The Defeated’s story takes place in post-war Berlin. Germany is a mess, split into four different sectors occupied by the Russians, French, British and the US, respectively. With each country vying to strengthen their hold, at the center of this is Brooklyn-based policeman Max McLaughlin. He’s tasked with getting the police force of Berlin back up to scratch.
Max takes his orders from Tom Franklin, his superior. And as we soon come to find out during the first episode, Max’s real reason for arriving in Germany is to try and find his older brother, Moritz.
In order to pursue that thread, Max shows up at the police station, currently run by professor-turned-police officer Elsie Garten. The death of a girl called Anne Friedrich sparks an investigation while hostilities continue to spill over outside. Namely, this comes in the form of Russian Military Officer Alexander Izosimov.
Whispers of a man known simply as “Angel Maker” simmer in the background, caring for a young woman called Karin who may or may not be involved in some way to all of this.
These seemingly disparate storylines do eventually collide together, with mafia ties, secret letters, espionage and some well-timed shocking twists throughout the 8 episodes. All of this builds up to a somewhat polarizing ending, one with enough in the tank for a second season but a satisfyingly ambiguous conclusion on its own.
There are a couple of contrivances with the main plot but for the most part it’s easy to look past in the wake of such an interesting setting. The smart choice of cutting from the uplifting news reels at the start of the show across to the war-torn buildings of Berlin serves up a wonderful juxtaposition and visually, The Defeated is fantastic.
The cinematography and set design of The Defeated are both excellent, showing off the ruined buildings through establishing shots and with enough variation between the different districts to keep things engaging.
The set design in general is wonderful too and each area – from the bustling streets to the war-torn ruins – feel like they have a rich history behind them. It also helps that this level of detail extends across to the characters too, with shades of grey for almost everyone… except for the Russians.
Despite such great work done to humanize the German soldiers, it’s perhaps a little disappointing to see the Russians portrayed as the big bad villains. It feels like an overdone trope by this point.
There’s also an awful lot going on here. Multiple subplots interweave together and early on it all feels rather busy, with the run-time split between various different subplots – to varying degrees of success.
During the later chapters, when the action picks up and some of the more dramatic elements spill over, things do improve but it could well put some people off – especially given the middle chapters are a little overlong.
While this is a far cry from the excellence of something like Babylon Berlin, the great set design, an interesting story and likable protagonists are enough to make The Defeated worth checking out.