'Vienna Blood' Season 1, Episode 1 Recap: "The Last Seance Part 1"

Matthew Beard as Dr. Max Liebermann and Juergen Maurer as Detective Oskar Rheinhardt in Vienna Blood Season  1

Matthew Beard as Dr. Max Liebermann and Juergen Maurer as Detective Oskar Rheinhardt in Vienna Blood Season  1

Petro Domenigg/PBS

Vienna Blood is the newest mystery series to be added to the PBS lineup. Based on The Liebermann Papers series by Frank Tallis, this series is as much of time and place as character, much like Grantchester. It's a series that dives into the society of 1908 Vienna, Austria, behind the glitter of its gilded age to the uglier, nastier and much bloodier side. The first episode is based on the first novel, Mortal Mischief (retitled A Death In Vienna for American publication). Max Liebermann (Matthew Beard) at a Freud symposium. (Franz Josef Koepp plays the famous doctor.) He's a young intellectual, but an outsider immigrant. His British-Jewish family resettled here, and those around him won't let him forget either one of those labels. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, we meet Inspector Oskar Reinhardt (Jürgen Maurer) and Sgt Haussmann (Josef Ellers), called in over a dead woman in an apartment. She's been shot through the heart, and there's a suicide note that reads in part "I have tasted forbidden fruit, and he will drag me to hell."  But this is not a suicide. The murderer forgot to leave the weapon, and the body is staged, stretched out like a painting. And yet, all the doors and windows are locked from the inside. The missing gun is an antique, and there's no bullet left inside the body.

Reinhardt returns to the station, only to discover he's saddled with a new form of "help." Liebermann has requested to do ride alongs as part of his research, and his father, Mendel (Conleth Hill), is a personal friend of Police Commissioner Strasser (Simon Hatzl). They are an odd couple, the young upper-class intellectual and a grizzled working-class detective, who does not like his new assistant, especially when Liebermann's observations about Reinhardt himself are a little too on the money. 

(Credit: Courtesy of Petro Domenigg / © 2019 Endor Productions / MR Film)

His first day on the job leads Max to be late to his family's seder. His mother, Rachel (Amelia Bullmore), is not thrilled nor pleased with his murder topic de jour as dinner talk. But his father seems glad that his connections got his son an in, even if he is dubious about the whole "Sigmund Freud" thing, especially as his wealthy friends see this entire "psychology" and "talk therapy" field of study as disreputable. His sister, Leah (Charlene McKenna), wants to know if Max is taking his girl, Clara (Luise von Finckh), out tonight after dinner.

Max admits he is, and they're going to  see "The Beethoven Frieze" by Gustav Klim before it leaves Vienna. Clara isn't into the new art movement, but she's definitely of the right class, as when the mayor moved through the room, she asks Max if he wants an introduction. Before she can convince him through, a woman across the room goes completely off her rocker after staring at the painting too long. She attacks a waiter, screaming, "Don't touch me." Liebermann runs to the rescue, grabs her, and has her taken away to the hospital. 

While Max is adding new patients and attending lectures where professors demonstrate how to cure hysteria with 1906's electroshock therapy, a rash of police show up at the dead woman's apartments in the middle of the night. They knock on every door, while photographers go into her rooms and take photos. The next morning, the whole thing is all over the front page. The Commissioner is furious, demanding an arrest to make the story go away, while Reinhardt's nemesis, Inspector von Bulow (Raphael von Bargen), is itching to relieve him of duty. In desperation, Reinhardt asks Max to use his "observation trick" to help him identify the victim and solve the crime.

(Credit: Courtesy of Petro Domenigg / © 2019 Endor Productions / MR Film)

While Max is in his element for the first time, his father is in a different one altogether. Mendel's invited to a house party at Brückmüller's, a politician on the way up. The party is filled with Vienna's elites, the money men of the city, people who would never give Mendel the time of day but are all too happy to rub elbows the moment he's declared an accepted member of society. "As the mayor is fond of saying, we decide who is a Jew and who is not," Brückmüller says. That's great for Mendel right now, but as Max starts piecing together the victim and the murderer, his suspicions may turn out to land on one of these men in the room where it's happening.

Said victim was a medium who held seances, in short, a con woman. Things are missing from her rooms, like her entire wardrobe. The killer dressed up her death like one of her parlor tricks, suggesting he was in on the con. Also, her letter actually says, "he will drag us to hell," because there are two victims: She was pregnant. The killer was her lover, about to be exposed. These leads rejuvenate Reinhardt. Haussmann tracks down the seamstress she sold the clothes to, who gives us the victim's identity: Charlotte Löwenstein. Furthermore, the seamstress was a client of Charlotte's, trying to contact her late mother beyond the grave, along with a group of five others.

She was recruited by Otto Braun (Christoph Luser), who turns out to be a fellow illusionist, hanging out in a prostitute's den. He and his partner Isodole have a show, where Reinhardt and Max track him down. But it's a different kind of show they happen upon. ("Is this an inconvenient moment," indeed) At the word "Police," Braun flees throwing on his pants as he goes. A chase across the rooftops and tunnels of Vienna ensues. Now it's Reinhardt who is in his element and Max racing to keep up (literally). Once captured, Braun admits he is the one who came up with the con. Charlotte was an actress, one with many men who worshipped her. It seems clear Otto didn't do it. And Max has heard enough to be able to paint a portrait of the killer as well.


Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. A DC native, Hufflepuff, and Keyboard Khaleesi, she spends all her non-writing time taking pictures of her cats. Regular bylines also found on MSNBC, Paste, Primetimer, and others. 

A Woman's Place Is In Your Face. Cat Approved. Find her on BlueSky and other social media of your choice: @anibundel.bsky.social

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