Kleo season 1 review – Jella Haase grounds an off-kilter Cold War thriller

August 19, 2022
Jonathon Wilson 0
Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
3.5

Summary

Jella Haase is the primary reason to watch this offbeat espionage thriller, but its hodgepodge of styles and tones makes for a compelling ride either way.

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3.5

Summary

Jella Haase is the primary reason to watch this offbeat espionage thriller, but its hodgepodge of styles and tones makes for a compelling ride either way.

This review of Kleo Season 1 is spoiler-free. 


The spy thriller is an age-old genre, and it’s difficult to put a fresh spin on it. If you can say anything for Kleo, an eight-part German series streaming on Netflix, it’s that it at least feels distinct, despite its overly familiar themes and content. Only rarely has any story about an ex-Stasi assassin seeking revenge on those who wronged them felt this oddball and off-kilter.  

The titular Kleo is the agent who, after eliminating a businessman in a West Berlin nightclub, is hung out to dry by the Stasi and her own grandfather. Sentenced to life in prison, and violently losing her unborn child in the meantime, Kleo is eventually freed by the collapse of the Berlin Wall and sets about righting some wrongs – as well as figuring out what’s in a mysterious red leather suitcase and what its contents might mean for the Cold War.  

The late-80s-early-90s setting isn’t even new in the female-fronted espionage genre – Atomic Blonde added some glam to the same period. But Kleo filters its environments – and its politics and action – through an almost surrealist lens, moving in and out of genres and tones with an alacrity that eventually becomes quite compelling. After a while the show grows into a kind of odd-couple thriller, as Kleo teams up with Sven Petzold, a fantasist police detective who was a witness to her final assignment and can’t let the whole thing go even two years later.  

Jella Haase, who plays Kleo, is the clear selling point here. The show has good fun with her various disguises and such, but the performance itself has a surprising vulnerability to it. Kleo is a deeply damaged individual; there’s a*s-kicking aplenty, but this isn’t a power fantasy in the way the aforementioned Atomic Blonde sometimes felt. Kleo’s life seems miserable, and even in the finale, what seems like it might be a joyously emotional moment quickly becomes a further indignity.  

Some of these dour details are kept from being overwhelming by the show’s humor and weirdness, which increasingly seems like a precious resource in a contemporary media landscape that plays things tediously safe. Kleo is probably an episode or two too long if we’re being even-handed about things, but it’s able to stick the landing well enough to be worth a look.  

You can stream Kleo Season 1 exclusively on Netflix.

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