Daniel’s Review of Tribes of Europa

This is the best worst thing ever.

I don’t normally like things where the whole appeal is that they’re terrible, but in this case I’m making an exception. Tribes of Europa is a German Netflix piece of shit about three siblings trying to navigate near-future postapocalyptic Germany, and it’s hilarious.

There will be spoilers for Tribes of Europa in this review, but honestly it doesn’t really matter because what’s good about the show isn’t what happens, but how it happens, and I doubt I can capture that in a thousand words.

The show is set in the year 2074, a year you may recognize as being not that far in the future. In the year 2029, a year you may recognize as being not that far from 2074, all technology stopped working (?) in an event called Black December, and for some reason this caused society to collapse. It’s not super clear what “all technology” means, because cars and electricity still exist, so I guess the internet going down really was just that hard on Europe. Anyway, Europe split into millions of micro-states which are all individually unsustainable (that’s not part of the plot, it’s just an obvious observation), and they’re all fighting for some reason. Three siblings, Liv, Kiano and Elja, are living in a tribe of forest dwelling Origines, and they find a super futuristic ship and this causes some gothy people called Crows to brutally kill and/or enslave their whole population, and the three siblings have to find ways to survive.

And if you think that all sounds really stupid and convoluted, it is, and that’s what’s hilarious about it. A bunch of the people who made Dark are involved in making this, but it’s clear that they were fresh off the third season of Dark, if you know what I mean. There’s a vague plot about an evil black cloud coming from China, a nonsensical Jello-mining slave factory, a gladiatorial ring/rave where slaves can earn their freedom, a culture whose defining characteristic is “army” but they’re also the European Union but they’re also dictatorial and sketchy, a Borg cube hiding in a lake, a weird casino/bar where the only Black person in the show runs a weird museum, and also some Amazons. The first season is six episodes long, and it’s so obvious that the writers just wanted to put every idea they’d ever had into a script and see if it exploded, and the result is a hot mess and it’s amazing.

Only one of the three storylines is interesting, but we’ll start with the two that aren’t. Liv gets rescued by the European Union Army, called the Crimsons, and proceeds to spend the whole time she’s there betraying them to be friends with their captured prisoner, then betraying the prisoner to help the Crimsons, then betraying the Crimsons again to help the prisoner, and so on, until eventually everyone dies and she gets rescued by the Amazons at the end. It makes no sense why any of these people would keep her around since she’s constantly lying to and betraying all of them, and she has no real charisma or anything to let her get away with it. But they do, and it seems likely she’s going to keep doing that in the next season, but maybe she’ll also get a girlfriend to replace her boring evil Crimson boyfriend, so that would be cool. I feel bad because hers is the only storyline that has female characters who aren’t someone’s love interest (and also the only storyline that has more than one female character in it), but it’s definitely the most boring.

Also the most boring storyline is Elja’s. He ends up in possession of the cube that controls the fancy ship, and he’s decided that it’s his mission as the chosen one to go bring it to something called the Ark (which turns out to be a bigger cube), because the pilot of the ship told him to and he just decided that was more important than finding his family, I guess. He teams up with a wacky mechanic/junk dealer named Moses (played by Oliver Masucci, the actor who played Ulrich in Dark, which I personally find really funny) and they go on a quest where lots of people just kind of let Elja get away with lying to them and being shitty to them, because he’s cute, I guess? Anyway, he keeps getting free stuff from all these sketchy people because the plot demands it, and in the end he finds the ark and goes to Atlantis, and if you think that sounds interesting, don’t worry. It’s not.

Kiano’s is the only interesting storyline. He gets taken into slavery by the evil Crows, who are a fighty rave-having culture that is a mix of ancient Rome and also Nazis but who I think the audience is also supposed to sympathize with to a degree? Which sure is a look, but anyway. Kiano works in a Jello mining factory for a bit, which is boring, but then he gets turned into a sex slave for a high-ranking Crow named Varvara, which is hilarious. It’s actually super interesting because she’s clearly his love interest and stuff, but the show is very clear that at least their first sex scene is a rape scene, and it’s super rare to see female-on-male rape depicted like that. He’s obviously going to end up getting Stockholm syndrome and falling in love with her and everything, which is also boring, but he also has to fight a gladiatorial match against his dad, who he kills so he can also become a Crow.

I think it’ll be super interesting to watch Kiano struggle to maintain his morals now that he’s a Crow and is going to be expected to murder people all the time, and is also a weird drug addict, possibly. I hope the show doesn’t cop out and just have him remain morally pure and only be working with the Crows to escape, because it would be way more interesting if he actually ended up internalizing their ideals and becoming fully one of them before his siblings inevitably end up coming to rescue him, and then fighting against them. There’s a vague hint that the Crows might be the only thing that can stop the evil black Chinese cloud, so yeah, I think it would be super cool if that storyline had that moral complexity in it and actually showed the effects that brainwashing and power can have on someone who’s in a vulnerable position.

The biggest problem with the show is that despite all of the above, nothing actually happens in it. There’s a lot of setup and a lot of all the different organizations talking about how they have vague and nebulous plans to do vague and nebulous things in the future, but none of those things are ever made clear and also never happen, so the season sort of ends with the feeling that actually this was all just a prologue to something bigger. Which is fine, but it did make me wish there’d been more than six episodes is all.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that nothing about this show makes any fucking sense at all. Like, society collapsed because all the technology disappeared, but then it seems like it came back, but I guess at that point everyone was already so committed to the dystopian near-future-punk aesthetic that they couldn’t go back to the way things were. Literally there are people in the show who remember the old world—it existed in living memory—but everyone just acts like there’s no possible way to go back to the way things were now. I think the timeline of the show probably should have been extended if they wanted any of this to make any sense, but that’s fine. The fact that it doesn’t make any sense is mostly the appeal.

Tribes of Europa isn’t “good,” but it’s the exact kind of compelling bad that leaves you wanting to watch more of it, just because you’re so invested in seeing what stupid bullshit the writers are going to pull next. I’m definitely really excited for the second season if they decide to make one, but even if they don’t, it was a fun distraction while I waited for something actually good to come out.  

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