Das Boot: Season 1 (Germany/England, 2018) shares the same title as Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 film and is technically a sequel but familiarity with the feature is unnecessary to start the series. Also based on the novel “Das Boot” by Lothar-Gunther Buchheim as well the sequel “Die Festung,” the 2019 series is set in late 1942, nine months after the film’s finale, with a new crew, a new mission, and a new vessel.
Klaus Hoffmann (Rick Okon), a young, inexperienced officer with a military hero father, is promoted to Captain of U-162, much to the resentment of First Watch Officer Karl Tennstedt (August Wittgenstein) and the crew loyal to the veteran officer. You might expect the film to center on their story but top billing goes to Vicky Krieps (The Phantom Thread) as Simone Strasser, an Alsace-German woman who arrives in the port city of La Rochelle in German-occupied France to see her brother, radio operator Frank Strasser (Leonard Scheicher). Both Strassers are outcasts of a sort, considered French by the nationalistic Germans and the enemy by the French, and Simone is determined to prove her loyalty to the fatherland as a translator at the military. Her brother, she soon learns, took a different path, and just as Gestapo officer Hagen Forster (Tom Wlaschiha) takes an interest in her both personally and professionally, Simone finds herself in an uneasy relationship with the American leader (Lizzy Caplan) of the local French Resistance cell.
The drama back in port, with its tensions between the occupied French civilians and the arrogant German occupiers taking their Master Race status literally, follows familiar but effective patterns of espionage drama. Deception and conflicted motivations complicate every moment. And while the multilingual production is primarily in German and French, English serves as a kind of lingua franca between the German officials and the French Vichy cops, a nice touch both reminds us that, fascist sympathies aside, they are not natural allies.
Out in the Atlantic, however, the U-boat is rife with dissention and bullying, divided by nationalistic bigotry and stirred up by rumor-mongering. In the original film, director Wolfgang Petersen gave us a crew united in purpose and professionalism and he used the big screen to pull us into the claustrophobic atmosphere where death was a depth charge away. The series uses that oppressive existence in an eternal twilight as a pressure cooker. Anxiety and rancor boil over into aggression, bigotry, and outright insubordination and reckless attacks instigated by a rogue Captain only plunge them farther into the depths where the pressure (literal and figurative) threatens their very survival.
Battle fantasy collides with the reality of war and their odyssey carries us into some of the most grueling and gripping drama in TV storytelling. With the focus constantly slipping between the characters and conflicts in all sections of the ship, this story is a constant surprise and a thoroughly satisfying tour of duty.
Andreas Prochaska directs all eight episodes, which costars Vincent Kartheiser and James D’Arcy in small roles.
The second season has already shown in Europe but has not made to the U.S. as of this posting. The first season earned three awards at the German Television Awards.
Rated TV-MA, in German, French, and English, with English subtitles