There’s a Mossad operative trying to look inconspicuous in a stairwell on the wrong side of Munich. But he’s not very good at it. One of the underscripted, probably Islamist enforcers who patrol this downtrodden estate snatches his phone and glances at the screen. “Jew!” he exclaims. It’s probably the text message in Hebrew that is the giveaway.
As the estate enforcers take obvious delight in showily duffing up this interloper, two things should be clear. First, antisemitism is alive and well in the modern-day Munich depicted in this tense, gripping, engagingly gnomic spy thriller. And two, Mossad should really think again about putting geeky computer analysts in the field if it is serious about thwarting a mass murder of Israeli athletes at the city’s Olympic stadium.
The premise for Michal Aviram’s thriller Munich Games (Sky Atlantic) is that 50 years after the Palestine Liberation Organisation-affiliated Black September terror group’s real-life attack at the Olympic Village – which left 11 members of Israel’s team and a West German policeman dead, along with five hostage takers – some bright spark has come up with an idea to mark the anniversary. A friendly football match between a team from Tel Aviv and one from Munich will symbolise a new hopeful era of peace and reconciliation in Israeli-German 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 is surely intending that viewers who weren’t born then or have forgotten what took place will get themselves up to speed.
Back in 1972, West German police were on alert for a terror attack on the games but warnings about PLO-fringe groups plotting an attack were largely ignored. An estimated 900m television viewers around the world saw Black September’s attack unfold in real time, from their initial demand that PLO prisoners in Israeli jails be released to their defeat 20 hours later.
As in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film Munich, these events form the back story to Aviram’s six-part drama. Spielberg’s film dramatised what happened after Golda Meir approved a covert operation to hunt down and kill the Black September terrorists responsible. In Munich Games, another Mossad techie, Oren Simon, is hoping to thwart a copycat attack.
At the outset we see Oren in the Israeli embassy in Berlin, scrolling through an anti-Zionist thread which 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 in which you can play the gunman who breaks into the stadium, kills the security guards and murders the Israeli players. That would be disturbing enough, but Simon finds a reference in the game to anti-drone equipment installed there that was supposed to be secret – somebody’s been leaking like AFC Bournemouth’s defence. While his German homologues wrangle over office muffins, Oren connects the creator of this game with an Arabic man on the Munich terror watch list.
Minutes later, he and German officer Maria Köhler are driving to the suspect’s flat where she is to pose as an Arab-speaking woman who wants to buy some tramadol. This imposture is working well until Oren’s cover gets blown by the toughs who spotted his Hebrew text message and the tramadol-dealing, presumed anti-Israeli terrorist rushes to the balcony of his flat to see what the ruckus is below.
Very quickly, he realises that the Israeli agent getting filled in below and the suspicious woman in his flat are working together to take him down. A split second later he’s having some quite unpleasant fisticuffs on the balcony with Köhler, which concludes with her tumbling over the parapet. Even though the fall is a good 15 feet, she dusts herself off and starts shooting. The goons who’ve been beating on Mossad scatter.
I’m not suggesting that Köhler is a wish fulfilment for Michal Aviram, but I could understand if she were. Köhler is one of those omnicompetent protagonists who pop up in dramas like this, a woman who we first see having taxing aerobic sex with a gorgeous Arab man before returning to her boring German husband, and later realising that the bomb threat that confounded cops and security grunts at the stadium is not a bomb nor a threat. When she peels herself off the ground after her balcony fall it only confirms that she’s the kind of woman you want on your team – a multilingual, sexy, gun-toting, imperturbable terminator.
Aviram has created something as hard-boiled if not as unremittingly masculinist as her 2015 Israeli spy drama Fauda, and much more intriguing. We don’t know yet what – if anything – the beautiful game-ruining cabal of Munich-based anti-Zionists want, nor indeed if they exist, but my guess is their ambition is more than getting the VAR decision that cost West Ham a draw at Stamford Bridge last weekend overturned.