In a week where the UK is preparing to go to the polls to vote to either retain its membership of the EU or walk away from the union, the backdrop to the first ever Polish crime drama (or any drama, for that matter) to be broadcast in the UK feels especially topical and poignant. Heck, the very fact that we’re watching a Polish drama on a channel (or service, now all episodes are now available on Walter Presents) that promotes foreign-language feels poignant in itself. So I was intrigued – what would The Border be like?
Out first look at The Border introduces us to Wiktor Rebrow, a sergeant in the Polish border patrol force stationed on the beautiful, lush border between Poland and Ukraine. The Bieszczady Mountains not only house many routes for illegal immigrants to traverse but also for traffickers to try and spirit their human property through, and in the opening scene we see Rebrow hunt down a party of immigrants. When he and his patrol catch up with them, one of the them pulls a gun on one of his fellow immigrants, suggesting that he’s a trafficker rather than a legitimate refugee.
Next, Rebrow attends a farewell party for a retiring colleague out in the woods. In attendance are members of his patrol as well as his girlfriend, Ewa. They drink, they eat, they sing songs and they cry. In the case of Wiktor and Ewa they make out in a back room in the cabin. Wiktor then steps out for a cigarette, and catches sight of a wolf mere yards away. Human and canine eyes lock for a moment, the wolf’s presence portending to something. (French drama Witnesses also used the symbolism of the wold in its dream sequences.) Sure enough, Wiktor receives a text – “Boom” – which precedes an explosion that takes out the cabin and everyone inside it.
Wiktor barely survives and is wracked with survivor guilt, drinking and smoking his way around his apartment, dissociating himself from what happened. He was told by a stern-faced prosecutor while he was still in his hospital bed that he is now number one suspect, specifically because he was the only one to survive the blast and he had received the text almost warning him of the explosion. That was never going to help his state of mind.
Elsewhere, the border patrol guard instills a new commander – the even gruffer Markowski – and they’re tipped off by their Ukrainian counterparts that a group of migrants are about to cross the border at a certain point. What they find there is a woman shot dead, presumably by traffickers, and, after Wiktor (in the office to return his badge and belongings) suggests they try another location, find a little girl hiding in the bushes. She eventually identifies the murdered woman as her mother.
In these opening 40 or so minutes we were introduced to characters who were familiar (in terms of traits and motifs) but nonetheless intriguing, not least lead guy Wiktor who, at the end of episode one, had picked up his badge and decided to re-enter the fray to avenge his girlfriend and colleagues’ deaths. We’ve seen his type before – tormented, grief-stricken and yet feeling the need to process these feelings by getting involved in an extreme case. There’s the compassionate colleague Natalia Tatarkiewicz, who takes a special interest in the little girl found in the woods, and the stern Iga Dobosz, a very unemotional prosecutor. These characters feel familiar.
I’ve read that The Border turns into a searing take on xenophobia and bigotry, so in many ways the fact that it has become available to watch in the week of an EU referendum where fear and ignorance are motivators is topical. We’re not quite there yet, but what this opening episode of The Border has done is to introduce to a group of characters who I want to find out more about, a case that I’m intrigued by and a location that feels alien yet familiar.
Can’t say fairer than that.