REVIEW: The Flatey Enigma (S1 E3/4)

We’re into the second half of this short but engrossing Icelandic series, and when we last saw Jóhanna and her son Snorri, they were trying to escape the island in a delipidated out-boat with a dodgy motor.

Big mistake.

Now, in this penultimate episode Jóhanna is in deep trouble – not only was she (predictably) captured, but also her whole world is tumbling down around her. Yes, brutish Brynjar is at the centre of it all, but there’s some pretty scathing comment here about Icelandic society in the 1970s and its treatment of women in general.

What Jóhanna encounters throughout is discrimination of the worst kind. Everyone peers at her from behind their curtains, the island’s priest – the same priest that buried her father only days before – is pressing Brynjar to bring this harridan to swift and merciless justice, and the rest of the islanders, so content to let life roll on regardless of what’s happening around them, also cock a snook at her.

Her best friend from the island, Olga, is a case in point. When she gives Brynjar false alibi in a bid to help Jóhanna, it’s revealed that she has been beaten by her husband. Jóhanna, feeling horror and kinship, tries to help her and embolden her. But Olga, petrified at what might happen if that truth ever comes to light, throws Jóhanna out of her house. Even after her husband makes a very and uncomfortable public display of violent dominance. There friendship looks to be over.

No one wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room – that, back then, it was ok to beat your wife. It was just something that men did.

And, of course, this doesn’t help Jóhanna’s case – she’s seen as an outsider who has come to cause trouble, to tell people what to do because she knows better. It’s her fault that bad things are happening.

Elsewhere, Brynjar is hard at work destroying his ex. He sees it as revenge for Jóhanna leaving him and not telling him about Snorri.

So he goes to the island’s Child Protection agent and persuades her – after laying on the charm over cups of tea and cake – to sign over Snorri to him. He also pressures poor old, avunclular Grimur (who, I’ve figured out looks like a character from any Oliver Postgate animated series) into foreclosing on Jóhanna’s father’s house, and gets in touch with the unpleasant professor in Reykjavik to legally take back all of her father’s documents pertaining to the Book Of Flatey.

He also gives her an ultimatum: go back to him and live as a family, or he’ll make sure she’s convicted of murder.

Jóhanna finds herself with nothing. No documents, no house and no son. She’s at her lowest ebb.

At least she has Kjartan, who explained to her that the reason he was arrested was because of his part of a march protesting the Vietnam War. He wasn’t the violent thug he’s been made out to be.

Up until the very last scene, this episode was concerned with placing Jóhanna in the worst possible bind. It seems that for her to prove her innocence and win back Snorri – as well as defeat Brynjar – she has to hit rock bottom. And that’s what this episode was doing – engineering ways to make her go to that darkest of places.

But, as the episode finished, there was new hope in solving the riddle, thanks to Snorri’s sketchpads. Yes, relying on a child’s sketches to solve a thousand-year-old riddle. It was a bit daft, but we’re already in a place where we’re pulling for this passionate, vulnerable and smart woman to succeed.

We’ll see how it all ends up next week.

Paul Hirons



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Elaine S. says:

    Another excellent episode in a far too short series.

    Liked by 1 person

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