Freya Becker (Iris Berben) has a secret. But you’d never know it, because chances are you’d never notice her at all. At work she’s all but invisible, quietly typing up the statements and confessions of the criminals that pass through Berlin’s homicide division. Outside work she’s someone who lets others cross first at the traffic lights, always wanting to keep her distance from those around her. But there’s a darkness at the heart of this seemingly mild-mannered middle-aged woman: eleven years ago, her daughter Marie (Zoe Moore) disappeared. And ever since then, something has stirred beneath her unobtrusive, lonely facade.
The Typist is streaming now at SBS On Demand.
Much of the early tension in this German crime series is waiting for the other shoe to drop as The Typist goes out of its way to establish Freya as a quiet, introverted woman. Even as she is exposed to a constant stream of violent and brutal stories at work, she never lets it get to her. She keeps to herself, with her only real human contact her much younger brother Jo (German movie star Moritz Bleibtreu) – a restaurateur with a shady past as a former nightclub owner (and current shareholder in an escort agency), who may or may not have played a role in Marie’s disappearance. And while she’s haunted by ghostly apparitions of her missing daughter, even these apparitions are low-key, largely confined to seeing Marie at night at the foot of her bed. Freya’s husband, who killed himself after Marie’s disappearance, doesn’t haunt her anywhere near as much.
Series star Iris Berben is the grand dame of German television, best known for a series of glamorous high-profile roles (she was also in the 2015 British film Eddie the Eagle). As the mousey Freya, she’s playing firmly against type and she’s utterly convincing in the role of a woman who spends many of her early moments talking to her cat. She’s not the type of character we see a lot of in television, and especially not in a leading role – though, as it soon becomes clear, there’s more to Freya than it seems…
Just when it seems we’ve seen all there is to know about Freya, she’s faced with a case that cuts close to the bone. A young girl has vanished, and Thilo Menken (Andreas Lust) confessed to her rape and murder. Drawn by the similarities to what happened to her daughter, Freya follows the case to court, only to see the man recant his confession and be acquitted for lack of evidence. She watches him go free; what follows reveals exactly what’s hiding behind her forgettable exterior.
This isn’t some twist out of a cheap thriller. Freya is a woman damaged both by her past and her job, looking for a way to keep her world together. She’s not some superhuman avenger either. She’s got a partner in crime in the form of nightclub bouncer Damir Mitkovic (Johannes Krisch), whose criminal connections help with their deadly mission – which clearly didn’t start with Thilo.
All of this is only the beginning of Freya’s story. Episode two heralds the arrival of Freya’s new boss, Henry Silowski (Peter Kurth). He’s an old friend from when he was in charge of investigating Marie’s disappearance, and it doesn’t take long for the old spark between them to be rekindled. The growing warmth between them is the first real human feeling Freya has had in years, giving her the chance to step back from the brink and start a new life. Problem is, there’s two things in her way.
The first is that the criminal suspected – but never charged – of Marie’s murder, Murat Nadarevic (Misel Maticevic) – is about to be released from prison. He was Marie’s pimp: she disappeared right before she was meant to testify against him. The newfound warmth in Freya’s life might be showing her a way out of the darkness, but can she really leave her violent ways behind when this could be her big chance to finally find out what really happened?
The second is that Henry is extremely interested in Thilo Menken and his subsequent disappearance. As the new homicide boss he’s able to make investigating what happened a top priority. Worse, he wants to fold the investigation into a wider look at a number of unsolved cases – cases that might lead him towards the last person anyone would ever suspect.
There’s a lot of story packed into these five episodes, and this barely scratches the surface. Part whodunnit, part character study, it constantly throws up new developments without resorting to cheap cliffhangers or clumsy twists. It’s a thriller about being haunted by your past, but also about finding a way to live again. But throughout it all, one thing is clear: if you are going to find love late in life, maybe don’t find it with the man investigating your past as a murderous vigilante.
The Typist is streaming now at SBS On Demand: