The acts of a single man can spoil the image of a country forever. Hitler started the war, but it was the innocent German citizens who had to face its aftermath. The Netflix Television Series, Shadowplay (also known as The Defeated), captures a demolished Berlin divided among the allies who believe they can restore peace and harmony to the community.
Written by Måns Mårlind, The Defeated begins with an advertisement reel that merrily informs us of the end of World War 2. According to the misleading ad, after the destruction of the Nazi Army, everything is back to normal in Deutschland. “The war is over, and the Germans have never been happier,” it cheerfully emphasizes. However, the real irony hits the screen as soon as the glossy commercial ends.
‘The Defeated’ Season 1: Plot Summary
The screen opens with a haunting sight of Berlin collapsed in pieces. Elsie Garten, a German SOP, is in charge of a small group of detectives known as “Scarecrows” who work to keep the peace and order in Berlin (American Sector). They have established a small station inside a demolished bank building.
Elsie begins the narrative with a mysterious case, Anne Christine French, a brothel girl, found dead last week. While no one is bothered by a brothel girl in ruined Germany, Elsie believes she must bring justice to every citizen. She discusses the case with her team and speculates that a mysterious man named “Angel Maker” could be behind all these murders of innocent girls.
A Brooklyn detective, Max McLaughlin, arrives in American Sector Berlin to set up Elsie’s police station as per the NYPD standard. Max figures out the clutter in the crime capital of the world and understands it’s a long way to maintain order. Later, Max informs Vice-Consul Tom Franklin that he took the job to find his brother, Moritz McLaughlin, an American soldier who went missing after the war in Germany. However, as Max investigates the personal and professional cases, he unravels some deep, dark secrets about the country that yearns for closure. Max is duty-bound and cannot return to the States before putting an end to the mess.
Who was the Angel Maker?
In The Defeated Episode 1, “First Trick,” Elsie mentioned a powerful man, the Boogeyman of Berlin, Angel Maker or Engelmacher (in German). It was the name given to a person who helps women with abortions.
During and after the war, many women faced tyranny and were exploited by powerful men and soldiers. In the grief-stricken land, Penicillin was scarce and way too expensive. Hence, Angel Maker helped these women. He compelled the girls to work for him and pushed them into prostitution in return for his favor.
When a waitress, Karin Mann, was raped by American soldiers and went to see a medical doctor, Hermann Gladow, the “Angel Maker” identity was revealed in the series. Following a similar pattern, Hermann helped Karin with abortion and aided her in killing the American soldiers who exploited her. In exchange, Hermann employed Karin in one of her hotels to lure British, French, American, and Russian soldiers.
However, Hermann wasn’t involved in a prostitution racket. Rather, he used his employees to extract confidential information from military men. He sold this information to interested parties and thus ran a secret intelligence syndicate.
Why did Max’s brother, Moritz, go AWOL?
Max’s elder brother, Moritz McLaughlin, had a medical history of psychotic delusions, cruelty, uncontrollable outbursts, and the potential for violence. These psychopathic tendencies developed in Moritz’s childhood as both were raised in a physically abusive environment. On an unfortunate night, Moritz’s father shot their German mother and later pulled the trigger on Moritz, who tried to stop him. In a fit of anger, Moritz shot his father twice, once accidentally and a second time to finish him forever.
Since childhood, Max knew that Moritz was mentally unwell, yet when Moritz enrolled in the army to fight the Nazis, he didn’t inform the army about his psychiatric history. In Germany, during the war, Moritz and his band were the first Americans to discover a death camp, Dachau. The tragedy triggered Moritz’s psychopathic behavior. He gunned down 32 camp guards and later went missing.
After the war, Moritz continued hunting for and killed Nazis who went underground or lived under pseudo names. Thus, Moritz believed that they needed to pay for their sins, and so he killed them one by one.
Max arrived in Germany believing that he would be able to convince his brother to return to Brooklyn and live a simple life with his son and his wife. But Moritz had crossed the line of no return, and thus Max was obliged to take matters into his own hands.
What was Shadowplay?
Moritz learned from one of his Nazi targets, Otto Oberlander, that the art looted by the Nazis was being traded for a safe passage out of Germany. Moritz recovered a lost piece by Johann Sebastian Bach from Otto’s office that he would use to guarantee a safe passage for his children before Moritz found him out and killed him.
Later, Moritz handed “Shadowplay” to Max and revealed that his boss, Tom Franklin, had been illegally aiding Nazis in return for priceless art.
“The one who helps the Nazis is Worse, Max.”
Moritz compelled Max to shoot and finish the traitor Tom, but Max insisted that he deserved a trial by lawful means. Moritz left in anger and promised to take vengeance by his own means. Meanwhile, Max handed over the “Shadowplay” to Elsie Garten, who planned to use the artwork to shape Germany’s future.
Elsie had the opportunity to inform the Russian about Bach’s unplayed composition, but she made a conscious choice and kept the secret to herself. In the series, the composition was played once by a street violinist who sat outside Elsie’s flat.
‘The Defeated’ Season 1: Ending Explained
Max and Elsie figured out who the “Angel Maker” was who was bothering doctor Hermann Gladow. He devised a plan to bomb the police station and burn all the witnesses and evidence that might lead to him. Hermann abducted police officer Trude Schweinstager and compelled her to plant the bomb. However, later, the bomb was planted by Hermann’s new accomplice, Karin Mann.
At the brink of the moment, Karin’s moral conscience stopped her from exploding the bomb. However, it was too late. Hermann had positioned paid snipers outside the station to finish off the remaining policemen. After heavy damage, Elsie extracted the whereabouts of Hermann’s den from one of his gunners. Max and Elsie infiltrated Hermann’s stronghold and arrested him for the murder of Anne Christine French and many other innocent souls. However, in the end, they handed the criminal over to the U.S. intelligence agency because he knew too much. As hinted by Hermann, he had too many secrets stored in his mind that would benefit his American friends, and thus, they would probably let him loose.
Moritz abducted Tom Franklin and his wife, Claire, and took them to his mother’s farm for his final act of vengeance. He threatened to kill Tom if he didn’t give him the information about another Nazi. In fear, Tom informed Moritz about Hitler’s pope, Pius XII, in the Vatican City. Moritz was going to kill Tom when Max intervened and shot Moritz. Moritz fell on the barn floor. Max tried to look at the body of his dead brother, but he was too afraid to see the sight. However, when they returned to have a final glimpse of Moritz, he wasn’t there. Moritz fled away.
In the end, the head of the Russian sector, Alexander Izosimov, escorted Elsie’s husband, Leopold Garten, to his flat, as a gesture of humanity. Elsie was reunited with her ailing husband, and they would probably see the end together. Max threw his father’s gun from the bridge to bring closure to his life. His brother went missing again, but Max’s journey came to an end. He would probably return to Brooklyn.
A bleed Moritz was found by a farmer in the field under a tree. He requested the old farmer to take him to Italy. Moritz would probably continue his hunt for the Nazis and seize Hitler’s pope in the Vatican City.
A conflicted Karin Mann visited Trude Schweinstager’s house and asked his young daughters to leave with her. A symbolic poster, in the end, suggested that Karin would follow the beliefs of her master, Hermann Gladow, and would run a similar network of brothels by employing innocent girls.
All these incomplete narratives will be further explored in The Defeated Season 2.
Shadowplay (also known as The Defeated) is a 2021 period war drama television series created by Måns Mårlind. It is streaming on Netflix.