Cold War espionage thrillers have provided their share of memorable moments over the years — but “Spy City” falls just short of joining that club.
The six-episode series, which premiered in Germany in December and now streams on AMC+, does its best to stand out in this very crowded genre. While it has its moments, it doesn’t quite resonate, due to scattershot pacing and a complicated storyline bogged down with too many divergent threads. You’ll need some patience to get to the finale.
The series opens in 1960 in the shadowy worlds of East and West Berlin and introduces us to Fielding Scott (Cooper), a young-ish British secret agent who, early in the premiere, kills an MI6 colleague in self-defense, though his story is doubted and he’s tried for murder and banished to the MI6 doghouse.
Scott gets a second chance to redeem himself, and to wipe his slate clean, when he’s sent back to West Berlin a year later to facilitate the defection of his boyhood friend, Manfred Ziegler (Wanja Mues), a German scientist working for the Russians in East Berlin. Ziegler’s developed a revolutionary missile-tracking technology and wants to hand it over to the Brits. They’ve given him the code name “Beethoven” and team with the US, France and West Germany to smuggle Ziegler and his family to safety. It doesn’t end well and Scott suspects a mole in his midst; returning to London, he’s then sent back to Berlin a third time to flush out the “Beethoven” traitor and to deal with a slew of other problems at hand.
As “Spy City” chugs along, we meet Eliza (Leonie Beschas), Scott’s secretary in Berlin who’s spying on him for the East Germans and trying to protect her aggressively political musician boyfriend Reinhardt (Ben Munchow); Scott’s lover, Severine Bloch (Romane Portail), a French agent who’s hunting a former SS officer who (she says) killed her husband in 1944; and Ulrike Faber (Johanna Wokalek), an avant-garde photographer who’s helping Scott and has connections to former Nazis living in East Berlin.
It all gets a bit muddy, and, throughout, questions linger regarding Scott’s abilities as an agent — why isn’t he aware, until it’s nearly too late, that his apartment is bugged? — though he is quick with his fists and shows a killer instinct when necessary. The pacing is, at times, a bit static; the episodes tends to pick up steam toward their final minutes. “Spy City” boasts lush, scenic photography (it was filmed in and around Prague) and does a nice job setting the sociopolitical tone of 1961 Berlin (making occasional use of archival footage). There’s some gratuitous nudity that does nothing to further the plot.
All in all, “Spy City” is a workmanlike espionage drama. “Thriller” would be too strong of a description — it should satisfy fans of the genre, but won’t bowl anyone over.