I said at the end of this brilliant Danish thriller’s first series that I thought they’d left themselves no ground on which to build a second series but that I’d watch it like a shot if they did. And here we are with series 2, another eight episodes and, on the strength of the first two, as good as it was before.
Of the three stars in series 1, there’s no room for Sara Hjort Ditlevsen as Louise or Paprike Steen as Naja Toft but Johannes Lassen returns as Philip Norgaard, the ex-Army Captain, ex-hostage and halfway to being ex-Commander of the Danish Police’s Terror Task Force (TTF). Philip is on leave for a year, a kind of gardening leave to recover from the events of series 1. He’s been seeing a psychologist, Beate Seitso (Helle Fagralid), initially not of his own volition, and we don’t yet know how good she is at psychology but she’s been good for him on one level, because the pair are in love, make warm, loving (as opposed to gymnastic) sex, he’s moved in with her and her ten year old son Asger (Bertil Smith) and he’s not going back when his leave is over.
Yes, I know, it’s a cliche of sorts, the idyllic life about to be shattered by unforeseen events that will propel the hero back into action and demonstrate to him that the quiet life is not for him. After the dismal season 3 of Follow the Money I am prepared for this rather tedious structure to play out, but we have three more weekends to find out if that’s what the team have in mind and Below the Surface starts from a higher level so I am hopeful.
For all that, and my praise of the first series’ refusal to allow mavericks to compromise it, it is necessary to admit that the premise of the second series is based on something rather too close to that.
The first episode starts in typical Scandinavian fashion, introducing us to various, seemingly unrelated elements, in media res, that we will ponder over the relevance and interrelation of until they are knit together. The largest of these are Philip, and co-star Yasmin Mahmoud, playing June Al-Qabee, a 22 year old radicalised Danish student who went to Syria to fight ISIS, who has been tried and convicted for it and surrendered her password for twelve months. June, who is gloriously (or fanatically: we don’t know enough yet) unrepentant, is both dangerous and in danger. There is a fatwa issued on her, plus she has footage of Danish soldiers being killed in Syria, where, of course, no Danish soldiers are. Officially.
The connection between these two is tangential: Philip gave a guest lecture at June’s college where she challenged him in pretty straightforward terms about how fucked-up everyone has made Syria. But she’s trying to get the footage to Philip, not realising he’s on leave, and when she tries to speak to him directly, she’s kidnapped.
Philip swings into action, tracks the kidnap car to a nearby underground parking garage, but no further. So he brings in TTF, in the person of the reliable SP and Simon (Alexandre Willaume and Peder Thomas Pedersen, welcome returnees from series 1). They approach the case professionally, but with less conviction that Philip, the more so after Military Intelligence, in the person of its Chief, Lars F. Bulow (Soren Pilmark) arrive to claim jurisdiction. Bulow will go on to doctor TTF’s report on June, redacting like crazy for reasons yet to be disclosed.
But Philip, even though he’s been warned off the case, is still thinking about it. June has been kidnapped, by four Muslims, made up of one competent leader (Yusuf, played by Ola Rapace, who was Denmark’s answer to lonely, big-breasted, Fifties Danish women in Crimes of Passion, as dear old Christer) delivering June to a mystery figure we know of as Abdul, one moron (there is always one), one naive boy and one religious fanatic, the latter being Mahdi Hasan (Anis Alobaidi). And it’s Mahdi’s name, which has come up in TTF’s preliminary investigation overlooked by Philip, that Asger, the kidnapping’s only witness now mentions.
Philip goes in pursuit. At the moment, I’m avoiding the ‘M’ word in favour of ‘rogue’. Yes, he’s used illegal hacking to track Mahdi’s whereabouts using his mobile phone, but he’s representing himself as Police, and when the moment comes he engages procedure, because he knows procedure works.
To get to that point, Philip has called in favours from Kiki, daughter of Olai, the guy with whom he’s restoring a dilpidated boat, to track the kidnappers’ Audi to the Elsinore-Oresund Ferry, where they’re travelling to Sweden. (Apparently, we can’t use the Oresund Bridge, presumably because it’s under trademark to The Bridge, though the real reason for the Ferry – which is being captained by familiar and welcome Soren Malling – will shortly become apparent). Philip has to physically leap the widening gap to catch the Ferry.
Practically the whole of episode 2 takes place on the Ferry. June escapes, the gang search for her, Philip prowls. Oresund draws near. Once he’s scouted the place thoroughly, Philip alerts the Captain to press the red button, the alert to Swedish police. In typical Below the Surface fashion, no-one plays silly buggers aout the Captain not believing and he pushes the button. Process starts. SP and Simon are called in.
And someone’s monitoring the Police intelligence and warns Yusuf, Mahdi and co they’ve been rumbled. Breaking out machine guns, they storm the bridge and order the ferry to stop. The second-in-command refuses and is shot. The Captain puts the Ferry in reverse. We have a hostage situation again.
This is where English retitling comes a cropper. The original Danish title is Gidseltagningen, which translates as ‘Hostages’. The overly simplistic retitling for series 1 has hung a misleading yoke on the series. But this is where we’re at, and this is where we’ll progress from. And, looking forward in anticipation, this is a good point to assume there’ll be a Below the Surface 3 in due course.
Just one more thing to mention before we settle down to watch the stand-off play out. I did refer to disparate strands seeming to be unrelated, and one of thsse is a skinny elderly woman, who runs a dog-grooming business with her daughter, and who seems to take an inordinate interest in June. For why? We don’t know yet. All we do know is that this lady’s perky black and white dog used to belong to June…