There’s a Mossad agent trying to look inconspicuous in a stairwell on the wrong side of Munich. But he’s not very good at it. One of the undersigned, probably Islamist enforcers patrolling this oppressed estate, grabs his phone and looks at the screen. “Jew!” he exclaims. It is probably the text message in Hebrew that is the giveaway.
As property enforcers take obvious delight in magnificently exposing this interloper, two things should be clear. First, anti-Semitism is alive and well in present-day Munich, depicted in this tense, gripping, engaging gnomic spy thriller. And secondly, the Mossad should really think again about deploying geeky computer analysts if it is serious about thwarting a mass murder of Israeli athletes in the city’s Olympic stadium.
The premise of Michal Aviram’s thriller Munich Games (Sky Atlantic) is that 50 years after the terrorist group Black September, affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the real-life attack in the Olympic Village – which left 11 members of Israel’s team and a West German policeman dead, together with five hostage-takers – some bright spark has come up with an idea to mark the anniversary. A friendly soccer match between a team from Tel Aviv and one from Munich will symbolize a new hopeful era of peace and reconciliation in Israel-Germany relations. As misplaced ideas for public events in 2022 go, it’s right up there with Unboxed, this summer’s festival of Brexit.
Aviram only hints at what happened during the Munich massacre 50 years ago with some black-and-white footage in the opening credits, but she surely intends that viewers who weren’t born then or have forgotten what took place will get yourself going.
Back in 1972, West German police were on alert for a terrorist attack on the Games, but warnings of PLO fringe groups planning an attack were largely ignored. An estimated 900 million television viewers around the world watched Black September’s attacks unfold in real time, from their initial demand for the release of PLO prisoners in Israeli prisons to their defeat 20 hours later.
As in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film Munich, these events form the backstory of Aviram’s six-part drama. Spielberg’s film dramatized what happened after Golda Meir authorized a secret operation to hunt down and kill the Black September terrorists responsible. In the Munich Games, another Mossad technician, Oren Simon, hopes to prevent a copycat attack.
In the beginning, we see Oren at the Israeli embassy in Berlin, reeling through an anti-Zionist thread that leads him to the dark web, where, as you know from popular culture, nothing is ever sunshine and lollipops. There he finds a browser-based shoot ’em up video game where you play the gunman who breaks into the stadium, kills the security guards and murders the Israeli players. It would be disturbing enough, but Simon finds an in-game reference to anti-drone equipment installed there, which was supposed to be secret – someone has leaked, as has AFC Bournemouth’s defence. While his German counterparts argue over office muffins, Oren connects the creator of this game with an Arab man on Munich’s terror watch list.
A few minutes later, he and the German officer Maria Köhler drive to the suspect’s apartment, where she has to pretend to be an Arabic-speaking woman who wants to buy some tramadol. This deception works well until Oren’s cover is blown by the toughs who discovered his Hebrew text message, and the tramadol dealer, suspected anti-Israel terrorist, rushes out onto the balcony of his apartment to see what’s wrong below.
Very quickly he realizes that the Israeli agent is being filled in below and the suspicious woman in his apartment are working together to take him down. A split second later, he has some rather unpleasant fistfights on the balcony with Köhler, which ends with her falling over the parapet. Although the drop is a good 15 feet, she dusts herself off and starts shooting. The lunatics who attacked the Mossad are spreading.
I’m not suggesting that Köhler is a wish come true for Michal Aviram, but I could understand if she was. Köhler is one of those omnipotent protagonists who appear in dramas like this, a woman who we first see having taxing aerobic sex with a handsome Arab man before returning to her boring German husband, and later realizing that the bomb threat that baffled police and security. grunts in the stadium are not a bomb or a threat. Picking herself up from the ground after her balcony fall only confirms that she’s the kind of woman you want on your team – a multilingual, sexy, gun-toting, unflappable Terminator.
Aviram has created something as hard-boiled, if not as relentlessly masculinist, as her 2015 Israeli spy drama Fauda, and much more exciting. We don’t yet know what – if anything – the pretty game-ruining cabal of Munich-based anti-Zionists want, nor if they exist, but my guess is that their ambition is more than getting the VAR decision that cost West Ham a tie at Stamford Bridge last weekend overturned.