The Wall Street Journal: ‘Babylon Berlin’ Season 4 Review: Weimar Drama Returns Triumphant

Over the past few weeks, this reviewer has been on a binge, tele-drunk on “Babylon Berlin,” the noirish Weimar-era dramatic series abruptly abandoned by Netflix after three seasons, despite its being one of the best things ever in long-form television. So be it. There are few similarities between the shows other than gangsters, but “Babylon Berlin” might be thought of as the Teutonic “Sopranos,” albeit with greater historical sweep, broader characterizations, more ambitious production values and music. And dancing. And, not incidentally, joy.


The joy part is critical. It will certainly be felt by existing fans in the U.S., who have thus far been deprived of “Babylon” season 4, which premiered in Europe in late 2022; they will be exhilarated to know as well that production is scheduled to begin on season 5 later this year.


But a breathless sense of life on the edge has been an essential aspect of the storytelling. Opening in 1929, the show immersed us in a Berlin peopled by Germans traumatized by World War I, by the ramifications of the Versailles Treaty, by inflation, monetary upheaval and poverty. But there was always freedom in the nightclubs, a lust for living among our characters and, despite the shadow being slowly cast by the history to come, a sense of liberation, giddy decadence and gleeful hedonism.


No one seemed to know where they were going, but they were heading there happily. Even detective Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), who was long in love with his brother’s wife—and left said brother in a Belgian trench during the war—was something other than a brooding wreck. Even Gereon danced.

Season 4, which has moved only incrementally in term of real time, continues Gereon’s story and that of Charlotte Ritter (the electric Liv Lisa Fries), who began as a part-time sex worker—and sole support of her derelict family—and became, purely through her considerable wits and a native gift for investigation, an essential part of the Berlin homicide squad. That she would assume a progressively larger part in Gereon’s life always seemed inevitable, even if their, shall we say, intersection would take several seasons. The spoilers will stop here: MHz Choice, which is introducing season 4 in installments, is also streaming the three previous seasons. The as-yet-uninitiated should watch them, joyously.


There aren’t many “events” on television; this is one. Directed and written by Tom Tykwer, Achim von Borries and Henk Handloegten, and written by Khyana el Bitar and Bettine von Borries, “Babylon Berlin” begins its fourth season in an increasingly darker time, the awareness growing, if ever so slowly, that fascism is metastasizing in the state and in the public mind and that the casual dismissal of fringe ideologies has been a mistake. Viciousness, cruelty and nationalism are becoming increasingly acceptable at every official level; the only honest people seem to be the bona fide criminals of various denominations who are at least open about what they do, unlike the opposing political parties who hide in mobs. I can’t swear to it, but it doesn’t seem that the word “Nazi” is ever uttered in “Babylon Berlin.” The lethal conflict among fascists in season 4 remains between Hitler’s Munich-based NSDAP, or National Socialist German Workers’ Party, and the SA, or Sturmabteilung (Brownshirts), who would prefer Hitler dead. At least in “Babylon Berlin.”


There is a certain amount of tweaking afoot in the political or cultural phenomena recounted. Season 3 involved neo-realist German filmmaking (it may be sacrilegious, but Ms. Fries had me thinking of Louise Brooks), as well as the making of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” The weirdo industrialist Alfred Nyssen (Lars Eidinger), who usurps Gereon’s position vis-à-vis his brother’s widow, Helga (Hannah Herzsprung), invents not only the V2 rocket but short-selling on the German stock market, in anticipation of the Wall Street collapse. Many of the performers—not excluding Ms. Fries and Mr. Bruch, who are the show’s heart and soul—are simply extraordinary, regardless of their place in the historical framework. They include Udo Samel as Gennat, known as Buddha, the head of the homicide department; Benno Fürmann as Gottfried Wendt, a Nazi-sympathizing police official (and Vladimir Putin lookalike); and Meret Becker, who plays the wife of the mobster called the Armenian (Mišel Matičević) and gives a performance that personifies the vaguely hysterical margins of a city that we enter and will not want to exit. Not, at the very least, until season 5.