I’ve heavily criticised Salamander this past few weeks for being trite, cliched and dull, but this weekend’s double bill did spring a minor surprise on its audience for the first time, by being utterly tedious and advancing the story – at this late stage in the series – by no more than a few millimetres.
We went flashback crazy with Gil Wulfs, constantly stopping in the middle of doing nothing much to remember another chronological chunk of his childhood that took us virtually nowhere in terms of explaining why he’s set himself up to bring Salamander down. No, I tell a lie: at one point in our interminable of Brussels’ orphanage systen in the 1950s (tick-boxes: anonymity, emotional indifference, cruelty, heavily implied child sexual abuse leading to suicide, did we miss anything out? No, good) the young Gil sees and recognises Emile Jonkhaere from the wartime operation that saw his Dad go missing.
Then there was blonde Patricia. You know, the attractive, thirty-something widow who was so empathetic with Paul, and going on about how impossibly soon it was after Sarah’s death for him to think of looking for a new partner, and who spends two full episodes moping abpout the fact he hasn’t called her. Well, guess what? Out of all the girls in the whole of her new, private school, young Sofie makes friends with Nicole – Patricia’s daughter – a fairly standardised troublesome rebel, who takes one look at Sofie and immediately lets her have free rein of Nicole’s contraband tuck-shop, and becomes so close a friend (to someone concealing the truth about herself) that she invites Sofie home for the weekend. Giving Patricia the chance to hustle Paul into a visit.
It’s all too damned coincidental for words, especially as Patricia’s father andNicole’s grandfather is Gil Wulfs, the big baddie, and once Paul is in his house, he recognises those significant wartime photos.
So, let’s get this straight: Paul Gerardi, super-detective, who has the entire Salamander organisation, a collection of the rich and ultra-powerful afraid of him, identifies the villain not through his maverick tendencies, his unorthodox ways, his brilliant detection, none of that horseshit, but because the villain’ daughter fancies him, and her daughter is bessy mates with his daughter.
I can’t decide whether this is lazy writing, or the work of someone so uninspired that he can’t think of a way in which his hero cop can actually solve the case. Though given how much of this series is stolen from cliche…
This pair of episodes sees the elimination of Public Prosecuter Persigal. He’s obviously on his way out from the moment the King demands a scapegoat. Yes, the King of Belgium, concerned that his constituional government is is complete disarray, demands that someone publicly carry the can for not solving this. And that will help actually resolve this, how? Persigal protests that they can’t do this to him, he’s a senior judge, which immediately gets me confused: I have no idea about the technical aspects of Belgium’s legal system, but if Persigal’s actually a Judge, how the hell can he be a Prosecutor? The untranslated title for his office is Procurator-General and Wikipedia confirms that we are not dealing with a mistranslation in the sub-titles, so someone is under a basic misunderstanding here, though I grant you, it’s probably me.
But it’s all one with the final fate of Persigal in these two episodes. I loved the subtle, indirect way the series introduced the fact that the man who started off as another villain but who is now Gerardi’s protector and supporter has a heart condition, by having his secretary shout after him, ‘”You forget your medication!” as opposed to some crude and obvious method like, say, having take some pills in an earlier episode. I mean, dammit, we’re writing for big audiences here, and everybody knows they’re thick as pigshit and have to have everything telegraphed to them. If you ask them to actually think, that’s when you get only small audiences. Huselmans knows that.
So Persigal’s on his way out, and wants to protect Gerardi to the end. To do this, he announces to Salamander’s new, up-and-coming Young Turk, Vincent Noel (a man with one, apparently cheap suit, given that it’s shiny all over, with slicked back hair and the cold demeanour of a psychopath) that he’s going to resign the day after tomorrow and tell everyone everything about Salamander. In this, he shows the subtlety of a man whose talents have taken him to one of the highest legal offices in the land, who knows himself to be up against a vast and powerful conspiracy that reaches everywhere: give their most obvious thug 36 hours nptice that you’re going to shit on them. They’ll let you get away with doing it, naturally. I mean, no-one with seemingly infinite resources can organise an assassination and oublic disgrace worth a damn in that meagre amount of time.
Ah yes, Vincent. We’ve been missing a Young Turk who wants to turn the organisation along specifically vicious lines, whilst wearing a suit that makes him look like an American mafioso: what is the use of power if you can’t scare the crap out of people by using it? You can’t expect old men and women who’ve been incredibly successful for nearly seventy years to actually know what they’re doing, can you?
Actually, just how old is Salamander? Between Gil’s flashbacks and Gerardi’s investigation into public records of the Resistance years, we are given to anticipate that Salamander was founded by Emile Jonkhaere in or about 1944/45 utilising stolen British money intended for the Resistance to found his bank and start building contacts. But, unless I’m given to delusions, did not an earlier episode state that Salamander was founded, with royal support, sometime about 1910?
Presumably, no more than about half of this will be explained in the final double-header, though not whether Paul gets into the knickers of the lovely Patricia (a considerably more interesting question than any posed by the conspiracy element of the story, even though we know he’s still too much in love the late Sarah to do anything even if Patricia removes them herself, as she probably will). Incidentally, An Miller, who played Sarah, is Filip Peeters’ wife, which may go some way to explaining why she’s buried in the graveyard of Carl Cassimon’s monastery – a monastery with a conveniently internet-expert novitiate monk.
But given how much ground Huselmans has left himself to cover after this astonishingly slow-paced and slow-witted pair of episodes, and given that Salamander 2 is already in the pipeline, I predict quite comprehensive disappointment on the near horizon, maybe even a cliffhanger ending.
Speaking of which, credit where credit is due, episode 9 did have a new twist on the cliffhanger ending. Gerardi has been exposed to Salamander’s assassins, when he finds P9′s offices empty. Distracted by the lift coming up to the second floor, he is a sitting target for the guman on the next landing. Naturally instead of shooting Gerardi in the back whilst he’s completely exposed, the gunman delays shooting until Gerardi has opened the lift door and is stood behind (this is, presumably, rule no. 1 in assassination classes: never shoot when you might hit your target).
Which leaves Gerardi trapped in a tiny lift, no escape, as a gun-wielding killer advances on him
Now, anyone who knows the slightest thing about cliffhangers will recognise this as the cue to cut to the theme music, leaving the viewer a week to wonder how Gerardi will get out of this (press the down button in the lift?). Only Salamander has the utter freshness of thought to continue the episode to the point where the killer throws open the lift door, only to find Gerardi lying on the floor and shooting him through the forehead from below. Ladies and gentleman, the first cliffhanger where you see the hero get out of it before the closing credits.
I bow before its magnificence.