The first two episodes of this Icelandic drama caused quite a ripple among the Saturday-night-BBC4-crime-watching community, and it wasn’t surprising – it was a tense, taut and intriguing affair that followed a template employed by the best Scandinavian crime dramas but with an added twist that seemed to capture crime fans immediately. The last time we saw Andri the policeman things weren’t going well for him – a storm had cut off his town, someone had nicked the headless, armless and legless corpse at the heart of his murder investigation, their main suspect had broken out of prison and his children had gone missing in a feral blizzard. It’s safe to say things couldn’t get much worse. Or could they?
NB. Watch out – big, fat spoilers ahead
Well, they kind of did. Yes, they found the missing kids in the storm but then arrived at the police station the next morning to find the Lithuanian missing and Ásgeir locked up in the cell. It didn’t take Andri and Hinrika long to find the Lithuanian – he was dead from a broken neck, after he inevitably crashed the police car he had stolen as he careered through the ice and snow.
The rest of the episode seemed to take a step back, but didn’t lose any of its impact. It focused on Dagný’s family dynamic, and the after effects of the fish factory fire that killed her all those years ago. News that Andri had finally caught up with Hjörtur and arrested him stirred up all kinds of repressed feelings of bitterness, anger and grief within her parents. Jóhanna – the eldest of the grandchildren – thought they should give the man a break because he had always been nice to her, while grandpa Eiríkur suggested that the only two times the peace had been broken in the town Hjörtur was involved both times. His anger was checked by his wife Þórhildur who told him that this kind of poison would not bring Dagný back. Fault lines were beginning to show within the family, and it was heartbreaking and touching to watch.
The investigation, meanwhile, had hit a big fat snow drift. Andri, finally admitting everything that had happened to the hated Trausti back in Reykjavík, was rebuked and told not to do anything until they could get there. After the telephone call he stomped outside and rubbed snow in his face to wake him up/calm him down. I like this big bear of a man. Calm, yes, but so connected to his environment he’s like an animal – the way he walks in the snow, the way he almost craves it. But soon it was back to the business of interviewing Hjörtur, who opened up about the fire; his guilt, his remorse and his gnawing grief for the woman who he truly loved. He was no murderer.
Hinrika employed her partner Bárður to search the coastline for body parts (if the torso had gone missing, the next best thing was to find the severed limbs and head, they reasoned). He found one of the arms, wrapped up in a plastic bag, along with a jacket and a receipt, which proved the victim had bought something from the hotel three days before the ferry docked. This shifted Andri’s focus considerably.
All this felt like the calm before the storm, and episode four – the second episode of the night – upped the ante so stunningly that suddenly I was rooted into my seat, unable to move or take my eyes off it. I’d just gone from an intensely emotional but reflective study of familial grief to something pacier, more procedural-like. But this change in pace never felt overwhelming – it was beautifully plotted and characters who were mere shadows upon the snow stepped forward, narratives eased forward, locations shifted and things became clearer. If the storm had been quiet in episode three (almost reflecting the introspective nature of that segment of the story), it was starting to rear up again, thus signifying all manner of shocks, twists and turns.
In my interview with Clive Bradley (see that here) he told me that in the original treatment he and his writing team weren’t going to reveal the identity of the dead person’s body until much later on in the series. They realised this might have been a mistake, and he was right – revealing the identity of the murder victim as Geirmundur Jónsson meant that not only were we invested in him emotionally but it also caused rippled effects throughout the characters, none more so than ex chief of police Hrfran, who, Andri thought, not only had something to do with his disappearance from the town, but also the disappearance of his file. Hrfran also turned out to be a nasty piece of work at home – taunting and beating his wife and then performing rough sex on her in a sort of bizarre kiss-and-make-up routine. There was also a slight worry that Andri’s faithful lieutenant Ásgeir – who worked under Hrfan – might have more to him than meets the eye.
The discovery of the victim’s identity also, and crucially for Andri, bought him some time with Trausti in Iceland. But all was not plain sailing there. And then there was the ferry’s captain and his second in command, who, it was revealed, were implicated in the trafficking. The manager at the hotel was also implicated.
But there was even more going on in episode four (if that was possible) – lines of enquiry were blasted open wide and character development was rapid. Eiríkr touchingly reconciled with Hjörtur; the harbour master Sigurður saw his wife, Agnes’s sister Laufey (I think it was her) boff young Hjálmar in a dark room in the school (no wonder he’s always smiling), while his father, Guðmundur was convinced that the the low rumble from the mountain meant that an avalanche was imminent and action had to be taken quickly before the town was englufed.
These two shared an interesting dynamic and a scene earlier in episode three demonstrated this ably. The old man, who was adamant that he would not sell his land, was gutting and skinning an elk – an old, traditional Icelandic art if ever I saw one – when his son called. Sigurður once again tried to talk his father into selling the land. He represented the winds of change, while his elk-skinning father without doubt represented the old ways; a dying breed.
Honestly, every character seems to now have a live back story, containing secrets galore. In fact, even though this story is essentially based in one location hasn’t shackled the storytelling. In some ways it has liberated it; each character being given room to breath and mess with our minds. It’s expert stuff.
But back to the cliffhanger (almost literally). Guðmundur lurched up the mountain to perform his controlled explosion, detonating the snow in such a way that it would be directed away from the town. With Sigurður and Andri in hot pursuit it seemed to have worked, but Guðmundur’s explosion had also disturbed a different part of the mountain and, as the secrets of the townfolk were beginning to reveal themselves below, it roared its disapproval and bellowed its overwhelming wrath down upon them. There’s no doubt that the mountain is a character in its own right, and it’s royally pissed off at the moment – perhaps expressing its rage at the forced change the town will no doubt undergo when it’s sold to the Chinese.
So episode four was thrilling and tense, as well as beautifully paced and written. Trapped is quickly developing into something very special.
For our review of episode one and two, go here
For our interview with writer Clive Bradley, go here