If you’ve read Our Charlotte’s First Look piece on Midnight Sun (have a read here), you will know this French/Swedish series is one to watch. The fact that we haven’t really had a really good Nordic Noir on these shores in 2017 means that all eyes are on this cross-regional, good-looking eight-parter, which might – just might – provide us with the series we’ve been looking for.
NB: Spoilers inside
Things start off with a murder so outrageous in conception and gruesome in execution that it’s difficult to put into words what happened. It really was unlike anything we’ve seen before on television. I reported from the Krimfestivalen in Oslo last week, and one of the panels featured Icelandic author Árni Þórarinsson, who expressed almost disappointment that the murders in his books were quite boring and old fashioned compared to the ever new-fangled and wince-inducing ways that many authors and TV shows seem to feature. Who knows what he would have made of Midnight Sun’s opening scene.
So, there was a close-up of a man’s face. He was waking up. He was disorientated and struggled against something. The camera pulled outward and upwards to reveal the man had been strapped to the blade of a helicopter. These blades started to whirr into action, getting faster and faster, making noise that drowned out the man’s screams. Faster and faster until there was a streak of blood. The rugged, mountainous landscape – obviously remote – was splattered with red.
It was an extraordinary opening. (Some will argue that this type of extraordinarily staged and outrageously outre murder is one step too far to get noticed in a crowded genre.)
We were then taken to Paris, where we met detective Kahina Zadi (Leïla Bekhti) who displayed all the characteristics of our favourite Nordic Noir heroines – driven, sensitive and complex. Her long-lost brother turned up on her doorstep out of nowhere, which catapulted her into a mini-breakdown. As she paced the streets, her breath getting shallower and shallower, she stopped to impale her hand on a nail on a street sign. Why we weren’t sure, but it gave her an edginess and an almost detached feel – she didn’t fit in and she needed the pain. To relax? To take the edge of her anxiety?
Investigators back in Sweden had determined that the dead helicopter man was French, and she was tasked with looking into the victim in Paris. Unable to find anything, she was soon on her way to Sweden to join forces with investigators there.
An interesting stylistic element present was the use of annotations, a la Sherlock (texts and emails appearing onscreen), which worked well and gave Midnight Sun a very modern, contemporary feel. Another aspect that was interesting was the use of three languages. In series like Modus and Acquitted this felt jarring, but here it felt right – French investigators communicated in French, Swedish investigators in Swedish, and when they were together they spoke in English. But it all sounded smooth and seamless, thanks to a decent script.
When Kahina got to Kiruna in the far north of Sweden, 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle, she was met not only by wily old Swedish investigator Rutger Burlin (Peter Stormare, a familiar face) and pilot Thor (Richard Ulfsäter). As they were travelling by helicopter from the crime scene to her cabin, she spotted a pack of wolves attacking a chained, naked man in the middle of the mountains. They got there too late – the new victim died en route to hospital in Burlin’s arms, covered in blood and whispering something imperceptible.
Whatever she had walked into, it wasn’t pretty.
And then there was Anders Harnesk (Gustaf Hammarsten), an awkward, middle-aged prosecutor who has to make the step up from issuing parking tickets to investigating a double murder case. He falls over things, is keen to prove himself and his daughter’s teenage friends – engaged in midsummer celebrations – think he’s a bit of a dick. He’s now tasked with partnering with the intense, meticulous doesn’t-suffer-fools-easily Kahina. Once again, yin and yang. And, once again, two people with points to prove and, in Kahina’s case, things to run away from.
Nordic Noir can be a slog, and this had all those familiar tropes on display – intensity, a strong sense of place and, we were led to believe, some social commentary (there will be Sami involved in this story). But at the moment, the question is: what are these elaborately-staged murders trying to tell police? Are they trying to send a message, as Kahina thinks? And if so, to who?
So there are familiar elements – both tonally and thematically – at work in this first episode, but, thanks to Anders’ charming and slightly shambling way, there were also flickers of humour, too. The humour extended to a scene of farce when Anders walked in on Burlin and his wife, about to have sex in his office as part of a spate of roleplay (suggested to them by their marriage counsellor, Burlin sheepishly explained later).
But with the remote culture and the endless, burning light, all eyes were on Kahina. Yes, there were elements of culture clash conflict starting to rear their heads – Kahina was to the point, no-nonsense and willing to take risks, mich to Anders’ chagrin. And the light, the endless, relentless light.
It was good stuff, and when the episode I immediately wanted more. Always a good sign.
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