The Finnish Nordic Noir returns on Netflix.
What’s the story?
The second series of this YLE original – shown on Netflix outside of Finland – stars Ville Virtanen as Detective Inspector Kari Sorjonen, who moved back with his family (wife Pauliina and teenage daughter Janina) to Lappeenranta, a town sitting in the Karelia region on the border with Russia. Pauliina had battled a brain tumour and the pair wanted a quiet life, but Kari’s preternatural ability for memory and solving crimes meant that after taking a job with the town’s hi-tech Serious Crime Unit, he was never very far away from crime-solving.
Part of the team is Lena who, in series one, started off as a nemesis – a rogue member of Russia’s fearsome FSB unit, she was part hitwoman, part soldier – but in this series, she’s firmly one of the team and Sorjonen’s de facto partner.
Throughout this series’ 10 episodes, we get five two-part stories, so binging this makes it more difficult – there isn’t the one story to follow. Yes, you can binge it no problem, but it’s probably better suited to two episodes a go. The closest British series I can think of for comparison (both in structure and in tone) is Silent Witness.
Another interesting point to make is that unlike other Nordic Noirs, the landscape doesn’t play a huge part in proceedings – this is very much a procedural with lots of action indoors; whether it be in the Serious Crime Unit itself, whether it be at the Sorjonen home, where Kari uses his basement as an informal, out-of-ours incident room, or out in homes and offices.
What’s good about it?
The strength of Bordertown really is Kari Sorjonen himself – a driven, eccentric and instinctive detective, he makes full use of his gifts and his ability to dive into his ‘mind mansions’. He’s an engaging, likeable character with flaws, which don’t always endear him to his colleagues. There’s a whiff of Sherlock Holmes about him, too: someone so brilliant and gifted that he sometimes gets bored with the norm. He’s turned on by a challenge and the challenge of following clues and deciphering their meanings.
In this series, his family are given equal weight, which is welcome when you think about Sorjonen’s own difficulty when it comes to social situations and showing his emotions. Pauliina’s brain tumour returns in this series, which sees Sorjonen have to deal with things he’s perhaps not great at dealing with. And special mention must go to his daughter, Janina, who’s not only getting to grips with becoming a young woman but also displaying the same sort of gifts as her dad. These three make for a really great family unit, and their stories and dynamics give Bordertown as a strong, different dimension.
But it’s not just Janina and Kari’s relationship that’s worth watching – it’s Lena and her daughter, Katia, too. The first two episodes deal with Lena’s past in the Russian FSB secret service, and the murky drug den hit that saw her first come into contact with baby Katia. Throughout, we see Lena’s desperate attempts to keep Katia away from her birth father (a junky in the drug den) who calls out of the blue from his prison cell, and her battle with a Russian foe from her past. Katia is beginning to display the same kinds of streetwise ferocity as her adoptive mother.
And these stories keep coming, and the brutality and violence of them takes you aback slightly – there’s the story of a foetus found in the home of a daycare centre manager, a sniper goes around town shooting seemingly innocent victims, a decaying body is found in the wall cavity of someone’s apartment, and there’s a tense hostage situation in the Sorjonen home to finish things off.
They’re all extremely solid, watchable and, in some case, really engrossing. It’s procedural crime drama at the top of its game.
What’s bad about it?
There’s nothing particularly bad about Bordertown – it’s well made, well acted and Ville Virtanen is always watchable in whatever he does. The slight complaint is that Sorjonen’s ‘abilities’ mean that there are moments of mindey-windeyness – where he taps his temple, closes his eyes and reaches deep down into his mind mansion to retrieve information that will crack the case. It gets a little bit too convenient as the series wears on, but, hey, this is Kari Sorjonen and this is his schtick.
Why it’s worth a binge
Bordertown is absolutely worth a watch because it’s a strong procedural. Don’t expect it to reinvent the wheel or offer anything particularly new, but we all love a Nordic Noir and this is a watchable, engrossing one with moments of high quality (the closing moments of episode eight, for instance, when the sniper is apprehended, is particularly well played and tense).