The Defeated Season 1 Review – a gripping postwar thriller with a unique perspective

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: August 18, 2021 (Last updated: November 29, 2023)
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The Defeated review - a gripping postwar thriller with a unique perspective


Thanks to a welcome German perspective, some solid performances, and a propulsive mystery, The Defeated is a gripping thriller.

This recap of The Defeated Season 1 is spoiler-free.

Nazis are the quintessential villains of all popular culture, and indeed of history. Nobody ever gets tired of defeating them, and there’s rarely ever any moral ambiguity in doing so. Books, video games, television shows, and movies have toppled the Third Reich time and time again, and yet it never quite feels like enough. What’s unusual about The Defeated, a new eight-part German-Canadian collaboration now streaming on Netflix is that it frames its setting of a bombed-out post-war Berlin within a specifically German perspective, despite its classically handsome American protagonist. It isn’t trying to engender any sympathy for the Nazis, you understand, but to point out, often very effectively, that there was an entire country full of people who were forced to live under their rule and exist in their wake.

One such person is Elsie (Nina Hoss), a former schoolteacher turned head of a fledgling police force that Brooklyn detective Max McLaughlin (Taylor Kitsch) is sent to whip into shape. It’s the smallest department in the American Occupied Zone, staffed mainly by teenagers and entirely by civilians, but it’s caught in the middle of rivalrous factions that include the Allied occupiers, a serial killer, a crime boss, former Nazis, and those just trying to make do without antagonizing any or all of the above.

Virtually nobody is doing a good job of this, since the lawlessness of a Berlin that has been decimated by ordnance and the breakdown of political leadership is providing a hotbed of criminal activity. Everyone is looting to survive, many are killing for pleasure, and American GIs are raping the local women with enough frequency that a local crime boss, the enigmatic Engelmacher, or “Angel Maker”, is using the promise of backstreet abortions as a recruitment tool. If this were all Max and Elsie had to worry about it’d be quite enough, but they’re also besieged on all sides by the nebulous motivations of Max’s superior, Tom Franklin (Michael C. Hall), and his flirty, often drunk wife Claire (Tuppence Middleton), and the exploits of Max’s missing GI brother Moritz (Logan Marshall-Green), who went AWOL after being among the American division who discovered the first German death camp at Dachau.

There’s a pulpiness to all this that stands in stark contrast to the pitch-dark themes and a convincing simulacrum of a decimated Berlin that has been brought to life with impressive production design. It’s part earnest historical drama and part pulpy mystery; that it does both things really rather well is a bit of a welcome surprise, especially since it manages to do them at the same time. Anyone after a more lighthearted experience will be better looking elsewhere since The Defeated isn’t interested in giving you an easy ride, but it does provide a relatively unique and welcome slant on the Second World War – and it’s a gripping thriller for as long as it lasts.

Netflix, TV Reviews
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