Where have all the Skandis gone?


It’s been some time since I last had a BBC4 Saturday night EuroCrime series to blog. As November – the Month of the Drowned Dog, according to the early Ted Hughes poem of the same name – is upon us, I had been hoping for some to take us Baltic-wards, but the Beeb are continuing their current Australian-themed thrillers with another four-parter to succeed the just-concluded The Code.

So I’ve been looking around to see what prospects we have for some of our old favourites returning, using the word ‘favourite’ in its most elastic sense.

The most obvious candidate for a much-desired return would of course be The Bridge, stretching into an unprecedented fourth series. The news now is that this has been formally commissioned, though nothing is yet known about transmission dates. Creator Hans Rosenfeldt had previously said that Sofie Helin and Thure Lindhardt were ‘on board’ and that if the right idea came up, Kim Bodnia could return.

Apparently, there will only be eight episodes in series 4, which I regard with suspicion, and that it will definitely be the last as there will be no possibility of further stories after it, and yes, I interpret that the way you just have (unless Rosenfeldt plans to rip off the ending of The Killing (which has my permission to come back anytime, as does Borgen, though I know neither will). It will not directly succeed series 3, commencing eighteen months later, so the dangling plot of tracking down Henrik’s daughters won’t be featuring.

Also confirmed for a return is Iceland’s finest, Trapped, which has been confirmed as renewed with an even more complex murder mystery, to which I say “Can’t wait!”, except that for some reason its not going to appear until late 2018, so I’m going to have to.

Less welcome news is that the rather dodgy mess that is Bedrag (aka Follow the Money), starring Maverick Mess and Stoic Alf, has not only been commissioned for a second series but that said series broadcast its seventh episode (out of the traditional ten) last night in Scandinavia. This year’s subject is P2P Banking, which sounds dry as anything, so thank God we’ve got Maverick Mess’s antics to enliven things (I nearly said ‘look forward to’ but given my opinion if series 1, that would clearly be a misnomer).

I imagine we’ll be looking at that next spring, which gives me ample time to have my snarking pencil sharpened.

As predicted, there is no sign of anyone being enthusiastic about creating another series of Crimes of Passion, whilst Arne Dahl has not yet written any further A-Gruppe books to be turgidly refashioned as Arne Dahl TV programmes.

Turning to those other European countries that have featured in the Saturday night slot, there is sadly no indication of any repeat appearances for Molina and Guerin of Disparue (The Disappearance), but I have news of great horror for you: after disappearing with only the defiant whisper of a second series, in respect of which its Wikipedia entry hasn’t been updated in over two years, Salamander has indeed been recommissioned, and imdb has it down for an opening episode on some unknown date in 2018.

If this does indeed come to pass, it will mean a five year gap from the end of series 1 which, as we all so clearly remember writer Ward Huselmans proclaiming, was “writ(ten) for big audiences”: how’d that work out for you, old bean? Needless to say, if this ever happens, and if BBC4 elects to show it, I shall be waiting, not with a snarking pencil but with a poison ink fountain pen.

Though if they bring Tine Reymer back with it, I may find it in my heart to welcome her sturdy and blue-eyed good looks.

In the meantime, I would delight in being surprised by something Skandi designed to fill in the Saturday nights remaining until Xmas. After the next Australian short, there are five Saturday nights left in 2016, the last of them being Xmas Day.

It would be a fitting conclusion.

Saturday EuroCrime: The Disappearance parts 7 & 8


Shedunnit

And in the end, the limb on which I ventured out last week turned out to be firmly attached to the trunk and bearing even my considerable weight, let alone those others who had read the signs. Though it was hard-going in the last episode as the BBC did their best to ruin the denouement with a print on which the soundtrack was badly out of sync: it’s hard enough concentrating on the sub-titles when they match up with the foreign words.

I’d already had the great reveal from last week blown for me by the Guardian, moronically letting slip that Lea’s male companion in buying the dolphin heart pendant was Marco, her racing instructor. This rapidly expanded into Marco, the suspect and Marco the father of her foetus, before becoming Marco the latest red herring, via a side order of Marco’s wife, the equally red herring.

But let’s not give this element of the story too much time, since it was still only a red herring, and its main contribution to the story was to remind us that beautiful, golden, lovely Lea was also a spoilt, self-centred and nasty bitch under the blonde surface. That she was Laura Palmer in more than just her victimhood was a parallel that needed to be reinforced in view of the final episode.

For the most part, episode sept was about the disintegration of the Morel marriage, leading up to Julien’s declaration that it was all over, and his moving out to temporarily live with brother Jean. The show trod very carefully here in avoiding putting the weight of blame on either side. I am sure that female viewers would line up in solidarity behind Flo: her husband started everything by having his affair, he wasn’t supportive of her when she needed it, he threw her abortion back in his face in an act that combined cruelty with frustration: signed, sealed, delivered, you deserve better, kick him into le touch.

But then again, whilst acknowledging and admitting all of this as entirely valid, I couldn’t help but consider Julien’s point of view. When he needed support, he didn’t get it, he got frozen out, an act that contributed to his obsession with finding out who and why. The revelation of Flo’s abortion was delivered with cruelty unmixed. A marriage, a relationship, is two-sided: he was being asked for something that had been denied him and as understandable as Flo’s reactions had been, they couldn’t be seen and understood without Julien’s misery being equally seen and understood.

I wouldn’t have liked to have been their Counsellor, is all I’m prepared to conclude, even with sympathy and blame for both. Not that it looked like a Counsellor was going to be needed, with Julien unable to function without knowing who hated Lea so much that he would hurt her.

And then it all fell into place. This last plea was made to brother Jean, who pitched the case that maybe it wasn’t hatred, that it was someone who loved her, who never meant to hurt her when he beaned her with a brick.

Bing bing. Bing bing. Bing bing. And we’re off and running to the foreseen conclusion. Julien knows it was a brick, because he was bloody stupid enough -again! – as to nick the Police file (if this were taking place in Mid-Yorkshire, Superintendent Dalziel would have had him banged up so far back in the cells, he wouldn’t have been getting out until 1142 AD). But nobody else knows that detail. Just the Police – and the killer.

So, off to episode huit. Jean puts up a quick deflector beam, claiming to have heard Molina on the phone when he was in signing a station, which is uncharacteristically good enough for Julien (who doesn’t mention any of this to Flo, in among everything else he’s not talking to her about). Molina, on the other hand, is trying a new tack: they couldn’t connect dead Nicolas to dead Lea, but how about Nicolas and dead prostitute Jenny? And within moments they’ve found her business card with the date and time of the station meeting on the back. In Jean’s handwriting.

Jean is arrested and, after trying briefly to pretend he occasionally went out and fucked Jenny, he caved. Told the whole story. Was en route home from Corinne’s to try to beat Cris there, passed the Park at 4.00am, saw Romain driving off and Lea going in alone, stopped to help her but she was hysterical, so he hit her to try to calm her down and she fell and hit her head on a brick. The rest of the confession goes entirely according to the expected course.

Except it didn’t feel right. It came too soon, too much time left, and though Flo and Julien seemed to be on speaking terms again as they struggled to cope with the revelation, and obviously were taking in poor Cris to live with them, the fact that so much of it was going wordless meant that we knew there was more to come.

Cris is settling in. Zoe’s already dubbed her Lea2. Flo can accept it but Julien can’t and Thomas sees further than any of them, accusing Cris of trying to make herself into Lea.

It’s too pat, too neat. Guerin, who’s been unbuttoning her blouses seriously low this past couple of episodes, has let her hair down – literally – and gone to supper with Molina and Rose. But neither of them are convinced: Jean rolled too easily, in too much detail: maybe he was shielding someone?

In the end, it comes down to that lost earring, the one Chris was missing in episode un. The one Lea would when Romain was fucking her in the car. One of the pair that Cris lends to Zoe, that Flo confiscates and hangs onto until the franc drops. She rushes home, where she sneaks up on Cris, trying on top after top of Lea’s. Flo hallucinates being unable to tell the difference between the girls, until Cris, satisfied, turns round and sees her. And knows she knows.

To be honest, I was seriously disappointed with the next bit. Cris runs into the street, where Molina and Guerin are just pulling up, she hares across the road… and is hit by a car. The Disappearance may not have been overly original, but it had got this far without lapsing into cheap, blatant cliche, and this was Salamander-ripe.

Of course Cris dies of her injuries, but not without demonstrating that she’s gone doollally, and thinks she is Lea, and we get the final piece: she’d gone back into the park out of concern for Lea, but her cousin had attacked her in pain and fury over having slept with Romain. And Lea was her douchebag worst, sneering, howling, shrieking that Romain called Cris ‘the Clone’, for trying to be like Lea. At which point, and they’re fighting now, Cris grabs the nearest thing to hand and clouts Lea with it to shut her up.

So we eventually know all. The Morel family survives. Flo and Julien reconcile (again wordlessly). Molina sets himself up for a meal at Guerin’s pad (and cleavage) and all’s well.

I’ve said enough about the shortcomings of The Disappearance, and they don’t warrant repeating. Despite its somewhat composite nature, it held my attention, and it kept me interested in those key factors of What Happens Next and Who Done It? So it goes into the plus column, and if French TV considers bringing Molina and Guerin back for a sequel, I won’t turn my nose up at BBC4 running it some future month of Saturday nights.

Sometimes, entertainment is all that is required. I’ve been entertained this past four weeks.

Where are we off to next Saturday?

 

Saturday EuroCrime: The Disappearance parts 5 & 6


The late Lea Morel

I spent much of the last seven days wondering if I’d been premature in hailing last week’s wrapped-in-plastic body as definitely Lea Morel, since in a series entitled Disparue, the halfway mark seemed potentially premature to reveal that the disappeared is actually dead. But no, I hadn’t fallen victim to a clever twist: it was the unfortunate Lea, dead from a blow to the head (with a pink clay brick: marvelously specific these autopsies) on the same night she disappeared.

It put a quiet on episode 5 which was largely devoted to the telling of the news, the confirmation of identity in the morgue, its effect on the Morel family, how Flo responds by being all practical, have to get on with things, and Julien by increasing his obsession with knowing who and what, the ever-growing rift between them, and the funeral itself. Investigation itself, autopsy aside, takes a back seat until late on, when the finger starts to point compass-like to Matthias Tellier, Lea’s French Teacher and Form Master.

Now I don’t want to blow my own trumpet too lavishly, but if you care to have a look back at last week’s blog…

It appears that M. Tellier was carrying out a blog exchange with the late Lea, during which he was praising her in terms that the local Education Committee would have looked askance at and he had form in shagging under age pupils, though in Tellier’s favour it must be said that Reader, he married her.

But all that ran up against a stonking great interruption in the form of Nicolas, the sacked waiter. First, he interrupts the funeral meal, trying desperately to speak to Julien, then he breaks into the cafe late at night to nick what appeared to be a card.

Then he committed suicide, having run a hosepipe from his car exhaust into the sealed car (a particularly old-fashioned form of suicide that you don’t hear much of these days), leaving a detailed confession to the murder of both Lea and prostitute Jenny on his tablet. Case closed.

Far from it, given that that was only the cliffhanger at the end of episode 5. Even though Nicolas knew things that presumably only the killer would know, nobody was buying him as the murderer except Flo, who was engaged in shutting off everything so she didn’t have to think about it any more, and Molina’s superior, Louvin, who’s anxious to call a press conference signing everything off as soon as possible.

But there was more coming through from the autopsies. Nicolas died of a cardiac arrest from overdosing, but there wasn’t a trace of carbon dioxide in his lungs: conclusion, dead before somebody else fitted the hose and started the engine running. Molina has Louvin go through with the press conference, lull the murderer into thinking he’s not being investigated any more.

And there’s more from Lea’s results: when she died, the girl was two months pregnant. Who’s the Daddy? Well, the DNA evidence rules out boyfriend Romain, lovelorn Nicolas, and M. Tellier, so Molina needs to get DNA samples to test Brother Thomas, Uncle Jean… and Daddy Julien.

There is a new lead on top of that. Lea’s autopsy is hand-delivered by the attractive MILF doctor who wants to shag the oblivious Molina and it identifies Lea as having first been buried miles away in Miribel Park before being tossed in the drink. A near-formal grave is found and in it a graven pendant: a heart shaped from two dolphins, with Lea’s name on the back.

Who gave it her? No-one seems to know but Romain, who says it was her parents. Julien Morel confirms that it was a birthday present from Lea, her own request, but that it was never given to her. It’s still in his desk drawer, unopened. So who gave Lea a copy? After much patient enquiry, a jeweller is located who sold it, to Lea and some man. Do you recognise him from these photos, says Detective Camille (who, incidentally this week, has accompanied her intention to throw out her ex-boyfriend’s gear with a decision to wear tight blouses unbuttoned far enough to display cleavage). Why yes, I do, that’s him there.

Sometimes I really hate cliffhangers.

With the final two episodes coming up next Saturday night, the explanation won’t be long concealed. As for who the murderer is, I confess I haven’t the faintest idea, which is one very good point to The Disappearance. It may take a lead from existing programmes, and there was more of that this week, but it certainly hasn’t telegraphed the outcome.

For what it’s worth, I’m pretty convinced it’s not Julien Morel. We’ve seen too much of him in unguarded moments for it to be plausible, short of classic schizophrenia, to announce him as the killer. It might still be the teacher, but my guess, which has literally resolved itself in my mind as I’ve written this sentence, is cousin Chris (who I believe I should have been spelling as Cris).

I’ve had a feeling about young Cris (who took her top off this week which has nothing to do with the story but which was pleasant to behold) for some time, but the limb I’m going out on is that Uncle Jean is the father of Lea’s feotus, that Lea told Cris that night after the gig and Cris, who we know is very touchy about the very idea of her widowed Dad going near any woman with his willy, promptly brained her. Besides, she had Romain, and Cris didn’t.

That’s my theory: I promise to be smug if I’ve got it right.

So much for the plot. Much of this week’s pair of episodes, especially episode cinq, turned away from it to watch the grief spread through, and especially between the Morels. This began with Molina advising Julien, and Julien telling Flo the dreadful news. As now seems to be customary, and if continued is on the road to cliche, the exchanges were done wordlessly, with a touch of slow-motion.

That’s very much the trend it appears: let the actors tell the story by their reactions, let the audience fill in the blanks for them in whatever words they personally find appropriate. It’s effective, and in the scene between Julien and Flo it was also used to foreshadow how things would flow (no pun intended). But it also betrays a little bit of a lapse in confidence, as if writers no longer know what to say, or can’t trust actors to turn their words from platitudes to human.

I’m enjoying The Disappearance but I would like to like it more than I do. The intrusion of Molina and Guerin’s personal lives are only intrusions because, at only eight episodes, the series doesn’t have time to expand upon them. In a way, that’s good, because it keeps the show clear of cliche territory, but on the other hand, why bother to include them? Guerin’s break-up with her boyfriend, and his attempt to get back together again, have nothing to do with the plot and the local colour they add is just too thin and uninteresting: Guerin’s broken up with her boyfriend, he makes her flustered to think aout or deal with, it doesn’t affect her job, ok, why bring him in?

But whenever I see the show doing a good job, such as Alix Poisson’s portrayal of Flo’s slow and as yet incomplete breakdown, I can’t help but remember how much of this is simply mirroring Pernilla in The Killing 1. This week, it was going back to work as if nothing had happened, drinking too much, taking too many pills, flirting in the office with an obvious sleazeball, going for drinks with him, getting pissed, proposing to lie half-naked on an Hawaiian beach with him, snogging his face off… and then going to pieces when he showed an unanticipated spark of decency by showing reservations about taking advantage of her lilywhite body when she was clearly off her head with shock. This latter bit, picking up a man, proposing to have sex with him, being unable to go through with it, was a direct steal.

Where the show scored in its own right was in little cruelties. Flo catches Julien in a cafe with ex-mistress Anne (remember episode2). It’s not what she thinks, but Flo doesn’t want to talk about it. Apparently her response to the affair was to pretend none of it happened so now, if he’s going to force her to talk about it, Flo’s going to talk. She’s going to tell Julien that she was two months pregnant when she found out, and that she…

It’s meant to be cruel, and in a way, Julien deserves it, though it’s so badly the wrong time. Then, when she returns guiltily from her snog-out, and cuddles up to him in bed for the first time, he raises the fact that she’s bought little Zoe a mobile phone for her eighth birthday, despite their having agreed not to get her one until she enters secondary school. Flo replies that she wanted to be able to speak to her daughter at any time. It’s a rational, reasonable, emotionally understandable reason, but Julien’s only response is to flatly joint out that Zoe is his daughter as well.

It’s meant to be cruel, and I can understand where the need to say that comes from. But it doesn’t fill me with hope for the family’s future. Flo has shut out her pain, but she’s also shut out Julien’s, at the very moment he needed to share. She’s set out to hurt him and he’s replied in kind. Instead of bonding together, locking in step to bear the grief they’re facing, Flo has forced them to stand apart, and now she needs to undo the damage, he’s refusing to let her demolish the wall she built.

Answers next week, people. Who dunnit? If anyone thinks my idea is dumb, comment below with your own theories.

 

Saturday EuroCrime: The Disappearance parts 3 & 4


As this series runs for only eight episodes, we are now already at the halfway mark, and two further episodes have led to the almost inevitable discovery that Lea Morel is dead. Not only dead, but discovered, floating in a lake, wrapped in plastic, after further revelations that she wasn’t the sweet, blonde, happy, lovely kid that everyone seemed to think she was. I know I made the Laura Palmer connection last week, but this is taking the comparison entirely too far.

So we have the Twin Peaks cop-off as the crime that represents the spine of the story, but The Killing 1 is equally as prevalent as the latest two episodes spend a considerable amount of time on how Florence and Julian Morel are taking this situation. He, being French, is volatile and compelled: the lack of action, the lack of answers, the fact that nothing seems to be happening drives him into frantic bursts of energy and temper (though he’s finally beginning to accept that Commander Molina is working the case as best as possible).

But poor Flo is definitely going down the same lines as Pernilla Birke Larssen and her moods are spooking more than one member of the family. She’s heading for a crack-up, investing her emotional energy in  a clairvoyant whose unnatural assumption of hopefulness becomes too much for the slowly despairing Julien to bear, leading to ructions and separate beds.

That this will only get worse is slightly telegraphed by devoting the Morel family’s time to little Zoe’s School Fair. The Morels arrive separately to the Pirate Pantomime, the atmosphere of which relaxes Flo enough to take Julien’s hand, even as we intercut to Molina’s heedless 15 year old daughter Rose being the one to find Lea’s body.

Not that I think Rose has any significance in this save as a detail to the somewhat perfunctory glimpse we have of Molina’s ‘troubled private life’. Though it’s not out of the question: these two episodes are predicated upon the fact that everyone’s lying to the Police about something, especially if their surname is Morel. Jean, the uncle, sneaked off to his lover of two years who he dare not breathe a word of to daughter Chris (played by Zoe Marchal: I looked her name up in the credits: I have my shallow side like everyone else), whilst Thomas, the elder brother was off vandalising the new Hi-Speed Train, putting ecological concerns ahead of protecting his little sister, for which Flo cannot forgive him.

Yes, very Pernilla.

The plot develops without haste or melodrama. Lea’s voicemail message to her father takes both episodes to be proven a fake: it was left by Jenny the prostitute, who dealt drugs from her van to Lea regularly, whilst also taking money off boyfriend Romain in her other, older profession. Someone kills her with a metal bar to the head, but who or why?

And then there’s Nicolas, waiter at the Morel Cafettiere, who has/had a major crush on Lea, now being bitterly described by the lovely Chris as a major-league prick-teaser (or is that just because Romain’s backed out of the language trip to England because he won’t have Lea to fuck, whilst Chris no longer wants to go because she won’t have Romain to fuck?)

Nicolas has been enough of a red herring and whilst he hasn’t been cleared, I don’t think it’s him as he’s come to light too early. At the moment, such suspicions as I have are focused upon Lea’s French teacher and Form Master: Flo gets a letter from the school (because Lea’s not around to intercept it) warning of falling grades, bad attitudes and unauthorised absences. But her Form Master, at whom she smiles coquettishly in flashbacks, hasn’t noticed a single problem and gave her 85% in her last literature essay: not bad for a girl who her mother couldn’t get to read a single book.

But there are still four episodes left and time for at least two more red herrings, and anyway, I’m really no more invested in this series that I was last week.

There’s nothing wrong with The Disappearance. It’s well-made, well-acted, and the mystery is being handled carefully, with little dribs of information being released. But on the other hand, there’s nothing particularly right about it. It’s a French version of The Killing with an overtly Twin Peaks victim and it doesn’t bring anything else to the party. I can appreciate it for its refusal to turn itself into a melodrama at any point, to indulge itself in hysteria. I admire it for not employing a ‘maverick’ detective consistently bending rules in the most stupid of fashions. I like the growing efficiency of the relationship between Molina and the slightly out-sized Guerin. It can indulge in close-ups of Zoe Marchal any time it wants.

But unless the second half has some comprehensive surprises in store, it’s not going to go down as great, or compelling, or memorable. It’s not going to be fatuous or risible, for which many thanks, but by the same taken I’m not going to be clamouring for a sequel, whereas I’d happily sit down with Andri, Hinrika, Aesgir and that gorgeous Icelandic scenery for another ten episodes any day.

Not that Lyons isn’t lovely in itself. The pan shots along the Rhone, with all its bridges, make me want to visit.

No, The Disappearance is good in its own way but insufficiently distinctive for anything except the age old question of What Happens Next? Some more of that is due next Sunday morning: it’s not going to keep me away from the football on Saturday night.