REVIEW: ‘Tribes of Europa’ Season 1 Is Charming but Dark

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Tribes of Europa

Content Warning: Tribes of Europa Season 1 contains graphic depictions of torture, sexual violence, and suicide.

Tribes of Europa Season 1 is a German sci-fi show streaming on Netflix. The six-episode series was created by Philip Koch, who also wrote and directed many of the episodes. The show stars Henriette Confurius, Emilio Sakraya, and David Ali Rashed.

The series starts in 2074, decades after a global blackout wiped out all technology in the world. Society collapsed, and the countries as we knew them ceased to be. Nations were replaced with tribes, creating new beliefs and traditions and forming their own states.

The story centers around three young members of the Origine Tribe, a small group of reclusive hunters who call the forest home. The three siblings, Liv (Confurius), Elja (Rashed), and Kiano (Sakraya), are hunting when they spot a futuristic hover-jet crash land at the edge of the forest. The trio investigates and discovers a badly wounded pilot with a precious item in his profession. But bringing the pilot back to their village results in tragedy. Others are after the object, namely the Crows, a brutal and powerful tribe. What follows separates the three siblings, sending them out alone into different areas of what used to be Germany, forcing them to experience intense pain and suffering on their journeys.

The plot has an interesting concept and structure. We are thrown into the action very quickly with the basics and laws of the world explained inside the first two episodes. The main plot regarding the Crows and Kiano is a gripping story that also serves as a destination that other characters are trying to get to. Liv’s main objective within this season is to get to Kiano and the rest of her family, who are being held captive in the Crows’ capital city. Elja’s own journey feels like a sidequest given how important the primary story is. However, the revelations that happen in the second half of the series may impact the future of Europa’s entire continent.

There are huge surprises within the first three episodes. Still, as the audience gets used to the tone of the series and the characters’ personalities, it becomes easier to predict what will happen. That is not to say that they aren’t enjoyable when they happen, as the scenes are often shocking in their execution. But some of the reveals designed as huge character moments have already been foreseen.

Tribes of Europa Season 1’s pacing is ultimately very fast. The scenes themselves are always intriguing and captivating. But only having six episodes means that this sci-fi epic has to progress at speed. However, the intensity and suspense are maintained throughout, with the story itself not being affected negatively by the pacing. But character development happens jarringly quickly.  

The three main characters all go through intense and brutal experiences, examples of the show’s violent and dark tone. Tribes of Europa Season 1 is gruesome and truly dystopian, and the Crows force the three youngsters to grow up quickly. Liv, played fantastically by Confurius, possibly has the best arc and acting of the protagonists. She is intensely protective over those that help her or those she’s close to. Like all of the Origines, it is ingrained within her that her tribe is the most important part of her life. But she is intensely manipulative, using people to get what she wants. Confurius gives a brilliant physical performance.

Kiano initially feels boring to watch, acting much like a typical lead in a young adult series. Proud, rebellious, and jealous, he constantly believes himself to be in the shadow of his sister, Liv. But he is forced into acts that are both troubling and powerfully impactful. Sakraya grows into the role, and it takes a rewatch of the series to understand what he is trying to achieve fully.

As for Rashed as Elja, he is the youngest and quietest of the trio. He travels far away after the events in the pilot episode. He is presented by Koch as the sci-fi version of Frodo, going on an adventure on his own with a special item desired by everyone else. Elja is quiet and withdrawn, which lessens his screen presence. To many, he and his mission doesn’t carry the same weight as the other two as it seems so far away from everything else regarding the show. 

The tribes themselves are what the series is based around. Some are only mentioned in passing, with three serving as pillars of the story. The main characters are descendants of the founder of the Origines, a tiny and reclusive tribe. The Crows are a dark wave that has spread across the continent, absorbing all of Europa. Those that survive either become Crows themselves or are turned into slaves. The theme of slavery is one of the most impactful themes within the series, as every part of Crow culture revolves around it. Even as they progress in power and ranks, they are in turn enslaved by someone bigger than them. Their designs speak towards the clothing worn by Germany’s anarchist communities, the detail evident especially in the facial makeup.

Opposing them ideologically are the Crimsons. They are a military unit, appearing to have retained a sense of order and hierarchy from before the fall of Europe. While striving for peace, they share the Crow’s desire to reunite Europa under one flag. They appear to have respect for the tribes and cultures, which their enemies reject. But an outsider has just as much reason to fear them as they would the Crows.

The hints towards Brexit and the separation of countries being a negative ideal from the European Union isn’t as subtle as they may first appear. A character that appears later in the series makes frequent comments about how the Crimsons’ ideals of unity and peace are what Europe was founded upon. When someone joins the Crimsons, they are told that their own tribe’s cultures are respected and included. And yet, they wear the same uniform and symbols. These are possible hints towards various regions existing in Europe and how they continue to express their own identities. But also in regards to those sovereign states and their place within the EU itself.

Tribes of Europa

The supporting cast is fantastic in how they are written and performed. Perhaps the best of them is Moses, portrayed by Oliver Masucci. He is a charming scavenger and smuggler, acting as the comic relief in what is a very dark show otherwise. He and Elja become a brilliant team as he serves as the boy’s protector and guide. To combine two classic characters, if Elja is Frodo, then Moses appears to emulate Lando Calrissian. 

In Brahtok, a fortress for the Crows, Kiano becomes the personal slave and concubine of Lord Varvara. She is vicious, monstrous, and remorseless; all lives around her are worthless. But she takes a liking to the Originie, personally tormenting him for her own pleasure, in all meanings of the word. Melika Foroutan shines in her portrayal of Varvara, captivating the audience and making them despise her whilst making sure they can’t stop watching her.

For Liv, there are numerous members of the Crimson unit around her. The commander of them all is David, played by Robert Finster. His arc and his actions feel the most predictable; his role within the story is always obvious despite attempts to obscure it. But Finster is engaging and absorbing even if his character’s arc feels destined for a certain ending.

As hinted at, there is a giant cast of characters, all members of this sprawling mass called Europa. What is missing is real, genuine diversity. Throughout the tribes, very few of them are played by people of colour.  Aside from one place in the last two episodes, the world feels very white. But the world itself doesn’t feel stretched either. The countries have fallen, Europe has essentially become stateless.

But nearly all of the areas that the Tribes of Europa occupies are Germanic in origin. The fortress the Crows function out of is built on what used to be Berlin, and there are warnings to avoid Leipzig. One of the slaves is Dutch, and other tribes from other countries are mentioned in their name. But this isn’t enough for world-building. Outside of the Origines, the Crows, and the Crimsons, the rest of the world is skin deep in detail. It would be appreciated if there was an expansion in both representation and geography in future seasons if there are any to come.

Regarding the production quality and set design, great care and attention have been taken by those involved. The locations are nearly all built sets that are solid and authentic. The places, primarily interiors, look real. Infrequently used, CGI is flawless in nearly all cases, used to show headquarters or settings too big to be created naturally. These shots occasionally look unsettling, with the actors standing in front of a clear green screen, but these are few and far between. The camera work is always fantastic and smooth, with some gorgeous landscape shots. The biggest negative in regards to production is the costumes. They don’t feel memorable or unique to the character wearing them. The aesthetic identity of both main tribes is clear, but close up, the costumes look cheap and flimsy.

The fight scenes carry scale whilst also being intimate and intense. The set pieces are laid out for brilliant choreography. The camera will often follow one person as chaos reigns around them, creating a unique dynamic to how they are displayed. You get the impression of being next to the characters, even the camera lens appearing to replicate a human eye. The frame’s edge loses focus as the character moves, but it is still easy to see those being slaughtered next to them. The battles are violent and gory, almost uncomfortable in regards to what happens within them. When a character is killed, their bodies jolt to sudden, powerful stops. The one downside is that there are far too many Willhelm screams and occasionally unimpressive stunts. These are jarring and instantly break immersion. 

Something that should be highlighted about the dialogue of Tribes of Europa is that within the original German dub, the characters will sporadically switch from their native German into English. Viewers may not realize this because this transition does not also occur in the English or other language versions.

Tribes of Europa Season 1 is a fascinating start to a new world, having the potential to be built into an extensive and expansive series. The characters within are all given brilliant, powerful identities that allow them to stand out, something often difficult to accomplish within ensemble casts. The story itself has incredibly meaningful and current themes. The engaging narrative will result in the audience wanting to watch from start to finish.  There are layers to the plot, and although some twists can be seen coming they mask those that take you by surprise.

Tribes of Europa Season 1 is available now on Netflix.

Tribes of Europa Season 1
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Tribes of Europa Season 1 is a fascinating start to a new world, having the potential to be built into an extensive and expansive series. The characters within are all given brilliant, powerful identities that allow them to stand out, something often difficult to accomplish within ensemble casts. The story itself has incredibly meaningful and current themes.