing looking to see who did it, and she suspects a doctor named Werner Gladow (Sebastian Koch), known as the “Angel Maker.”

The Angel Maker seems to take in hardship cases, like we see when a woman named Karin Mann (Mala Emde) comes to him about not getting treatment for an STD after being raped by two American soldiers. But once he gains the trust of these women, he draws them into doing other work that isn’t so noble.

On his first day in Berlin, Max McLaughlin (Taylor Kitsch), an NYPD detective from Brooklyn sent to train and organize this makeshift police squad, sees his jacket get stolen by a couple of kids. He gets it back but not before they threaten to hit a rock against an unexploded Allied bomb. When he gets to the station, he’s surprised that the makeshift squad is made up of mostly untrained civilians who are armed with mostly pipes.

When someone runs un and says Russians are shooting people, they respond and he manages to subdue two Russian soldiers who are still in battle mode. The Russian sector’s military leader, Alexander Izosimov (Ivan G’Vera), collects his soldiers and tells Max that this will be a Russian military matter. He instructs the “scarecrows” — the nickname people give this ersatz squad — to take witness statements and examine the crime scene closely.

Max meets with the vice consul, Tom Franklin (Michael C. Hall) and tells him about how chaotic things are; Franklin says “one day in Berlin and you already get it.” It certainly doesn’t slow Max down, however; he’s also in Berlin looking for his brother Moritz (Logan Marshall-Green), who “flipped out” and went AWOL at the end of the war. He knows he’s around the city somewhere, but no one will tell him where.

Meanwhile, a woman named Marianne (Anne Ratte-Polle), who works for the “Angel Maker”, kidnaps two American soldiers, and when Karin feels better, she brings the woman to where she has them hiding and tells her she can mete out justice. When that goes well, it looks like the doctor has a new recruit.

The Defeated

Photo: Netflix

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Even though this is about the post-war period and not the beginning of WWII, The Defeated gives off the same vibe as PBS’s World On Fire. 

Our Take: The Defeated (Original title: Shadowplay) tries to show what things were like in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of World War II, with the Allied forces all jostling for control while the citizens suffer through poverty, starvation, homelessness and rampant crime. In some ways, it actually does a good job of giving us that glimpse, especially with regards to the citizen-created police force that came together in the postwar authority vacuum. But once Kitsch enters the story, it starts to feel like a slightly above-average police procedural set in the late ’40s.

It isn’t a procedural; there are continuing storylines about The Angel Maker and how he recruits women to do his violent bidding, and the story of Max and his vigilante brother Moritz (their parents named them after German kids book characters) will permeate how Max conducts himself with Elsie and her squad. We hopefully will get to know more about Elsie and some of the people who work for her, like 16-year-old Gad (Maximilian Ehrenreich) who lives at the station and is following the legacy of his family — before they died in the Nazi concentration camps.

All of that is interesting dramatic fodder: What was it really like to survive in Berlin before things solidified in the ’50s? A show about this ragtag police force trying to get things under control would have been interesting. When Kitsch comes in, though, we’re distracted by his Brooklyn-ish accent, which makes sense for him to have, but it isn’t all that consistent. He’s there being this take-no-crap New York cop in the middle of a situation where most moral situations don’t have black or white answers.

There’s also a matter of the Soviet commander, Izosimov. While G’Vera plays him with the appropriate amount of automatonic evil, it feels like executive producer Måns Mårlind and his staff have decided to place the Russians in a familiar Cold War-era position, even though the Cold War hasn’t officially started yet. There’s no nuance to the Soviet side of the story, which is something that we would expect a series from a few decades ago to have, not something that’s in the prestige TV era.

Sex and Skin: None. Franklin’s wife Claire (Tuppence Middleton) flirts with Max, and tries to go back to his hotel room later on, but he rebuffs her both times.

Parting Shot: Max receives a note from his brother, who directs him to an abandoned building across the street from the hotel. In the building he finds four Nazi bodies hanging from a beam, heads mostly cut off. Inside the Max and Moritz book they read when they were younger, he finds another note. “Remember our promise. You know what to do. Moritz.”

Sleeper Star: We wonder why Michael C. Hall decided to take what is the seemingly small role of Tom Franklin. But we’re especially wondering where Middleton, who plays his flirtatious wife Claire, fits into this entire story.

Most Pilot-y Line: When the Berlin police chief knows he’s doomed, he tells Izosimov, “Please give my boots to my wife.” He had to know that the Russian wasn’t going to honor that request.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Even though we weren’t completely turned off by Taylor Kitsch’s performance, his presence in The Defeated transforms the show from something intriguing to something that could either get really good or go south in a hurry.


Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.comVanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post