I’m clearly not as clued in as I used to be because the latest BBC4 SkandiKrime series actually started last week, so I’m going to have to do a bit of catching up. And I was rather surprised to see Bedrag (aka Follow the Money) returning for a third season when the finale to season 2 seemed to leave no further ground upon which to stand, especially given the decision of Maverick Mess to get out of the Fraud Squad in which he’d always been so ill-fitting.
But here we are again: no Maverick Mess, no Amoral Claudia, not even the Fraud Squad. No familiar title sequence, no familiar theme music, just what do we have that links us to two prior seasons except the name Follow the Money? Not a lot, obviously.
What we do have are Thomas Hwan as Alf Nyborg, the Chinese-Danish detective who spent all his time looking pained at everything Maverick Mess was doing and who now spends all his time looking pained for his own personal reasons, and Ebsen Smed as Nicky Rasmussen, the former marginally more sensible half of Nicky and the Bozo.
Nicky has gone up in the world: he’s now the main man in Denmark for invisible drugs kingpin Marco. Alf’s gone sideways and down, into Task Force Nabarro, where he’s working with but under another forceful idiot, Moeller, who’s all big beard and crack heads together. The Task Force are tackling drug-running, but they haven’t the patience for following the money trail, unlike Inscrutable Alf.
Alf isn’t having a good time of it. Ever since being shot through the spleen two years ago (and despite spending only half an hour in hospital over it), Alf is suffering from PTSD, in the form of not sleeping more than an hour a night. This even applies when he’s been shagged out by his married lover, Isa (the local equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service Lawyer, played by Maria Askehave, looking very much changed from when she was Rye Skovgaard in The Killing series 1).
On the strength of episode 1 it was obvious they’d taken out all the stupid crap, the idiot characters with their brains in their egos, and the general silliness, but they’d forgotten to put anything individual, distinctive or just plain interesting in its place. Episode 2 started to show a bit of intrigue in the form of third star Maria Rich, as Anna Berg Hansen.
Anna’s a middle-aged, married employee at Kredit Nord Bank, We see a lot of the back of her head at first, until we learn that, despite management’s fulsome compliments as to her skills, she’s been passed over for Branch Manager in favour of a pretty brunette not much more than half her age, about whom the same compliments are made when she’s officially announced.
Before then, we’ve discovered Anna has a boorish husband, whose construction business is less stable than he’s let her think, and a twattish teenage son. At least the son doesn’t bully her into illegal covering up potential money-laundering by one oof the business’s suppliers. Having crossed that line, Anna comes home with ‘good’ pizzas to an empty house, so she takes up Rune’s offer of dinner, drinks lots of wine and enjoys herself (without anything being tried on. In this episode at any rate).
Rune knows other businessmen who’d pay for what Anna’s done, but she’s insistent it’s a one-off for her husband’s benefit. Until Nete is unveiled as Manager under the exact same compliments as she got in being turneddown. Then she meets Rune outside, and I don’t think it’s because she likes the taste of his wafer thin mints (thugh i give it no later than episode 5…)
So, we’re back in business with a pile of reservations. At least we’re being spared Maverick Mess and you know what they say about small mercies.
The news that a Trapped 3 is in consideration, and that it would not wait three years in going into production is the only piece of news that reconciles me to the end of the second series. A month is too short a time for drama of this quality, and the time to wait for another Skandi series that matches it will always be too long.
The posts are coming thick and fast this morning, because I’m off to work in a couple of hours, and between Film 2019 and the final two episodes of Trapped, things have to give somewhere.
In theend, the secrets behind Trapped 2 were dirty, and sordid, and mean on every level, almost enough to make you quesion whether the revelations are worth the losses, the casualties that the story sustains. But in the end, that is what crime is about: dirt and death and the horror that people visit on one another. The final episode was laced with flashbacks as secrets finally came out, the underlying irony being that all of this came about because secrets finally came out.
Stefan had got the job of waste disposal from theplant, but in order to cut corners and increase his profits, he paid Finnur to hire foreign workers like Ebo to dump the barrels on the heath. But Finnur, bastard to the last, decided to keep the money for himself, use it to try to buy out Gisli for the profits to be had from the geothermal sink on his land. Stupid, mean, selfish, sordid.
But that might not have been enough, if it hadn’t prompted Gisli to spill the beans to Stefan about his true patronage. Oh yes, old Thoris, the man who disappeared thirty years ago, father to Gisli and Halla, and little Erin. And also Stefan.
It wasn’t quite as I anticipated, when Elin said those dangerous words, “I know.” Thoris was a violent sadist who had raped his sixteen year old daughter, Halla. Gisli had killed him when hetried it again, crushing his skull with a monkey-wrench. His body was never found because the twins left it in the pigsty, and pigs will eat anything, a blackly comic line that did indeed make me laugh. You were not left with the opinion that justice had been denied, nor that the world was diminished by Thoris’ passing, let alone the peculiar circumstances of his interment. But Halla left for Raykjavik, abandoning Gisli to the sole responsibility that he was never able to shoulder. And she was pregnant. Confessing this, she wondered why she hadn’t got an abortion, and that’s a question impossible of answer. She gave the baby up for adoption immediately, kept everything concealed.
Secrets are at their most dangerous when they’re spilled. Gisli spilled the beans and Stefan broke. It was almost possible to feel sorry for him, to learn in one moment that you are not merely adopted but that you are the son of your rapist grandfather. Had it come at another moment, it might have been manageable, even if Stefan’ first reaction was to think of himself as a freak. Therapy, perhaps, might have unravelled that for him.
But here he was, son and grandson of a bastard thug, facing another bastard in Finnur, threatening him, with the means of killing him and throwing the frame onto Ketill’s sons. And from there it became a game of running to catch up, until there’s nothing left that can be done except to bargain for something you don’t understand yourself, life’s starkest survival instincts even in the face of knowing there is absolutely nothing that you can do to deflect the future bearing down upon you, but as long as you are the only one who knows where you’ve dumped Thorhildur, alive, in a narrow ravine, in a freezing beck, there is a card in your hand, and Andri on his knees begging for his daughter, Halla making a final attempt to acknowledge the son she rejected in the womb, and Hinrika, still splendid little Hinrika, the inveterate professional, to spirit out the scarf that the dogs can scent.
And Thorhildur is found, leaving Stefan with nothing but the final option, the shotgun under the jaw, the blast through the top of the head, the symbolic splash of blood on Halla’s face, where it has been all along.
The coda was brief. Vikingur loses Ebo who returns to Ghana, but he reconciles with his mother. Hinrika turns down Bardur’s almost apologetic attempt to rekindle something, sits in an empty Police Station, bereft of the Reykjavik cops, bereft of Asgeir, utterly alone, studies those ultrasound scans of her miscarried child.
And Andri visits his estranged daughter in her hospital bed. The extremes have, at least for a moment, brought them closer. Relieved, he lays his head on her pillow: it is Thorhildur who reassures him that it will be alright, Daddy.
If you ask me to make a judgement as to which of Trapped‘s two series is better, for the moment I would still select the first. The claustrophobia that the snowed-in towm brought to things, Andri’s pent-up bitterness at his exile and his family problems, the more convoluted and wider-ranging secrets exposed, and above all the overhelming white mountains impressed themselves more upon me. We were warned that the Trapped in series 2 was psychological rather than physical, and so it was, in every character, trapped by history and circumstance and need, a mesh that drove everyone to do the exact things they did. The greens and browns were not so impressive, though the countryside was still awesome. Another watch, of both series, may change my thinking.
Until we are returned, sooner I hope than later, for series 3.
Episode 8 ended the way I didn’t want it to end, but the way it had been heading towards all episode. Even in the best and most individual forms of fiction, some lines of development go only to one place. It begins with awkwardnss, it goes on to promise, and then it goes bad, very bad.
Andri, Hinrika and Asgeir used to be a good team, when they were the three cops of Seydiforddur. It’s not been the same since Trapped 2 began. Andri went back to being real police in Reykjavik, Hinrika became the local Chief of Police, Asgeir stayed where he was. He’s been content with his role, but he’s been the odd one ot since Andri’s been back. There’s a new balance and he’s not part of it, and he’s felt it.
They left him out of telling him about Vikingur, about how he might not have been guilty. Each thought the other had done it, genuinely, but Asgeir was left out. Hinrika complainedabout it, Asgeir didn’t want to do it.
But he’s still left out. There’s a guy at the plant, David, the one who wanted the crime scene clearing for 2.00pm in episode 7, for the American’s visit. He attends Finnur’s funeral, gives Elin half a million kroner, tied up in a knot identical to the one that hung Finnur up. So Andri and Hinrika go out to question him, without Asgeir.
It’s starting to go pear-shaped. The water’s been cut off, unfit for use or drink. A stupid old woman blames it on a curse, a curse brought down by old Thorir, who vanished, by building upon enchanted rock, and bloody hell, the town believes it! Shit thrown at Steinnun and Oli’s house, Aron beaten up, his car smashed. At least he’s talking to Thorhildur again. She confesses to him about the mobile phone, he gets her to bring it to the Police station, to Asgeir.
Asgeir’s gotten lucky. He’s risked a bet with Gudrun: if she solves the water sample before Reykjavik, he’ll make her dinner. And she does, e.Coli and PCB. See him at seven.
He’s read the messages off the phone. He’s tried to call Andri, but he’s interrogating David, who has an alibi, an MP in his bed, for Finnur, and won’t take the call. He’s late for Gudrun. There’s a text, the nursery, now. Andri’s still not answering. He goes himself, alone. It’s coming. A rotund but short figure, ski-masked, snatches the phone. Asgeir gives chase, loses them. Hangs around too long. Andri’s back, tries to ring Asgeir, no answer. The figure appears out of the dark, has a knife. Sticks Asgeir in the stomach, twice, runs off.
It happened. And there is a week to hope, against hope.
Towards the end of summer, last year, I complained at The Bridge 4 being transferred to BBC2 and broadcast in single episodes, stringing it out and making me wait intently and impatiently for its story to unfold. Yet here I am, equally willing to bitch about how Trapped 2, in double episodes on BBC4 on Saturday nights, is slipping away far too quickly. It’s only three weeks since it returned and I am already facing the penultimate steps, all things wrapped up and answered this time next Sunday. It’s too soon.
Do I contradict myself? Very well.
And once again we begin with an episode that was over far sooner than it was subjectively due. It didn’t shortchange us, it didn’t feel baggy or stretched out like other series have, and yet episode 7, when I come to look at what happened, did not seem to advance us one bit towards the unravelling of any mystery.
For a second week running, the closing revelation – this one being that the mystery man behind the money discovered by Thorhildur and her equally stupid boyfriend knows who she is and where to find her – was not followed up upon. What we got of the fifteen year old nincompoop was more self-centred frustration about how they’re all trying to ruin her life, a complete avoidance of recognition that there might be a practical reason for removing her from the scene, and a screed of hatred about Andri culminating in a desire that the murderer slit his throat that had even the unlovely Aron shutting up, cutting his connection and refusing to answer her phone calls.
Nor did we make any progress towards uncovering just what it was little sister Elin saw Halla do, twenty years ago, but we did discover that the severely burned Minister of Industries, who is pushing herself far too much over this American Aluminium deal, to a point where you have to conclude (had you not already done so by episode 2) that there is something seriously dodgy going on in the background, is going down the route of political response: deny, deny, deny. Halla can’t be held responsible for Elin’s ‘false memories’. False memories, I see.
What the episode did build upon, slowly and implacably, was Vikingur’s arrest for the suspected murder of Pawel the Pole: in the factory, with a chipping hammer. The evidence mounts implacably. Motive, whereabouts, fingerprints and DNA, a total lack of alternatives. It can’t be anybody else.
Except that you know that with such a totality of evidence, it cannot be Vikingur, and at the end CCTV inserts the first hole in the wall. Pavel arrives at the factory. Next, the lights go out. Then, and some minutes later, Vikingur arrives. The electrical panel from where the power was cut is inside.
We have two more elements to try to absorb. The first is personal. Gudrun, Andri’s Forensics assistant, is back from Reykjavik to mildly flirt with Asgeir again. Using Hinrika’s office, and looking for a free drawer in which to store files, she discovers two photos. Ultrasound scans. A foetus. Is Hinrika pregnant?
Then there’s the Lake, where Ketill found the dead geese. Asgeir takes Hinrika’s soon-to-be-ex-husband Bardur up there when he goes to collect samples of the water for the Vet. Dead fish. Hundreds of them. Littering the beaches, and the Lake, as far as the eye can see…
This is not fair. Once you get past the halfway episode, the Scandi series are supposed to start laying trails towards a wrap-up, start drawing things together, instead of putting up new questions. Not only did episode 6 not take the slightest step towards elucidating just what Elin saw, but it reintroduced, and further complicated, an entire strand that didn’t even get memtioned in episode 5, and it hung itself up on one stinker of a cliffhanger. I have at least one thing next week that I’m looking forward to with great pleasure and anticipation and this makes me want to skip straight past that to find out.
If we’re actually going to find anything out, that soon.
After the relatively static first episode today, the show did at least start to twist the knife. Andri and Hinrika go back to re-examine Finnur’s house, only to find the seal broken by Aron and Thorhildur, the place a fucking mess and yes, Forensics haven’t been inside yet, so who knows what’s been lost. Andri is contemplating the malevolence of the universe with particular regard to 15 year old daughters when Hinrika finds a roll of Euros under the cushion next to him…
Next stop, Aron and Thorhildur are quasi-arrested. Andri can’t believe how all-fired stupid they are, taking 80,000 Euros from the house of someone who’s just been brutally murdered, without imagining any consequences (but the ones who think they’re unbelievably more clever than the stodgy old adults around them always lack that vital bit of cleverness that’s needed to recognise that you might not know everything after all). Even in the Police Station, Aron’s texting Thorhildur to hide the money so that they can keep it, and she’s hiding it so cleverly that it takes her Dad all of twenty seconds to find it (can you tell that this prize pair of muffins rub me up the wrong way?)
But there were two other things in the bag. One was the mobile phone that Thorhildur used to contact a mystery person, that she’s still hanging onto, lying about having found nothing else and only agreeing a meeting with him. At which he doesn’t turn up, not to meet her anyway, but to identify her, and tell her he knows who she is…
The other thing was a sheaf of papers, including a geothermic map of Gisli’s farm, prepared by the Ministry of Industries, and a blank purchase agreement. Theory: Finnur, knowing Gisli’s bankrupt, and that his land is a geothermic gold-mine, wants to buy it cheap, but with enough money to save Gisli. But then Gisli heads straight for Reykjavik and tries to immolate his sister, the Minister for Industries.
Who, if you believe her, and is there anybody here who actually does, didn’t know her Ministry was surveying Gisli’s land and has never seen her Ministry’s Survey Map.
Halla’s staying at the hotel now, meeting with Hafdis and Kolbrun, staying on a bit. Whilst Elin’s telling Oli that Halla’s already gone back south.
Add in the open, Ketill on a horse, up in the mountains, searching by the Lake. The one his poisoned son Sulji drank from. The one with drainage pipes emitting into it. The one with long streams of white scum on its surfaces. The one with a profusion of dead ducks on its shore, several of whom have been foaming at the beak. Ketill was right: he said the plant would pollute the land.
And lastly, Ebo has done a side-job for a Polish worker, one who’s forging a spear. Ebo wants his money, and he wants it now, but the Pole is playing silly beggars about him, knows abut Ebo and Vikingur (and assumes Vikingur is paying for it, so he wants a cut or he’ll make it public). Ebo’s getting deep into the brown stuff. His brother-in-law will keep his secret, for the sister’s sake, but he has to cut Vikingur out, now.
But the Poles get violent and Ebo runs, to Vikingur, for help. Only Vikingur’s angry and pissed again and heads for the plant. Where the power suddenly goes down. All’s blind. Hjortur, the night security, goes hunting. He finds the Pole down and bloody, from what looks like a bolt-gun to the head, just like Finnur. There’s an intruder. Hjortur pursues him. It’s Vikingur. And his face and shirt are just covered in blood…
Apart from the fact I’m confident Vikingur hasn’t done this latest, and hardly regrettable murder, I have no idea where this is going. Like today’s earlier episode, some shapes are discernible: the plant is a pollutant, Halla and Hafdis know, there’s a cover-up. But again, that’s too predictable. I’m relying on Trapped to be fooling me. I’m relying on it coming up with satisfactory answers to the near two dozen outstanding questions that are neat, logical, consistent and completly unpredictable. I’m not asking for too much, I hope.
So far, Trapped 2 has set itself up as being the doings of a mysterious, racist, far right group, Hammer of Thor, opposed to anything that is not Icelandic, but especially the Muslims. Halla the Minister, opening the door for a Muslim company to invest in the smelting plant, burned badly by her own twin brother. Hafdis the Mayor, who will sign the Letter of Intent, only she won’t if he’s been kidnapped, and put under threat of death.
And then in one episode, not even halfway yet, Hammer of Thor’s leader is identified as Hanna Stine, the hairdresser and all round fanatic, Hafdis is recused and the movement uprooted, two arrested, one shot dead. If only it were so easy to get rid of the bastards in real life.
The one who got killed committed suicide by Police, so stupid that he thinks he can avoid being taken back to gaol for abducting Mayor Hafdis by shooting her dead in front of half a task force of Police. And Hanna, after racing home to clear the decks of all incriminating fascist literature so that she can brazen it out in front of Andri, gives herself away by going on a rant that morphs from nationalism to anti-Muslim in no time flat.
I wish they were that stupid in real life, or that maybe our Police might put some effort into actually locking them up.
But that’s not that, after all, and we know it isn’t. There’s evidence gathered from the egregious Hanna to give the brothrrs Ketillsson an unbreakable alibi: they didn’t kill Finnur, and whoever did tried to frame them.
And there’s a more sinister and personal matter. Aron decides to bunk off school today, and of courseThorhildur decides to join him with barely a nanosecond’s thought. This idiot pair of malcontents, with their evenly balanced shoulders of matching chips, already piss me off mightily, especially for their aassumption that they’re the only ones around with any brains, when the reverse is true. Aron boasts of continually stealing cars and how the oonly way to stop him was to buy him one of his own, oh, har har. They head off to Finnur’s farm, cut the Police seal, have a screwing session and look for strong liquor. Aron finds it, and millions of rolled-up rolls of Euros.
Finders keepers, they decide, since everbody else on Iceland is stupid. Not as stupid as Thorhildur, who finds a mobile phone in the bag with the money (it’s the same Nokia I have: I’m accidentally cool). She also finds a series of text messages. Being far more clever than anyone else, she replies “Hi.”
And gets a response: “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
Oh, there’s more coming, much more. This has only been the overture.
After the sheer risibility of Black Lake 2, the announcement of the long-awaited second series of the Iceland-set Trapped was greeted with whoops and hollers in one Stockport pokey little flat. Superior story-telling for at least four weeks: if the second series was only half as good as the 2014 first, I would be very satisfied indeed.
In fact, I have five weeks of delight to look forward to, as Trapped 2 eschews the recent Scandinavian trend towards eight episode series and adheres to the traditonal ten parts we came to know and love from The Killing onwards. And whilst BBC4 is showing them in the usual block of two episodes weekly, the first episode was so rich and deep, and the experience so wonderful, that I’m going to watch (and blog) only one at a time.
Last time round, Andri Olafson (Olafur Darri Olafson), detective, was the Chief of Police in a tiny, northern town, a little piece of nothing in a deep fjord. It was a place of vast whitenesses, a deeply attractive, entirely quiet place. Andri, who came from this unnamed town, had been posted there in disgrace, after failing badly on a case. But with the town cut off by blizzard and avalanche, he was left to tackle a complex murder case. Andri’s successful resolution, amidst substantial family problems, saw him regain his old post at the capitol, Reykjavik.
Four years have passed. The opening episode doesn’t waste any time: Halla, Minister for Industries, is walking with three aides in front of Parliament. She’s approached by a semi-derelict man, rough clothing, dishevelled hair, unshaven, anxious expression, red-faced. She knows him, she stops to talk to him but it’s only to tell him, not for the first time it appears, that she owes him nothing. He grabs her, holds her tight, produces a lighter. His clothes are soaked in gasoline. He sets them both alight.
It’s quick, it’s direct, it’s shocking. It’s the crime, and it’s the way into what, after only one episode, seems to be a potentially infinite web of secrets.
Andri catches the case. The man, Gisli, is Halla’s brother, her twin brother. She hasn’t had contact with the rest of the family for twenty years. He’s died. She’s severely burnt, in hospital. He, they, are from a town up north, where there are recurring protests against an industrial plant in the process of construction, as well as an obscure political sect calling itself Hammer of Thor (as you expect, they are extreme nationalists, Iceland for Icelanders, a bunch of racists). The town Gisli comes from, where all this is happening, is Andri’s old town.
Before flying up there, to be re-united with his old colleagues, the imperturbable, quiet and brilliant Hinrika (Ilmur Kristjansdottir) and the rangy, rather more negligible Aesgir (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson), Andri calls upon his ex-wife, Agnes, and younger daughter Perla, to let them know he’s off up north, but mainly to let us know that elder daughter Thorhildur (Elva Maria Birgisdottir), now 15, has gone to live there with her Aunt Laufey (Katla M Thorgirsdottir). Thorhildur won’t speak to either her mother or father and has a record of stealing things: a troubled teen.
Even before Andri arrives, we are pitched into things we don’t yet understand, and relationships we have to learn. The show simply drops us into them. It doesn’t telegraph anything, doesn’t put up cue cards so we don’t have to pick it up, doesn’t tie anything up in pink ribbon, which is why I think so highly of it. Even when Andri arrives and has people introduced to him, it’s difficult to work out just who is related to who, and in what manner, because nearly everybody seems to be.
There’s Vikingur, Gisli’s son, who is gay, by the way, and works at the plant, where the impressively bearded Finnur (his father’s brother-in-law), apparently a homophobe, is warning the black-skinned Ebo to stay away from Vikingur or get deported, because he doesn’t want something revealing to Vikingur. Gisli’s ex-wife, Steinum, Vikingur’s mother, divorced him ages ago and married his brother, whilst her sister is married to Finnur, and their son Aron, aged 17, is Thorhildur’s boyfriend (and probable bedmate: there’s a wonderfully dry line from Hinrika when Andri, dubious about whether his elder daughter’s virginity is still something for her to bestow, asks what she thinks: Hinrika asks what age Andri first had sex, then warns him, if he says it was different, he was a boy, she’ll lock him up!).
Gisli doesn’t seem to have been well-liked even among his family. He was a miserable, grumpy sod who seems to have thought the world owed him something. His sheep farm had just failed, his mortgage foreclosed, his home stripped by the bailiffs. That’s enough of a cause for anyone to crack up and make a futile, suicidal gesture, but things are not so simple. Gisli was friends with another farmer, Ketill (Stein Armann Magnusson), a reactionary with about a dozen grown sons, a farmer protesting the plant, protesting governments and Mayors who spout bullshit about the plant and how it’s going to mean money for everyone, because Ketill knows it will only release poison gas to kill all their sheep and spoil all their countryside, which will be sold off to foreigners like a cheap whore (overused phrase).
In short, Ketill is the fanatics fanatic. Gisli’s sheep are all dead in the barn, killed by a boltgun, same as his dog. The inference is that Gisli did it, because he was driven crazy by his insurmountable losses, but to Ketill, Gisli was both a victim and a martyr, and the dead sheep get dumped in the town centre as evidence of how he’s right (oh, this man is always going to be right, in his own mind anyway) about the plant.
He may not be entirely wrong: the drilling is causing quite substantial earthquakes.
So there’s a lot going on, on personal and criminal levels, and just plain secrecy. Back in Reykjavik, the Prime minister does question Trausti, Andri’s old enemy, as to whether they can trust him on a case like this: we’re going to have to, Trausti sighs. It’s going to be fun watching Andri and Hinrika unpick this.
One thing that worried me was that in series 1, everything was white, and now it’s green and brown. It’s not global warming, however, but simply the Icelandic summer. Last time round, people were physically trapped. This time, it’s psychological. I am already very, very pleased.
The final two parts of the superb Below the Surface come late but even more welcome: it is not always easy to access what you want to see. But I am so glad to have completed this series, because this was the part where this taut and crisp thriller moved out of being merely a thriller and into the deeper realms that it had slowly begun to suggest in the last couple of episodes. In doing so, it cemented itself as an awesome piece of serial writing, an object lesson in creating a piece of gripping and genuinely unpredictable fiction, whilst simultaneously more or less sealing itself off from any realistic possibility of a second series. Though I’d watch one in a Copenhagen heartbeat.
Where we left off, Alpha kidnapper Alpha had just been revealed as reported dead Danish soldier Mark Hald. Jakob Oftebro has played this role behind a ski-mask for six episodes, using a fake Muslim accent, and was amply rewarded for his patience by writing that turned the grim hostage-taker inside out, turning him into a tragic victim.
How did Philip know Mark? Under orders from the Chief of Defence, he was commanded not to say, even to his immediate superior, Hans, who temporarily suspended him, pending possible criminal charges. But the truth was horrifically simple, and the revelations horribly complex.
You’ll remember that, in episode 1, Philip was presented as a genuine hero, a hostage who’d endured solitary confinement and torture, but who’d escaped. I noted then that we weren’t being told how he escaped. Because he didn’t. He was one of three Danish soldiers taken hostage. The other two were Mark Hald and Jim Hansen, the two soldiers that we were told, by their Platoon commander, Sammy, were dead. Blown in two by a hand grenade. Not dead. Hostages. Unaware until Philip joined them, that no-one was negotiating for them because everyone believed they were dead.
The deadliness of that situation, a simple twist that opened up measureless canyons beneath the characters’ feet, fed through episode 7. Philip, who had genuinely believed his two fellow captives, who he’d sworn to get out, were dead, vents his rage at both current Chief of Defence Palle, and the former Chief, his Dad, seemingly breaking with the latter permanently, because they’d lied to him about Mark and Jim – whose foot was badly broken – still being alive.
Under Hans, a plan was devised to attack, a tendentious plan, extremely risky, but the only marginal bet. Philip returned, reinstated, in time to turn one of the other plans into something safer, with the aid of Naja, who volunteered to go in to conduct a live interview underground, to help the fundraiser over its last few million kroner.
This became the trojan horse that enabled the action team to neutralise the explosives in the tunnel, kill Beta and Charlie (who’d been getting bolshie about Mark since he’d removed his ski-mask) and get most of the hostages out. But Mark secured three, and insisted on a fourth going down there: Philip. Who goes below the surface.
And thus we reached an extraordinary final episode. When Philip arrived, Mark had secured the last three hostages, and furthermore taped something to Joachin. We found out what it was when he very professionally neutralised Philip, zip-tied his hands behind his back, and taped something similar to him: a semtex charge.
Then he contacted Naja to offer her a last interview. Hans immediately refused it so Naja, who was not under arrest, slipped off, found a quiet corner with wi-fi, and broadcast it anyway. So Mark interviewed Philip, and Philip told everything.
Philip didn’t escape at all, he was ransomed, personally by his father who used his entire life savings. He promised Jim and Mark he would get them out, he would not just start but force negotiations. But in Denmark, he was told to keep his mouth shut. Officially, he was not ransomed, he was a lone prisoner, who escaped. A bona fide hero. Because to admit that the Danish Government ransomed its soldiers was to put a price on the head of every single one of them.
And because the negotiations didn’t work, Philip was headed off by being told the compound had been hit by a drone strike, and everyone was dead. Which means, incidentally, that Philip’s torturer Ahmad wasn’t dead after all, which could be a lead for a second series yet.
The whole thing was an example of Henry Kissinger’s oft-touted Realpolitik.You took the Danish Government’s point whilst hating the abandonment of men who were acting in the service of their country. And there was another toughening twist immediately: Mark had indeed escaped, just as Philip was supposed to have done (making him the better soldier, maybe even the better man, or at least the more honest). But the crippled Jim was still back there.
And the ransom from the Copenhagen hostages was to pay the ransom for Jim.
There were still two more things that made this outcome even more hellish than it would have been in the hands of someone more prepared to play to television’s cliches. The first was that Mark forgave Philip. He understood what had happened. He did not have any rage against Philip, indeed at the end of things rage had not been a factor at all, just the determination to rescue his friend, his comrade, his fellow captive.
Because, once the money was very skillfully, professionally and irrecoverably delivered – by Platoon Commander Sammy, repaying his own unpayable debt and receiving forgiveness if not an absolution his eyes said he would never allow himself – Mark released and sent back the last three hostages, alive, before surrendering himself to a released Philip, asking to be taken out, via the tunnel, in uniform, by a fellow soldier.
But just before that was complete, Mark got a photo on his phone. The ransom paid, the money flown out of the country, and Jim had finally broken. And hung himself.
Mark said nothing, continued his plans, even got Philip to promise to look after Jim when he returned. But above the surface, Joachin told Louise about the phone message. I’ve not mentioned her so far, but she was on an upward trajectory throughout this pair of episodes, throughout the whole series, a character whose strengths led to de facto leadership, recognised by all unconsciously. She tracked the photo, and sent in a team to rescue Philip.
It all looked as if it was going to go horribly wrong at the last moment, but Philip asserted his authority, stood his men down, sent them back. By then it was too late: Louise had communicated about Jim. That left Mark with no ground upon which to stand, and he used the gun he’d trained on Philip to blow his brains out.
The sound of the shot crumpled Louise, calling Philip’s name, bringing her to instantly panicked tears. The series began with her breaking off their quasi-casual affair, but this instant took us deeper inside her, without the need for words. Yet, in a quiet but wonderfully buoyant coda, of the hostages being reunited first with each other and then their families, the Chief of Defence being sacked, Naja regaining her job at the tv station but returning to reporting not presenting, the last loose thread was left unpicked up. Philip left, presumably going to lose his job as Head of TTF, but there was no easy reconciliation with the extraordinary woman: she may have understood why he didn’t trust her with his secrets, when he didn’t trust himself, but he didn’t trust her: at least for now that was still a barrier, and a seemingly insoluable one.
Instead, Philip’s reconciliation was with his father, and a readiness to begin again.
It’s impossible to see how he could continue as Head of TFF, or even return to it, especially as he has spilled national secrets, hence my saying the ending has pretty near sealed off a series 2. But thinking about it further, there is an obvious link for a second series featuring many of the same characters, or at least Philip and Louise, based on the still alive Ahmad. I’m hoping.
What made Below the Surface so good, even on the purely thriller level, was its rigorous approach to its situation, and its refusal to make it easy for itself by any cheap tricks, shortcuts or cliches. One glaring point is that there were no Mavericks. It was all done by the book, by the rules, completely realistically.
Because do you know what Mavericks are at their heart? They’re cheap. They’re nasty. They’re a soft underbelly, a laziness to the writing, a way of getting round the obstacles that really exist by pretending that the obstacles aren’t there, that we can just do whatever the hell we like and solutions will magically appear because we break the rules. Same as Louise and Philip getting back together at the end. It’s cheap, it’s a cliche, it’s pretending. It’s a lie to the audience.
And Below the Surface showed that you can do this, you can draw your audience in, keep them there, even given them a basically happy ending without once lying to them. I wish a lot more TV series could make enough effort to do that, especially UK series. It can be done. It should be done. It makes it so much better.
I’m doing the wrap-up review for this piece of tosh in two parts this week, for reasons I shall shortly explain. Normally, I’d watch the double-bill back to back then let the overall impressions inform my response. But Part 7 was such a ripe piece of complete nonsense that, if I had to wait a week for the final episode I would just have given up on the spot and not bothered. When a series gets so badly out of control as this, who needs whatever pathetic answers it’s going to provide?
At least part 7 started off gloriously, with a five-second shot of a hulking mountain, its vertical face clean-lit with snow, but after that it was back inside the Hotel Swartsjon, and into its cellar, where Mette, the only person in the entire series to have shown any kind of sanity, is trying to keep her moody little sister, Hanne, from trying to throw herself into the fire. Poor Mette: I’ve put her picture up above because she deserves recognition. I may find Sarah-Sofie Boussnina gorgeous to look at but by now Hanne irritates the hell out of me.
The fire doesn’t spread. Dag appears out of nowhere with a fire extinguisher, not that anyone asks what he’s doing down there, and puts the flames out but all the rest of the information Hanne frantically wanted to search is destroyed. So, suddenly, Hanne goes all big sister on her big sister, sympathizing about how hard it is for her and how she’ll always be there to support her, which frankly sounds like the actresses have switched their lines and the director hasn’t noticed.
Anyway, it gets Mette so confused she walks off to wash her face and stare at herself in the mirror in Johan’s bathroom, which is why it takes her ages to spot that Lippi isn’t sleeping, he’s dead. Actually, are you sure? He was suffocated under a pillow after some struggle, yet his face hasn’t gone purple nor his eyes bugged out or any of that. He looks like he’s sleeping, and the not-breathing bit is practically indistinguishable, especially to a trained nurse…
And speaking of implausible reactions to violence, Hanne’s response to the burned cellar room is to wander off in search of Jostein, last seen enduring the crunching fists of brother Dag in a temper, and now shirtless, displaying old back scars and, when he turns round, a very pale smear of red just under his nose. No bruising, no lumps, no black eyes, no puffiness, no bloody credibility at all.
Meanwhile, Johan’s distraught at his brother’s death, on top of his engagement having lasted about nineteen-and-a-half hours and Mette having promised him that the impaled arm was nothing to worry about. Poor Mette. At least she’s prompted into examining the body at last, having previously, like all trained nurses, jumped to an assumption about the cause of death. Lippi was strangled, she concludes, though she becomes the first trained nurse on TV for years to talk of tiny burst blood-vessels in the eye instead of patrichial haemhorraging.
Who could have done this? Well, the moment Johan sits down on the bed, he puts his hand on a girl’s gold bracelet. One that he recognises…
There’s an actual moment of good, unobtrusive acting from Anna Astrom as Elin, when Johan comes to confront her. Without attention being drawn to it, her first movement is for her hand to go to the bare wrist, encircling it. That’s her last contribution: once Johan produces the necklace, she breaks down, starts crying, sobs about the red eye and the ‘kill or be killed’, and Johan strangles her.
That’s four down of the original party of eight but don’t worry, we haven’t finished yet. Hanne, who is seriously getting up my nose, is still fixated on Mikkhel and wants to call another seance, with Jostein and Frank. Mette’s in the cellar, following Dag,who’s carrying rotator fans down there. Which is where the banal little explanation is revealed that has me reinstating Krime to the heading above: Dag’s mysterious secret is that he and his submissive little brother are growing bumper crops of marijuana down there. Ye Gods.
Mette films it all on her cameraphone, and races off upstairs to blow the gaff. Hanne doesn’t want to look because, as Johan so neatly sums it up, it blows her obsession out of the water: every element of the ‘ghost story’ including the ‘kill or be killed’ translation has been fed to her by her pretty boy Jostein, to wind them up.
And Johan’s brother has been killed because of a ghost hunt. Full of righteous fury, Johan leads Frank down to the cellar and the weed-crop to settle things with Dag with his bare hands, which is a fucking stupid thing to do because Dag settles it with a knife, stabbed into Johan’s side, several times. Frank breaks and runs with Dag pursuing him with the knife. he catches up with him in the corridor, just as Hanne comes out of the room, and cuts his throat. So now we’ll never know what it was that Frank had done that warranted suicide-by-snowdrift.
That’s six down, and it’s very shortly to be seven. Hanne backs away only to be brought up short by Jostein emerging from the cellar, carrying Dag’s gun, which he raises and points at her face. Tears begin to roll, in slow motion, down her perfect face. Dag comes up behind her, raises his arm to stab her. We close up on Jostein as he fires the gun.
And cut to Hanne, standing there without any blackened holes in her face. With Dag, arm still raised, but looking a touch discombobulated. Because, even though Jostein was holding the gun out perfectly level at shoulder-height, he’s managed to shoot his brother in the stomach. From which, in defiance of all pulp and medical responses to a gut-shot, he dies in less than twenty, slow-motion seconds.
After which, given that there’s a whole episode left, the series decides that it wants to both have its cake and eat it, we cut back to the playroom. It’s door slides shut without anyone touching it, and a mysterious red light starts to play on the desk, ooga booga!
Do I really have to watch part 8? Well, since you asked so nicely…
At least there was one good thing about the final episode, or two if you count a near repeat of the snow mountain shot: there can’t be a second series.
The closing scene of episode 8 was supposed to be a twist, a classic reversal, a moment of deep horror, but it was none of these things because, after episode 7, Black Lake had completely lost all capability to surprise. When absolutely anything can happen, because the story has gotten out of hand, nothing is of any surprise.
We start with poor Mette, finding blankets with which to cover last episode’s dead, except for strangled Elin, who’s left under the bed with all the indignity remaining. And except for Johan too, since his body is not where it fell.
On the remote chance that you may still care, Johan’s life has been spared, temporarily, because all but one of Dag’s multiple stabs were turned by what looked suspiciously like a cigarette case, which put a twist on an old, old extract from the Cliche Drawer. He staggers out the long way, bandages himself in one of the disabled cars, and looks in the mirror, to discover… the Red Eye! Doo doo, doo doo, doo doo, doo doo.
He’s not the only one. Hanne still wants a seance to contact Mikkhel, and Mette, instead of losing all patience and slapping her silly, agrees. This time, they get the Swedish for ‘Brother’ and ‘Murdered’, which sends Hanne head over heels, literally, from which she recovers with the most popular local malady. She’s already confessed to Jostein that she actually killed little brother Jacob, the trauma of which has dogged her all series: when their boat capsized in the storm, he tried to cling to her arm and she pushed him off to drown.
So, once she sees her eye has gone, she locks herself in her room to protect Mette and Jostein then, when they force their way in with Dag’s knife, she’s gone through the window and is wandering off to do a Frank-esque suicide-by-snowdrift, except she comes back, having met Jacob and promised him she’d survive.
This is now Hanne-with-a-purpose, Take-Charge-Hanne. She leads them on a home invasion of Erkki’s dwelling to find links between him and Mikkhel, because she’s seen him drive away, first thing, on the only functioning snowmobile, except that he hasn’t, he’s sitting there in the dark with a shotgun, letting them roam about for about five minutes before he rounds them up and gunpoint and chucks them out.
So who drove off on the snowmobile? Erkki can’t have sneaked back on it, since it’s never found and anyway, he’s got a fully functional pick-up truck no-one’s taken into account when looking for non-sabotaged vehicles. Nope, loose end, waste of time.
Everybody back to the playroom and those prophetic kids drawings of yesteryear. The new Determined Hanne, little miss Sherlock Holmes, turns the one she thought was about a door on its side and realises it means an underfloor micro-cellar, in which she, after a determinedly silent hunt that annoyed the very fuck out of me, discovers the suspiciously intact body of Mikkhel, which doesn’t appear to have lost any flesh in the last nearly sixty years.
They’re taking it upstairs to release it, and end the curse, when Erkki arrives, with that shotgun, and commands them all back. Mikkhel’s going nowhere. It’s final exposition time: Erkki’s father was the eugenicist Dr Lundqvist, only Erkki was a bastard from a Sami (Lapp?) mother and Mikael a pure blood Aryan. Lundqvist forced them to fight, to prove his Aryan son the superior, but Mikael failed him, refused to kill Erkki, and for that refusal was strangled by his father.
They’ve learned too much, they must be killed, except that Johan appears behind him at that moment, deus ex machina, with Dag’s gun in Erkki’s ear. Everybody out, Hanne once again carrying Mikkhel’s body, and Johan bars Erkki in the hidden room, but not before delivering the courtesy shot in the belly, of which Erkki is so unmannerly as to not die instantly.
But, wait! No sooner are we in the hall than Johan orders Jostein to his knees. Johan has accepted the curse at last, for no other reason than that, well, he just has. He’s gotten rid of it by shooting Erkki, now he’s going to save his darling Hanne by getting her to stab Jostein with Dag’s knife. She refuses. Johan sticks his gun in Jostein’s neck. Hanne picks up the knife and, in a move of utter predictability, stabs him through the heart. Johan, I mean.
It’s over. At long last, it’s over. The curse is laid to rest by committing Mikkhel’s body to a funeral pyre in the forest, at which Hanne and Jostein hold hands. The next morning, they pile into Erkki’s pick-up and drive away, safe and sound and free, survivors.
But there’s a final piece of cake to be eaten and kept. We cut to dying Erkki, shuddering in the cellar. Suddenly, the scene is transformed into the past. Mikael comes bounding in, looking for his little brother, who is drawing. Drawing a car, with three happy faces in it. Wait… how many people does Hanne, Jostein and poor Mette add up to? Shall we finish the drawing now, says Mikkhel, and little Erkki starts swirling red crayon around in circles all over it…
One last scene, the pick-up driving down a snowy road. Soon, they’ll get a signal on Hanne’s mobile phone. Jostein’s driving. He removes his sunglasses. In the rear-view mirror, we can see that he has one red eye…
Basically, I liked looking at Sarah-Sofie Boussnina, and Anna Astrom and Aliette Opheim were good to look at too. Mathilde Norholt was deliberately played down in this series: as the only competent one, with no romantic interest, she had to play plainish. But there’s no hiding the fact that what started out as a potentially entertaining if hardly original story turned into an uncontrolled monster that committed the unforgivable sin of not even being so-bad-it’s-good.
I’ve no idea yet what’s due to succeed this next Saturday evening, but unless BBC4 has gone mad and leased Sky’s Fortitude, it cannot possibly hope to be as bad as this.