Imagine if today, in 2018, in the middle of the regime of Donald Trump, three bombs went off in the biggest cities in the country. The bombs are blamed on a vague terrorist group, and, just like that, the country finds unity. Families are no longer plagued by political differences, and everyone’s super happy to root for a healthy, ample army. That would be a convenient thing to happen.If this did happen, there would likely be a few conspiracy theorists arguing that the government had planted the bombs as a way to unite the country. How very convenient that, right when things were looking fractious, an attack on the country brought everyone back to smiles and rainbows.
“They say that the attacks changed us as a nation,” Kajetan (Maciej Musial), the doe-eyed protagonist, points out in the first episode. “If that’s true, is that what the terrorists wanted? Do we live in the country they envisioned?” His parents died in the bombings.
Or so he thought.
1983 unfolds its information slowly and intensely, like Voldemort dealing at a blackjack table. By the time Katjek is sitting in the congressional library in Washington, D.C. in the finale, everything shifts into place. Eight episodes, one unruly subplot involving Jurassic Park, and dozens of bowls of noodles later, the show reveals who was responsible for the attacks, and, more importantly, why attacks are still happening. In short, the attacks came from within the house: Wladyslaw Lis (Andrzej Chyra), a current minister and the father of Kajetan’s girlfriend Karolina (Zofia Wichlacz) arranged the bombings as a way to subdue the democratic opposition.
What’s murkier are the intentions of the Light Brigade, the rebel group led by Ofelia (Michalina Olszanska). In 2003, 20 years after the bombings, the Light Brigade is slowly killing certain heads of state. Why? Their gripe is that the Party, the communist group at the center of the regime, used the bombings as an excuse to jail and kill their parents. Thus, the Light Brigade is a kind of Lost Boys Take Revenge group: These are orphans who are killing the men who killed their parents.
The first big “twist” of the finale is that Ofelia, a driving force in the show, is discarded. Ofelia models herself after Emila Plater, a Polish-Lithuanian revolutionary who led a revolution in 1830. Plater died at 25 due to illness; Ofelia dies at the hands of the SB, a military organization operated by the Party. (The SB monitors all behavior, looking for potential sedition.) Like her parents before her, Ofelia falls prey to a traitor in her midst, and is shot.
Though it takes place in 2003, 1983 ends right back where it started, in a semblance of the storied events that took place in 1983. It To be clear: In 1983, amid a peaceable uprising from the Solidarity movement, a few members of the opposition betrayed the group by plotting three attacks. Those members went on to become heads of state, keeping Poland under the Iron Curtain.
In the finale, the Light Brigade assembles for its big mission, which involves the use of their Traszkas, a proto-Facebook for this fictional world. How very current of 1983 to include a creepy piece of technology that spies on the youth of Poland. Because the Light Brigade has been infiltrated by a traitor, a member of the SB (the Party’s military, which stands in opposition to the more objective BBI), their operation stops before it even begins. The SB enters their lair, shooting at everything in sight. Kajetan, shaken at the realization that his parents were killed by Lis and his team, watches Ofelia die in front of him. Ostensibly, Inspector Janów (Robert Wieckiewicz) might have been able to stop this attack. Alas, he’s been under watch as well. The SB sees everything.
The greatest failure of 1983, though, especially in its finale, is that it ignores the year in its title. 1983 was an interesting enough time in the real world; In the world of 1983, it was even more dramatic. Introduced via flashbacks, Kajetan’s mother Maja (Agnieszka Żulewska) has the most engaging story of the season. She owns the final two episodes, deteriorating at the same rate as her struggling country. Turns out, she assisted the 1983 bombings. When her husband Viktor besmirched the family name by joining the democratic opposition, she was denied basic human rights. Unable to obtain medicine at her local pharmacy, she turned to a community of Irish Catholic priests, who were able to get her the medicine. There was one caveat, though: She had to help a few men, allegedly doctors, into the country. By the time Maja is performing this act of betrayal against her country, she knows (and we know) that she assisting an act of terrorism. Maja does it as an effort to save her mother and her son.
“Your son will only be safe if you do this,” William Keating (Clive Russel), Lis’ slimiest ally, demands.
And he was, wasn’t he? Kajetan survived to 2003. Maja ferried the bombers to and from their respective sites, and then proceeded to help them flee the country. After setting them off on their boats, the men shoot Maja — but wait! 1983 wasn’t going to give us such a rich character and then take her away. Maja is the final shot of the finale, as she opens the door to her Los Angeles apartment to see her teary-eyed son. Following the attacks on the Light Brigade, the Polish government has presumed Kajetan dead, just as they did to Maja in 1983. History repeats itself when it’s hidden in plain sight.