As is true of nearly all successful murder mysteries based on books (unless you're adapting Agatha Christie), eventually, the source material runs out. It's a mark of the popularity of Vienna Blood that it hit this point and the production's dedication to the Frank Tallis novels that it took until now to reach it. It also brought to this point for the show to find its feet, perhaps a sign it might have been better served to make its own choices earlier. However, it has gotten there and opens with a pretty delightful moment of a poor pickpocket Hannes (Raul Inocescu), trying to grab the wallet of Oskar Rheinhardt, whom he mistook for a gentleman, much to the amusement of Therese.
Max: I think something deeply dangerous is happening here. A woman stands in front of a camera, and she becomes an empty vessel; people fill her with their dreams, their fantasies.
Before we hit tonight's mystery, I want to issue a mea culpa. Last week, I complained about Vienna Blood's timeline. However, my initial Season 1 recap, dated 1908, was in error. The production was kind enough to explain that Season 1 was set in 1906. So it has been three years/three seasons, following the same formula as Endeavour, Grantchester, Call The Midwife, and other period dramas. I still maintain PBS tends to treat Vienna Blood as second tier next to Miss Scarlet and All Creatures, despite the show's popularity (especially on PBS Passport). However, I was wrong to lay that at the feet of the show's creators. My apologies.
Oskar and Therese are on a date to the "moving pictures" to see Queen of Carthage, courtesy of Max, also on hand, guaranteeing someone in the theater will not exit alive. That, it turns out, is Max's friend, Ida Rego (Anne-Marie Waldeck), the film's leading lady, with whom he also got Clara an interview. Ida then dies dramatically at the movie's climax, so that she dies on and off screen at the same time.
Max says he met Ida two months ago as a patient suffering psychosomatic blindness; Neumann had Liebermann see if Freudian methods agreed it was all in her head. But rather than following Max's advice by digging into why, he merely used that to trick her into seeing again by plying her with a saltwater placebo. She declares he is "the man who works miracles" and happily heads back to finish making her film. Displeased, Max decided to use the free tickets to the film's premiere the hospital was sent in thanks to keep an eye on her.
At the morgue, Jaeger says Ida was beaten only days before, and Elena confirms her wine was laced with arsenic. Ida's maid Agnes (Lili Walters) says everything her mistress consumed was prepared in-house, save the wine, but she won't say who dined with her or spent the night. The PA, Stefan (Dominic Marcus Singer), says Ida's bag was stolen a few days prior, but she wasn't in danger. However, Oskar finds poison pen letters; the dates coincide with her blindness incident. Director Rosa Koller (Bibiana Beglau) also has a Carthage outtake where a lighting mirror fell, nearly killing Ida. Clara confirms Ida's mystery lover is supposedly someone important in exchange for the arsenic scoop.
Max notices the film posters don't list Ida but the original star, Arianne Amsel (Helene Stupnicki), and suspects the killer is an Amsel devotee, so Oskar orders Hausmann to watch her. Amsel says she was fired after refusing to sleep with the film's backer. Max was half-right; the poison pen letters and the mirror falling were done by an Amsel admirer: Stefan, hoping to drive Ida away. But he's not the killer, just an obsessed idiot.
Meanwhile, Neumann comes to Max to apologize for not taking Ida's case seriously, so Max invites him to dinner. With Mendel and Rachel in London and Max single, Leah comes over to help host. By the end of the night, she and Neumann have hit it off, and before Max even knows what hit him, Neumann is suddenly turning up at their parent's place not to see him but to court her. Leah asks if he's ok with it, and Max says if she's happy, he'll get over it.
Back at the case, Linder finds a photo of Ida with teetotaler Senator Paul J Adler (Roy McCrerey); but when Oskar and Max question him, he reflexively denies any involvement. Oskar heads home, running into Hannes again, now accompanied by a girlfriend (Eszter Nasztor). The two say they want to sell information, but Oskar brushes them off. Meanwhile, back at the station, his other assistant, Hofer (Lénard Ilyés), steals the case paperwork and leaks to the press about the Senator. Unfortunately, Oskar blames Clara, and Max has to ask if she has been spying on him, which goes over exactly as badly as you would think.
At least Linder finds proof the Senator was there; it was his All-German ultra-nationalist crest pin found in her bedroom. He, like many Austrian-descended Americans, idolizes the 1848 Vienna Uprising and is part of the German unification nonsense of the era. Oskar wonders if Ida's murder was all about the Senator and starts following him, including underground spaces where he makes racist speeches and to dinner, where he discovers he's not the only one tailing Alder. The other man spots Oskar and attacks him; Alder doubles back and saves Oskar's life, but not before grabbing the other man's credentials to prove it's a colleague from his old boss Strasser's Viennese Secret Service.
Alder was not at Ida's — no one spent the night; it was staged. Alder's real secret is he's not into women; his alibi is confirmed by his more-than-an-attaché-case-handler secretary. Oskar confronts Strasser, who argues Alder is a threat. Oskar refuses to arrest an innocent man because someone fears he'll eventually do something worse and accuses Strasser of killing Ida to smear Alder. Strasser refutes that. Ida worked for him; Strasser had Amsel fired to launch Ida's career to honeypot men like Alder. Oskar asks why they stole her bag; Strasser shrugs that it was nothing, just a random pickpocketing, as Oskar realizes Hannes had Ida's bag. He and Max find Hannes' girlfriend, who says he abandoned her. The bag had love letters signed "The Man Who Works Miracles;" Max looks ill. A second watch of the Carthage outtake shows Neumann was at Ida's side.
So much for Leah's new boyfriend; Max confronts him at the office with the footage. He claims he tried to break it off, but she threatened to destroy his career, so he hit her. He sent the wine, hoping the poison pen letters would deflect the blame. He then locks himself in his office and commits suicide rather than face ruin. Poor Leah feels humiliated (though honestly, she dodged a bullet). Oskar's love life is not so hot either; evidently, Therese's hopes of being a widow were premature. Meanwhile, Max apologizes to Clara, who demands dinner and opera tickets in repayment and access to his case files. They agree to start with dinner.
Heading into 1909, things look bright for Vienna Blood Season 4, should the BBC renew it. It's always had potential, a timeframe that wasn't Victorian, a setting that wasn't London, and Jewish and Slavic protagonists, in an era when prejudice was rife. However, the books were male-centric and murder-forward, which didn't align with the show's strengths: Max's family, Luise von Finckh's forward-thinking Clara, and Oskar's working-class perspective on a city that was super stratified. Interestingly, it took dumping Amelia Lydgate and the dumb love triangle, which only got in the way, for the show to find its footing; hopefully, a Season 4 will prove it was worth giving the series time to get here.