Review: Separated siblings struggle to survive a brutal world in Tribes of Europa
Tribal warfare —
Netflix’s new German sci-fi series is from the same people who brought us Dark.
The folks who brought us three captivating seasons of the existential time-travel thriller Dark are back with a new science fiction series for Netflix: the dystopian drama Tribes of Europa, featuring warring factions battling over what is left of the European continent late in the 21st century. Brutal and compelling, it’s like a German version of The Hunger Games, with bits of Game of Thrones and The 100 thrown in for good measure. In other words, we’re on familiar, well-trodden territory here, but the series is still one heck of an entertaining ride.
(Some spoilers below but no major reveals.)
The production company is Wiedemann & Berg, whose credits also include the Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others, in addition to Dark. The six-episode Tribes of Europa series was created by showrunner Philip Koch, who reportedly was inspired by the Brexit vote of 2016. Per the official premise:
2074. In the wake of a mysterious global disaster, war rages between the Tribes that have emerged from the wreckage of Europe. Three siblings from the peaceful Origines tribe—Kiano (Emilio Sakraya), Liv (Henriette Confurius) and Elja (David Ali Rashed)—are separated and forced to forge their own paths in an action-packed fight for the future of this new Europa.
The global disaster in question is known as “Black December.” In 2029, technology “started going crazy,” causing a mysterious planet-wide power outage that plunged the world into darkness. Forty-five years later, the survivors on the European continent have divided into various warring tribes, scavenging for the remaining precious resources. The Origines choose to steer clear of the fighting and live in pastoral isolation deep in the forest, trading for additional supplies when necessary with a friendly neighboring tribe. Liv is a feisty Katniss Everdeen type, good with a crossbow, as is her brother Kiano. Youngest brother Elja is more of a sensitive sort and has just passed his coming-of-age trial to become an adult member of the tribe.
Alas, their peaceful existence is interrupted when an aircraft crashes in the forest. It is highly advanced “Atlantian” technology, and Liv insists that the gravely injured pilot be brought back to the Origines settlement for treatment. It proves to be a serious error in judgment. Meanwhile, Elja has found a strange black cube, which the dying pilot transfers to him, instructing him to return the cube to “the ark.”
Whatever the cube is, everyone wants a piece of it, since Atlantian technology seems to be the only tech unaffected by Black December. A tribe that can exploit that technology would thus have an enormous edge in battle. A brutal tribe known as the Crow soon descends on Liv’s tiny settlement, massacring most of the people. The separated siblings must each navigate the treacherous new circles in which they find themselves to survive—and perhaps even one day be reunited.
Pursued by Crows, Elja escapes with the cube and teams up with a rakishly charming scavenger named Moses (Oliver Masucci, who played Ulrich Nielsen in Dark). Liv is gravely wounded and rescued by David (Robert Finster), an officer with a military tribe known as the Crimson, along with a Crow captive, Grieta (Ana Ularu).
As for Kiano, he and his father, Jakob (Benjamin Sadler), are taken captive and brought to the Crow fortress of Brahtok (what remains of Berlin) as slaves. The hunky, defiant Kiano soon catches the eye of Lord Varvara (Melika Foroutan), who adds him to her elite harem of consorts. Their relationship is… complicated, given that she essentially rapes her consorts, but it also becomes one of the most interesting as the power dynamics start to shift in Kiano’s favor. (Kudos to Kiano for being able to, ahem, “perform” at all with a knife pressed to his throat.) He soon becomes a favorite, much to the dismay of fellow consort—and former favorite—Dewiat (Jannik Schümann).
The show is expertly plotted, well-paced, with strong performances across the board—especially Masucci and Foroutan’s Varvara. Frankly, my only criticism of Tribes of Europa is that there is nothing here we haven’t seen many times before in post-apocalyptic fiction—at least in this first season—and thus it’s a bit predictable. But it’s also eminently watchable and a perfect length for binging. Even better, each sibling’s quest takes them to the brink of a shiny new adventure—including a big final clue as to the true nature of the Atlantian cube that would drive a second season in exciting new directions.
Tribes of Europa is currently streaming on Netflix in German and English, with subtitles.
Listing image by Netflix