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Series / Vienna Blood

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Vienna Blood is a 2019 BBC limited series lasting three 90-minute episodes. (When it ran in the United States on PBS the episodes were shown in two parts, making a total of six.)

It is a series of detective dramas, based on the Liebermann Papers series of novels by Frank Tallis. The setting is Vienna, Austria in 1906—Franz Joseph is emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Adolf Hitler will soon come to town to study art, and World War I is just a few years away. Max Liebermann (Matthew Beard) is a British-educated medical student who has returned to Vienna to serve as an intern in a mental asylum. After attending a lecture by Sigmund Freud Max becomes an instant convert and proponent of the new science of psychiatry.

Max is interested in the intersection of psychiatry and criminal investigation. He gets his father to pull some strings and has himself inserted into the Vienna police, where he is attached to Inspector Oskar Reinhardt (Jurgen Maurer). Reinhardt is an intense, driven man, haunted by past tragedy, pushed by demanding superiors. He takes an early dislike to insufferable know-it-all Max, but sure enough, they eventually form an effective partnership.


The Liebermanns are Jewish, and the anti-Semitism of early 20th-century Vienna is a running theme. Conleth Hill plays Max's father Mendel, a wealthy clothing merchant who is trying to gain entry into upper-crust Viennese society. Jessica De Gouw appeared in the first season as Amelia, a chemist whom Max is attracted to. (The role was recast with Lucy Griffiths for Season 2.)

The episodes:

  • "The Last Seance": A fake psychic is found shot dead in her apartment, the room locked, the doors bolted, the gun and even the bullet missing.
  • "Queen of the Night": A serial killer brutally murders a prostitute; Max's preoccupation with his criminal justice work threatens his relationship with Clara.
  • "The Lost Child": Max's nephew, a cadet at a Viennese military academy, cuts himself with a knife. Max and Oskar then investigate the mysterious death of another academy cadet.

A second three-episode season ran in December 2021. This season is set in 1907, and finds Max having set up his own practice as a psychologist. This season's episodes were:

  • "The Melancholy Countess": An aristocratic patient of Max's is found dead in an apparent suicide, putting his career in jeopardy.
  • "The Devil's Kiss": A mutilated corpse in a derelict building drags Max and Oskar into the world of international espionage and terrorism.
  • "Darkness Rising": A notoriously antisemitic monk is gruesomely murdered, and a prominent member of Vienna's Jewish community is the prime suspect.


  • Abandoned Hospital: In "The Melancholy Countess" Gruner admits that the countess's violent, deranged son Istvan was kept as a boy in the children's wing of the asylum. Max and Oskar go there to find an abandoned, dilapidated, crumbling, and very creepy empty building—except that it isn't quite abandoned because Istvan is living there.
  • Abnormal Ammo: The victim in "The Last Seance" was shot with a flintlock pistol loaded with bone fragments and wadding. Dense enough to kill at point-blank range (the victim was burned by the muzzle blast), but disintegrates enough to confuse the pathologist.
  • Acquitted Too Late: In the second episode Max quickly realizes the mentally retarded man they initially arrest and charge for the brothel murders didn't do it, and Amelia is able to prove forensically that the blood found on his clothes is all from his job at a slaughterhouse. Unfortunately his name is already in the papers and a police sergeant intentionally sets him up for a Vigilante Execution by two vagrants he puts into the suspect's cell.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: In fact Freudian psychology is just being invented, and Max is a huge fan. His boss Professor Gruner is emphatically not.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The series ends with Max asking Oskar "What's our next case?"
  • Answer Cut: In need of a second for his duel in episode 2, Max says that he needs a policeman in order to arrest Hafner, but that Oskar can't do it because they already know he's a cop. Max then looks to his left and Oskar says "No, no!" Cut to von Bulow, Oskar's archrival in the department, who does in fact serve as Max's second.
  • Audible Sharpness: There's quite the loud, dramatic zing on the soundtrack when Olbricht, the murderer, yanks his cavalry saber out of its scabbard in the climactic scene of "Queen of the Night".
  • Bad Habits: In "Darkness Rising", Max goes undercover in the monastery as "Brother Maxwell from Oxford", with the help of a monk who doesn't agree with the abbot's cover-up of the murder.
  • Betty and Veronica: Max's two love interests, Amelia and Clara. Amelia is introduced having a schizophrenic breakdown, but even after that, she's a frank and bold woman working a professional job in 1907. She has dark hair. His fiancée Clara is gorgeous and sweet and wants to get married and for Max to pay more attention to her. She's blonde.
  • Bitter Almonds: Amelia eventually figures out that the boy who died in "The Lost Child" was poisoned; she can tell by the smell of cyanide on his coat.
  • Bittersweet Ending: For season one. Max loses his position at the hospital because Dr. Gruner is offended that Max brought in an outside expert (Amelia) to do forensics tests on Thomas Zelenka's body (which didn't turn up anything), but he's found working with the police as a forensic psychologist to be more fulfilling anyway. He and Clara break up, but he's found a new attraction to Amelia, who seems receptive. For Oskar it's mostly all "bitter": he's passed over for promotion because his superior and his rival are both alumni of the Military Academy whose reputation the Mystery of the Week just ruined, and his wife leaves him for good. But he's finally starting to get over the death of their daughter.
  • Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress: It might not specifically be a wedding dress, but the medium who is killed in episode 1 is found laid out on a couch in a fancy all-white dress, a large bloodstain in the middle from where she was shot through the heart.
  • Blunt "Yes": Oscar is mildly irritated by Max tagging along in Episode 2.
    Oscar: Are you planning to follow me around every time I have a murder case?
    Max: Yes, that is my current plan.
  • The Book Cipher: Max discovers that his nephew Daniel was writing something in code. He figures out that it was a book cipher but can't decode it because he doesn't have the book. Eventually he figures out that the cipher isn't a book at all, it's the school prayer.
  • Bowdlerization: There's nude scenes in some episodes, which PBS blurs out.
  • Bury Your Gays: The solution of "The Melancholy Countess" is that Countess Nadazdy was poisoned by mistake, the real target being the disgraced cavalry officer turned gigolo Oktav Hauke, who she was dining with. The murderer is a member of the hotel staff, whose son committed suicide after being caught having gay sex with Hauke, leading to both of them being expelled from the army, and who believes Hauke to be a villain who seduced and ruined her son. Max and Otto realise this too late to prevent the woman from shooting first Hauke and then herself.
  • Contrast Montage: "The Last Seance" cuts repeatedly between the high-class opera singer at the performance that the Liebermanns attend, and the low-class dance hall singer at the dance hall where a cop tails Braun.
  • Death by Falling Over: This is how the first victim dies in "Darkness Rising": he is pushed in an argument, and falls down and hits his head. Matters are confused by the pusher making the death look deliberate to try to frame someone else, and a third party then moving the body, for reasons of his own.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: In "Queen of the Night", Hafner the cavalryman nearly rapes Clara, and in fact would have if Max hadn't burst in and saved her. When Max demands that Hafner be arrested for assault, Oskar explains that it's his word against hers and she let him into the house and all they'd be doing is ruining Clara's reputation.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Lazar Kiss, a mysterious terrorist-for-hire working with the Serbian Black Hand, who manages to use Max and Oskar as pawns for almost the whole episode and gets away scot free.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Episode 2 revolves around the murder of four prostitutes, all at once, at a high-class Vienna brothel.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Done in "The Lost Child" when the boy who was going to be the victim of the Russian Roulette game points the gun at Wolf, chief of the torturers.
  • Duel to the Death: An army officer challenges Max to a duel after Max punches him in the face after walking in on him attempting to rape Clara. Max accepts after finding he can't simply have the man arrested because the Austrian justice system considers it "her word against his", planning to instead provoke his opponent into confessing to the Murder of the Week before the shots are fired. The officer is innocent of that crime, and Max has a "Eureka!" Moment about the real killer and runs off the field, the duel forgotten.
  • Dutch Angle: Used heavily throughout the series, generally whenever something tense or spooky is happening.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy Is Torture: Amelia, the hospital worker who has a dissociative breakdown in "The Last Seance", is given electroshock therapy in episode 1, as Max observes. It is horrifying. Later it's revealed that she suffered a lot of memory loss as a result.
    Max: You can't use these instruments of torture!
  • Ethereal White Dress: The dying countess in "The Melancholy Countess", and the Russian lady hotel guest, both see a spooky lady in a white dress. The Russian woman says the mysterious lady in the dress had "the eyes of a devil."
  • Fan Disservice: "Queen of the Night" has full-frontal female nudity (blurred out in the PBS release), in the form of a corpse on an autopsy table.
  • Fanservice Extra: The topless hooker that Braun is cavorting with when Oscar and Max find him in "The Last Seance".
  • Finger in the Mail: In "The Devil's Kiss" a body is discovered, missing its tongue and right hand. A little while later, the missing hand is found right outside of police headquarters, with a letter addressed to Oskar.
  • Freudian Couch: In "The Melancholy Countess" Max has his own practice. Being the Freud disciple that he is, he naturally has patients lying on a couch.
  • Historical Domain Character: Gustav Mahler himself shows up to play piano for a musical performance in "The Last Seance". The audience doesn't applaud because he's a Jew.
  • Historical Fiction: A detective series set in Vienna in the final days of the Hapsburg empire.
  • Historical In-Joke: A business associate tells Mendel Liebermann that "we decide who is Jewish and who is not." This is a quote attributed to the then-mayor Karl Lueger, and then later to Hermann Goering.
  • Hourglass Plot: "The Melancholy Countess" opens with Gruner gloating that the suicide of Countess Nadazdy will give him the opportunity to destroy Max's career at the consequential disciplinary hearing. It ends with Max exonerated and about to testify at Gruner's disciplinary hearing for arranging for an aristocratic family's dangerously unstable son to be secretly admitted to a mental hospital.
  • Initiation Ceremony: In "The Lost Child" the boys at the military academy do the "Horrific" variant. Their initiation ceremonies are ghastly rituals that only start with clutching a red-hot coin which leaves a permanent scar on the palm; Russian Roulette is also involved.
  • Inkblot Test: Max invents the inkblot test (fourteen years before Hermann Rorschach!) to get his otherwise catatonic nephew to speak something about what happened at the military academy.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Max is portrayed as thoughtful and enlightened for his belief in and use of Freudian psychology and the "talking cure". His supervising physician Gruner is portrayed as a brutal torturer for his use of shock therapy—and electroconvulsive therapy really is torture if it's done without anesthesia and muscle relaxants. Still, latter-day science has shown ECT to be really useful for quite a few mental conditions, while Freudian psychology is now dismissed as nonsense. In the show, it's ambiguous whether Max or Gruner was more effective at treating Amelia's dissociative disorder (though the framing supports Max since it's his story).
  • Karma Houdini: "The Devil's Kiss" ends with Diabolical Mastermind Lazar Kiss escaping along with his wife and daughter.
  • Locked Room Mystery: In the first episode the phony psychic is found dead in her room, shot through the heart. The windows are bolted and the door is locked. It might be a suicide...except for the fact that the gun isn't there.
  • Military School: "The Lost Child" centers around a boy who drowned at a Vienna military academy. There are dark things going on there.
  • Murder by Mistake: The solution to "The Melancholy Countess". The killer wasn't trying to poison the countess. The actual target was the countess's foppish companion, Hauke, and the killer put the poisoned tea at the wrong place on the table.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: A curious example as the setting predates the actual NSDAP by almost twenty years, but German ultranationalism and antisemitism are recurring themes: the Liebermanns are looked down on by many upper-class Viennese for being Jewish, and the Serial Killer in "Queen of the Night" targets non-German immigrants (or so it seems) and leaves a Calling Card in the form of a symbol from one group's pamphlet—which even uses the term "Aryan race" (it predates the Nazis) and references the notion of Austria merging with Germany.
  • Never Suicide: The lack of any blood or sign of a struggle on Countess Sophia in "The Melancholy Countess" leads to an initial conclusion that she drowned herself in the tub. Turns out that she was poisoned.
  • Phony Psychic: Charlotte, the medium in episode 1 was a con artist. Her partner Braun hung around graveyards, luring the bereaved into Charlotte's apartment, where she conducted seances that included parlor tricks such as trick candles that Charlotte could put out by pulling a lever.
  • The Profiler: Max may be the first one, as he uses his observational skills and his knowledge of human behavior to reach conclusions about unknown suspects. In episode 2 Oskar is uncomfortable when he has to tell a superior that a suspect doesn't match their "profile".
    "Profile"? What the hell is he talking about?
  • Public Domain Artifact: The motive for the murder in "Darkness Rising" turns out to be the monks' possession of the Holy Lance.
  • Roof Hopping: Max and Oskar chase a suspect across some rooftops in episode 1.
  • Russian Roulette: One of the rituals that the out-of-control school secret society does in episode 3. When the boy who's supposed to do it balks, another boy sticks the gun in his mouth.
  • School Clubs Are Serious Business: "The Lost Child" involves a military academy where a covert student fraternity has got badly out of control and into some seriously abusive behaviour.
  • Secret Underground Passage: In "Darkness Rising", there is a secret passage linking the sacristy in the monastery to the outside grounds, supposedly created by the monks in the Middle Ages so that they could covertly monitor the behaviour of pilgrims who had been give access to the holy relics.
  • Self-Harm: Max's nephew Daniel slices his arm with a knife at dinner. Later Max discovers that he was trying to carve into his arm the name of another boy who drowned at their military academy.
  • Shiksa Goddess: This starts to become a plot point in Season 2, when Max says he'd like to take Amelia to his parents' anniversary party, and his mother isn't happy, because Amelia isn't Jewish.
  • Shout-Out: Diabolical Mastermind Lazar Kiss may well be named after the notorious 1910s Hungarian Serial Killer Béla Kiss, who successfully disappeared forever after fleeing from a military hospital.
  • Spooky Séance: The victim in "The Last Seance" was a medium. Max and Oscar arrange another spooky seance with a supposed French medium (she's a dance hall singer) in an effort to smoke out the murderer.
  • Titled After the Song: The series is titled after a literal translation of the title of the Strauss waltz "Wiener Blut", later given lyrics for an operetta of the same title. In the song and operetta, this has no sinister connotations, being in a context of "I love Vienna because I've got Viennese blood in my veins".
  • Toplessness from the Back: Mixed with Fan Disservice as Max, who has accompanied a deranged Amelia to the asylum after her public breakdown, sees her none-too-gently stripped as she's admitted.
  • Translation Convention: Almost all the writing in the series is in German (although St. Florian's plot-relevant school prayer is inexplicably in English) and the characters are indicated to mostly be speaking German In-Universe, but the series is recorded in English.
  • Wedding Ring Removal: Elena leaves Oskar for good at the end of episode 3, leaving her wedding ring on the dining room table.