Saturday SkandiDrama: Below the Surface episodes 1 & 2

Okay, you got me for the next month.

Below the Surface is a 2017 eight-part Danish thriller series, which came to BBC4 on Saturday evening in the usual two-episode format. It’s a simple, straightforward series, or so it presents itself in the opening salvo. Three seemingly Muslim terrorists stop a Danish Metro train underground, lead 15 passengers at gunpoint through the system into an area being constructed, near Copenhagen’s picturesque Marble Church, where a well-prepared site is waiting. They demand a ransom of 4M euros (30M kroner) for their release.

The Government calls in its newly created TTF (Terror Task Force), under the command of ex-Army Philip Norgaard (Johannes Lassen), to contain and resolve the situation. However, the Terrorists refuse to communicate with TTF’s negotiators, who include the lovely Louise Falck (Sara Hjort Divletson), Philip’s very very recently (as in, this morning) ex-lover, choosing TV presenter journalist Naja Toft (Paprika Steen).

Naja is offered a live interview with one of the hostages, Marie Bendix (Alba August), a student nurse, which she puts on air without authority, and which gets her fired. But the terrorists, under their leader Alpha (Jakob Oftebro), maintain the relationship: Naja, who has now started a fundraiser to raise the ransom, is offered a second hostage interview, this time with karate teacher Adel (Dar Salim).

But Adel refuses to play ball, tells his audience he’d rather die, not to pay anything. He continues in the face of a threat to shoot fellow-hostage Denise (Sus Wilkins), an attractive young woman. At episode 2’s end, the terrorists release a hostage: it is Adel, and he is dead.

So far, so slick, professional and absorbing. It may not seem like more than an action story on a sadly-contemporary theme, but there are a couple of aspects that look like taking it into a higher plane.

These centre mainly on Philio. The series opened with a lengthy underground scene of Philip, a hostage himself, being brutalised by Ahmad, a burly figure in camouflage gear, with a big, black beard. Ahmad plays with Philip, teasing him almost, in between savage blows. It is an impossible situation. Yet Philip escapes, returns home, goes back to work as the operational commander of the new TTF.

How did he get away? That’s being kept in the dark so far. Philip won’t talk about it, either with his Dad, the former Defence Chief, nor the lovely Louise, who’s splitting up with him because he’s lying to her about the ‘bad dreams’ that wake him up whenever she stays over. Philip’s been fully debriefed, seen all the shrinks, got a clean bill of health, but obviously whatever he told them is not going to be the truth, and he is still having flashbacks.

Is it going to be that he’s another Manchurian Candidate? Or, to be more up-to-date, first season Nicholas Brody? I dunno. It’s got Louise concerned about his fitness to do the job.

And there’s one major question mark over Philip from another source already, and as this is the current Defence Chief, I’m already betting Philip gets relieved of his command no later than episode 5. Because Philip is convinced he has recognised the heavily balaclava-masked Alpha as Ahmad, because Alpha ends episode 1 by quoting Peter Sellars’ catch-phrase from that old, old film, The Party. Ahmad uses it during Philip’s captivity, Alpha uses it now: “Howdy, partner.”

But Ahmad is dead, three months after Philip escaped, killed in an American drone attack. Or is he? Is Alpha Ahmad, or is Philip cracking up? I’ve already laid my bet. Ahmad doesn’t appear in the credits in imdb for Gidseltagningen (the Danish title) after all.

Even if Below the Surface turns out to be no more than a thriller, it’s at least a well-made one in which no-one’s done anything stupid so far. Which, given things like Modus, Follow the Money, and that legend of legends, Salamander, is all manner of plus points already.

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