by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Schwarzes Marken ?
In a setting predicated on paranoia and backstabbing, it seems only fitting that yet another round of betrayals and power grabs plays out in this next-to-last episode. Sadly, it also seems only fitting that the 666 Squadron may have lost another of its core cast members – this time it's one who's been around since the beginning. At least this loss, if real, comes at a heavy cost to the opposition.
The episode begins with the Werewolf Battalion being called back from the absolute defense line against the BETA. On the way back, they run into a rebel ambush set up by Gretel and the remaining 666 Squadron members, which chips away at their numbers until a sortie from the secret base of the Russian faction comes out to assist. With the tables turned, the Battalion advances on the HQ of General Heim and seems to have destroyed it before rebel reinforcements and low fuel force them to retreat, though Heim did survive at the expense of his chief subordinate's life.
But all of that is just the set-up for the real action. While Gretel is being shown the Stasi files by Axmann, Brehme deals with Commander Schmidt, who is revealed to actually be a KGB operative intending to use East Germany as a bulwark for the Soviet Union. Even though Brehme initially looks like she may have overplayed her hand, Schmidt doesn't know that Brehme and Axmann aren't actually rivals but in cahoots with each other. This is all a power play for Brehme (not Axmann!) to come out on top, and Axmann showing Gretel what he's doing with the Stasi files (blowing them up but saving copies on disk) is an attempt to entice Gretel over to their side. This time, though, Axmann isn't as control of the situation as he thinks, as an open comm link allows Gretel to reveal Axmann's actions to the rebels, who come storming in. As Theodor and the remaining 666 Squadron suit up (figuratively speaking) for a final battle against the Werewolf Battalion, and Brehme taunts the imprisoned Irisdina, Axmann's disks go up in flames – and Gretel may have gone with them, since she got gut-shot as part of Axmann's attempted escape.
Lise going down last episode was fully expected, but Gretel also dying (and I won't believe that's the case until they confirm it next episode) would be a more impactful loss, since she was starting to shape up into a pretty decent character: loyal to the party and state, but not blinded by that loyalty like so many characters of her type are. Schmidt's real identity being revealed is a mildly unexpected but still quite reasonable twist, given that KGB operatives historically had many “ins” with the East German government, but Axmann revealing that he was double-crossing everyone and actually working with Brehme wasn't; they seemed so cozy early on that I had a hard time believing that they were actually on opposite sides. On the downside, once again the series conveniently ignores the situation on the front, with all parties acting as if there is little urgency to deal with that assault.
The early scene where Theodor and comrades are standing in a tent with Lise's body bag also deserves special mention. Initially, I had the intended negative gut reaction to the insensitivity of the female rebel leader about the situation (she congratulated Theodor on removing a key obstacle), but in retrospect that is an important scene. Both characters and viewers needed to be reminded that Lise is only in any way sympathetic (or deserving of sympathy) from the 666's view point, and probably not even from the viewpoint of all of them. To anyone else, she was a villain who didn't shy from killing a former comrade or ordering their torture. They – and the audience – would be cheering her death too, if our association with the character was less personal.
One other interesting detail is the way the German children's song “Hänschen Klein” is worked in as a story told by a mother to her child in East Berlin, albeit in its original form rather than the more commonly-used 20th century version. The original was about a juvenile who ventured out into the world and then returned home as an adult. (The 20th century version has the child returning home right away when his mother cries about his absence.) All sorts of symbolic meaning can be read into that, so it is a slick inclusion.
On the artistic front, the mecha battles shine – or they would if the settings weren't so dark. Fan service is mostly relegated to undue attention paid to the butt of Circe/Kirke, but it is still there; apparently the series cannot fight too much against its underlying nature even with all of the drama involved. Still, everything is in place now for the final confrontations next episode.
Schwarzes Marken is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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