Salamander: Happily Ever After

Now this guy WAS good.

So that’s how it ends, with the stunning, unexpected revelation that…

No, you’re not buying it, are you? Salamander ended as it began, in cliche and torpor, and with the usual welter of improbabilities that fell apart under the merest touch of thought. The good guy won and the bad guys lost, Gerardi got the girl (even though it’s still only at most ten days since his beloved Sarah burned to death before his eyes in a bombed-out car, meant for him, so no guilt-inducing trauma there) and Jonkere paid the price.

Which, in a way, was a sad thing, as Mike Verdrengh gave the only truly effective and convincing performance in the whole series.

What surprised me most was that the last two episodes were played out at the same glacial pace as the preceding two. There were yet more fade-to-black-and-white flashbacks to Gil Wulfs’ youth, as he sat, melancholy and contemplative, stopping proceedings in their tracks for great chunks of time without informing us of anything seemingly relevant to the story. Gerardi continued to move around with an astonishing lack of alacrity, his backup reduced to the cop-turned-Monk Carl – who seems to have been thoroughly forgiven both for shagging Paul’s beloved Sarah (which Gerardi found out about at most eleven days earlier) and having been a corrupt bag boy for Salamander in the past – and the Novice Internet Wizard, Victor.

Put together, the final two episodes would have made a taut, if conventional, finale, but stretched out as they were, the last four episodes demonstrated a comprehensive failure of pacing from Huselmans, who had too little left to say and ended up saying it very slowly indeed.

The penultimate episode was based, gradually, around three things: Wulfs has his bank-robbing sidekick check out Paul ‘Vander Velde’ in case his beloved daughter is being messed around by some no good – I mean, she’s already telling Papa that she’s falling in love with him, though that is before he turns down a nightie-clad wee small hours snog with her and proposes instead that they sit in the kitchen for a natter.

Gerardi’s carefully prepared ID, organised by Persigal and P9, melts away faster than ice cream on the beach. Wulfs and Klaus both jump to the ludicrous conclusion that Gerardi has tracked them down (the two greatest mysteries aabout this series are why Salamander thinks Gerardi is the most dangerous thing on two legs, and why Salamander, an organisation of the great and powerful across every aspect of Belgian society, are so fucking ineffectual), but they respond very differently. Wulfs wants to protect his darling daughter’s fragile heart, Klaus wants to kill Gerardi.

And when Wulfs sacks him, Klaus immediately offers to sell him out to Jonkhere. Jonkhere will only buy if Klaus delivers up Wulfs and Gerardi to their makers.

So we come to the stunning climax. Wulfs sends the lovely Patricia and the two hot-looking teens into Brussels whilst he – a sixty-plus industrialist – moves faster than the trained cop to belt Gerardi over the head with a gun. Klaus, who is now revealed to be a former soldier and active mercenary, loads up a very heavy-duty sniper rifle. Wulfs completes the story of Salamander’s founding over the stolen Resistance money and his Dad’s dead body, all of which we have long since worked out for ourselves but which is spelt out, letter by letter, because there’s time to kill, obviously. But when Gerardi reveals he’s after Jonkhere as well, Wulfs, who we already know is such a naive, trusting soul, cuts him loose.

And promptly gets shot by sniper Klaus, through the window.

What follows is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Klaus is a trained and ruthless marksman, with serious weaponry, yet he’s only hit Wulfs in the shoulder. Despite Wulfs being in his sixties and being shot by the kind of rifle that would blow someone’s head off, he not only stays conscious but is able to stand up, get into his car, drive it into Brussells, get an unexpected appointment with Jonkhere, wait outside his office and carry on a conversation with him before blowing Jonkhere away with three or four shots.

Meanwhile, back at the country estate, Gerardi runs in all directions around the room with sniper Klaus firing shot after shot but never hitting anything except antiques or glass-fronted cabinets, until Gerardi gets outside with his police revolver. Gerardi fires shot after shot at Klaus’ eyrie without actually looking where he’s aiming and gets over to that building still without so much as a scratch (remember, too, that he’s doing all of this shortly after waking up from a gun barrel across the head and with an unstitched two-inch cut in his eyebrow).

But Klaus nips past him into the house, where the shoulder-shattered Wulfs has already left. And, just as any trained professional killer with a quarter century’s experience can be expected to do, he promptly skylines himself behind a curtain, against the afternoon sun, exposing himself to being shot to buggery by Gerardi.

Maybe that’s what makes Gerardi so dangerous, the fact that when they’re around him, ordinarily practical, capable and experienced people obligingly act like fuckwits.

So: Jonkhere’s dead. Wulfs is either going to die or else spend what’s left of his life in chokey, leaving his vast fortune to the lovely Patricia. Klaus is dead too. And Gerardi has the sixty-six Salamander files. There’s even a touching, walk into the sunset shot in the monastery graveyard, where Gerardi and Sofie lay flowers on the grave of Sarah, with its cheap, wooden cross. Patricia and Nicole watch from a respectful distance, but as they turn away, the girls get together, Gerardi and Patricia share the kind of reassuring, now-we-can-fuck-each-others-brains-out hug that promises a happy ending, and in true Magnificent, er, Six fashion, the two Monks, Carl and Victor join in at each end.

And they all lived happily ever after.

But then there’s a very strange little epilogue. Six months have passed, it’s snowing, and we see a meeting in Salamander’s HQ. The Committee is all there, intact, but instead of Jonkhere as chairman, we have Vincent-the-psycopath, in a new and equally horrifying suit of Liverpool Spice Boy cream, but with his hair still slicked back with the grease of half an oil-tanker. He’s welcoming the new Police Commissioner to Salamander’s ranks.

Just a little, conventional cliff-hanger, to remind you that organisations like Salamander don’t get blown away like a puff of smoke, especially when their exposure could bring down the country, right?

No, you’re wrong. In the one genuinely surprising moment of this tortuously dull series, having set up Salamander and the menacing Victor in readiness for series 2, we discover that Victor’s incriminatory speech is being recorded from outside, that Police vans are lined up everywhere, and that the raid is about to begin, led by Paul Gerardi. Patricia’s obviously a good influence on him: he’s shaved his beard and he’s even brushed his hair!

I mean, congratulations on a twist that wasn’t to be foreseen, but that really is a particularly pointless coda, of no dramatic worth or relevance. Salamander were beaten once Gerardi got his hands on the goods: what is the point of resurrecting them as a still-functioning, undefeated menace just to pull the plug put from under them ten seconds later?

But then Salamander has been dumb ever since the end of that first, ten minute, bank-robbing sequence: dumb from the foundations up to the roof, across the chimney pots and dumb all the way back down to the floor again. Belgian drama has not got off to a good start on the basis of this series. I can only assume there are better things over there.

According to Wikipedia, a British remake is planned. In the words of B.H. (Calcutta, failed), I fair dreads it.

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