Season one of Vienna Blood ended with the unspoken promise that the crime-solving adventures of brilliant young psychoanalyst Max Liebermann (Matthew Beard) and the gruff Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt (Jürgen Maurer) were far from over. Yes, Max had just been suspended from his duties assisting the Vienna police of 1907, while Oskar was in the bad books with his superiors after crossing swords with them once too often. But they were great together; who else was going to hunt down the twisted killers that infested the city?
Season two of this English-language series begins with the band broken up. Oskar is still working the streets, while Max has set himself up in private practice. Originally a more traditional medical student from a wealthy UK family (who relocated to Vienna to start a haberdashery business), Max found himself drawn to the theories (and lectures) of Sigmund Freud, turning his skills and abilities to the mysterious world of the human mind. Which, of course, is how he started helping the local police investigate murders.
Then a notoriously depressed Hungarian Countess is found drowned in the bath of her lavish hotel suite, with suicide seeming the obvious cause. That’s bad for Max, as he was her psychoanalyst, and he’d only recently persuaded her to stop taking her prescribed medicine and instead try out “the talking cure” – what we now know as therapy. The only good news here is that the investigating officer is Oskar, and he’s not about to throw his former partner to the wolves.
Also back this season is Max’s former patient and scientist Amelia Lydgate (Jessica De Gouw), the forensic specialist who provides vital backup for the duo. It’s yet to be seen whether the romantic tension between her and Max from last season will develop, though considering his engagement has fizzled out, things look promising – or at least they would, if Max ever got his act together. Oskar’s probably not the man to turn to for advice either, considering his marriage finally failed last season under the stress of his lingering grief over his dead daughter.
The mystery that follows has all the twists a Freudian could ask for, as a post-mortem reveals the Countess was in fact poisoned. Oskar’s suspicion falls on an ex-solider with a reputation for seducing rich older women, but that’s only the start. When Max’s office is ransacked he realises his notes must contain a clue to what happened to her, and soon the trail has led to a stash of erotic drawings, a ghostly apparition and plenty of Victorian-era melodrama.
One of the series’ big strengths is how it manages to highlight the way that at the turn of the century older habits of thinking (especially about what drives people to do what they do) were coming into conflict with a rapidly modernising world. Freud’s theories of the mind were heavy on symbolism and repression, and Vienna Blood doesn’t shy away from either. Hidden pasts and meanings are always bursting to the surface, while dramatic conclusions are set in clearly symbolic locations like a sinister gothic children’s hospital.
The two other mysteries in this series (each storyline is based on one of the best-selling Liebermann novels by clinical psychologist writer Frank Tallis) are just as gripping. The second storyline begins when a beggar finds a mutilated corpse in Vienna’s slum district. Oskar is warned off the case by the secret police, telling him it’s of no concern to the local cops. Whoever’s sending Oskar anonymous messages about the killing clearly thinks otherwise.
The third promises a full-tilt journey into the gothic gloom that’s a big part of the series, as a monk is brutally murdered in his monastery and the prime suspect is a Jewish man who’d recently tangled with the monk for spreading anti-Semitic rhetoric. Racism is something Max and Oskar have dealt with before, but the power of religious belief is a new and mysterious world for the duo.
Whatever mysteries they face, two things remain the same. One is the chemistry between Max and Oskar; they’re the kind of crime-solving team where opposites attract, and as double acts go this street-tough cop and upper-class doctor are up there with the best. The other is the city around them.
Shot on location in Vienna, the series is packed with stunning and occasionally sinister settings. The lavish interiors and baroque buildings that provide the backdrop for Oskar and Max’s adventures are the ideal hiding places for dark and devious secrets; no wonder Freud was so inspired there.
Vienna Blood season 2 is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
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