SS-GB episode 2 review

Douglas Archer sinks further in to an impossible-to-exit situation in episode 2 of the BBC’s Len Deighton adaptation…

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

SS-GB might be billed as an alt-history thriller, but we’re really watching a circus act: Sam Riley’s Superintendent Douglas Archer is a high wire walker, his every step risking a perilous fall to an almost certain death. Resistance to the left of him, Nazis to the right, here he is, stuck in the middle with you.

Episode two left Archer at a low ebb. We didn’t see just a flicker of emotion from the usually stony-faced detective in that last scene but a total collapse, and understandably so. Discovering the corpse of young Jimmy Dunn in the bombed-out house where his wife was killed broke through Douglas’ defences and revealed the turmoil beneath that careful, capable demeanour.

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It was the right revelation to leave us with. Jimmy’s gruesomely tarred and feathered corpse may have had more punch as a cliff-hanger, but Douglas breaking down in his home created the pathos lacking in last week’s episode. Now we know our buttoned-up hero is human, we’re more moved to care about his impossible situation trapped between the rockiest and hardest of places.

It wasn’t all pain for Archer this week. He also managed to fit in in a tastefully honeyed love scene with the enigmatic Barbara Barga. “Winter in this town is gonna kill me if I don’t find some way of keeping warm” she told him. “Maybe I can help” he answered in true Austin Powers style, clearly not talking about cavity wall insulation. Lubricated by a snifter of black market brandy, Archer turned off the ornamental lamp and turned on the charm. “Don’t tear anything” she instructed, once again drawing attention to her much-showcased ice-blue gown. Would it be too much of a cliché to interpret that colour and all her talk of coldness as a hint towards Barga’s true nature? Probably, but then again, this is SS-GB, where the men are men and the femmes are fatale. “You can trust me” she oozed in the car ride home. Can he?

Doug and Babs’ pillow talk was gentler before the act than after it, when she warned him that he had no choice but to go along with his new whist-playing Resistance pals Mayhew, Staines and Benson or they’d kill him. Taking a belt and braces approach, the same message was also delivered in the form of Jimmy’s corpse. What choice does Archer have? None at all. Watching him attempt to navigate these shark-infested waters is beginning to intrigue.

Similarly intriguing (to history dolts like me at least) was learning of fractures in the German side that the Resistance plans to exploit. A rivalry between the German army and the SS adds a new layer of complexity to a series whose first episode wasn’t exactly flush with nuance. The same goes for Archer’s suggestion that horse-loving Kellerman may only be acting the fool. Little by little these characters are popping out of their 2D outlines and developing depth.

That’s not to say Huth has dropped his habit of behaving like a textbook baddie and speaking fluent cliché. With menace, he stroked Douglas’ son’s cheek, later promising “I’m going to give you a lesson you will never forget” and sauntering off with a bit of idiomatic wisdom about axes not mourning the trees they fell. His reaction to being punched in the mouth, however, did come as something of a surprise – Archer wasn’t shot on the spot.

That’s right, in episode two Douglas didn’t just lose a colleague and gain a lover, he also punched a Nazi. Don’t be fooled by his apparent disregard, he’s still, he’s still Archer of the Yard.

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Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.