A dense and messy opening episode gets Netflix’s German Christmas drama off to a muddled start.
This recap of Holiday Secrets Season 1, Episode 1, “Welcome Home”, contains spoilers.
You know how it is at Christmas, and as an opening narration in Holiday Secrets Episode 1 explains, it isn’t much different in Germany. “We eat, we drink, we try to delude each other,” explains Vivi (Svenja Jung), as she disembarks a bus to return to her family home for the holidays. Joining her are her sister Lara (Leonie Benesch) and her fiance Mauritz (Dennis Herrmann), their mother Sonja (Christiane Paul), their grandmother Eva (Corinna Harfouch), and their longstanding home-help, Ljubica (Anita Vulesica). “Welcome Home” begins the story of three generations of women across three time periods, and it’s nice to get all of the names out of the way up-front before we start nipping back and forth through time.
Ava, it seems, is dead, which is more awkward for Mauritz than anyone, who still hasn’t had a chance to introduce himself and who is mistaken by Sonja for a man from the funeral home. Luckily, Ljubica has scarcely had time to don Eva’s pearls and furs before she reveals herself to be alive, if rather confused, believing someone named Alma to be alive despite her having apparently been dead for a long time.
Cue the first flashback of Holiday Secrets Episode 1, to 1989, where we’re introduced to Alma (Barbara Nüsse) as the funny but evidently senile mother of a younger Eva. We also meet young Ljubica (Laura von Beloseroff) here, applying for the home-help job in the first place.
In the present day, a doctor, Hans (Maik Solbach), determines that Eva probably had a mild stroke. He recommends she should be properly cared for, but since it’s Christmas, she needs to be at home surrounded by her family, which he reluctantly agrees to. We learn that Sonja is undertaking the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and has been sober for 16 weeks. She’s on the fifth step, which involves admitting to everyone that there might have been some mistakes made in the past — this, judging by the expressions, is something of an understatement. Ljubica starts crying, since if Eva dies nobody will need her, and Mauritz finally gets to announce that he and Lara are engaged.
Vivi seems very sceptical and bitter about everything, and in another flashback, this time to 2004, we see that she was the same in her youth (Lorna zu Solms plays the young version). An aspiring musician, she’s fed up of the remoteness of her life and Lara (Tilda Jenkins) being a snitch. In the present day, we learn she’s got a record deal; in 2004 we see Vivi and Lara rooting through Sonja’s things and finding a letter from Vivi’s father, Peter. We learn very shortly after that he apparently died in a car crash. Vivi has a friend, Anton (Ludwig Senger), whom she secretly smokes with by an uprooted tree they use as a stash spot.
In the present day, Anton (Golo Euler) is a policeman and reprimands Vivi for not respecting the approved pathways around their property, which is classified as a nature reserve. “Welcome Home” links its timelines directly, with the mention of a name or the encountering of a person triggering each flashback or return to the present, giving the episode’s structure a messy, scattershot feel. Back in 2004 again, we see Vivi grilling Eva about her father; her grandmother claims not to have known him.
This is quickly revealed to be a lie, though, as present-day Sonja reminds Eva of the time that she and Peter both spent the holidays there. Off we pop to 1989 again, where young Sonja (Emilie Neumeister) arrives with Peter (Merlin Rose), a handsome and intelligent but insufferably smug political science student. Also present is a young Hans (Matti Schmidt-Schaller), who has had a thing for Sonja since childhood. During an awkward dinner, Sonja reveals that she has decided not to follow her lifelong passion for the law but instead mimic Peter’s studies of politics, which she considers to be more important given the current landscape in Germany. Eva’s husband Olaf (Hans-Uwe Bauer) is confined to the bedroom upstairs with unspecified “psychological” problems, presumably rooted in wartime. He believes himself to have shrapnel embedded in his leg, which he doesn’t and which Sonja later confronts him about when he comes downstairs. Incensed by her accusations, he attacks her.
In 2004, Lara is looking at Olaf’s grave. She has heard that he killed himself, but Eva insists he drowned. She has also been told things about her mother that she’d rather not hear; both she and Vivi wonder why she’s never around, though Eva insists she loves them both. In the present day, Sonja tries to bond with Vivi, but no such luck. Her resentment is explained in another flashback to 2004 when Sonja arrives clearly intoxicated, and with her apparent girlfriend, Juliana (Eva Bay), whom she has no issues about passionately kissing in front of everyone, including her very confused daughters.
Holiday Secrets Season 1, Episode 1 closes with a suggestion of those promised secrets. Vivi goes to see Eva, who insists she must tell her secret. Narration bookends “Welcome Home”, as Vivi explains, “That’s the thing about our family. We’re only now starting to get to know each other.”