BOXSET REVIEW: BORDERTOWN (SORJONEN) (S3)

The final instalment of the Finnish crime series.

What’s the story?

Hot on the heels of our review of series two of Karppi, we turn our attention to the third and (if you read the reports) final series of another Finnish crime series, Sorjonen (or Bordertown as it’s presented on Netflix), even though the latter was released earlier this year.

A big hit in its native Finland, Sorjonen possesses all the tropes and trappings of a successful Nordic Noir, and in this final series the standard and intensity reach new, thrilling levels.

But let’s back up for a second.

In series one, we were introduced to Detective Inspector Kari Sorjonen (Ville Virtanen), one of the most respected officers at the National Bureau of Investigation in Finland. When his lawyer wife Pauliina (Matleena Kuusniemi) barely survives brain cancer, Sorjonen takes a new job leading SECRI, the Serious Crime Unit in Lappeenranta, and moving his family with him for a more peaceful life. 

But of course, that doesn’t happen, because this bordertown northeast of Helsinki is anything but peaceful.

Over the following 21 episodes we saw how Sorjonen’s empathy, his Holmesian knack of deduction and the slight arrogance that often comes with possessing such gifts instantly made him a complex, compelling lead character.

Throw in the team at SECRI (including his partner, Lena, who has a complicated past with the Russian secret service), a wife whose cancer had returned and teenage daughter Janina (Olivia Ainali) growing up quickly – and, of course, the stark, beautiful Finnish region of Karelia – and it was an intoxicating brew.

For this final season, things start off in sensational, albeit heart-wrenching fashion, when Pauliina finally succumbs to the brain tumour that has addled her for three series, on and off. The scenes with Sorjonen, Janina and Pauliina in the hospital as they all grapple with the inexorable end game is genuinely moving and heartbreaking. Sorjonen, cradling her, barely knows how to deal with such matters, while the mother-daughter bond between Pauliina and Janina produces some stunningly emotional scenes.

While these tragic family stories are played out with such authenticity and emotional depth, there are, of course, crimes to solve, and Sorjonen’s way of dealing with his crumbling home life is to throw himself – when and where he can – into a grisly case of kidnapping and disturbing pedicide (very disturbing).

Like series one and two, the 10 episodes here are split up into one, two and three-part series, with the whole series containing five separate stories in total.

We’ve mentioned Ihmisen tahra (The Human Stain), but we then get the two-part Ihmispeto (The Human Beast), the three-part Poikia ja rakastajia (Sons And Lovers), the two-part Nainen peilissä (The Lady In The Looking Glass) and, finally, the two-part Shakkitarina (Chess Game).

The breadth and variety of these five stories really is a thing to behold, and we get everything from a returning nemesis (last seen in series one), a cleverly-structured three-parter where each episode is told in linear time sequence but reveals something new in each retelling, a murder in a close-knit religious community and a finale where an outbreak poisoning closes down large parts of the city (how topical).

All these ingenious, original crime stories are played out on a backdrop of shifting family dynamics, which see both Sorjonen and Janina deal with grief in different ways. Sorjonen chats to the ghost of Pauliina to help him, while at the same time unsure of how to actually care for Janina. Janina, meanwhile, struggles to feel anything and gets into a psychologically ambiguous (and dangerous) game of manipulation with a teenage boy.

There’s also the very real prospect that SECRI will be wound down for good.

This final series is quite the ride.

What’s good about it?

I don’t think I’ve seen a crime drama balance the nuances of family life or portray grief so authentically since BBC One’s River a few years ago.

Pauliina’s sad demise and the family members she left behind and their own struggles with expressing their grief while desperately trying to find a way forward is genuinely, emotionally involving and gives this final series such depth. So much so you really start to wrap yourself up in these characters.

Grief and family relationships completely underpin and drive the narrative in this third series, and even the cases cleverly mirror and expose Sorjonen and Janina’s struggles. Poikia ja rakastajia (Sons And Lovers) for instance, shows Sorjonen grapple with his own memories of his father and the reason why he turned out as he did, while investigating the murder of an elderly man – and the father of three grown children – in a nursing home.

Indeed, Sorjonen’s ‘condition’ has always been much speculated about. With his elaborate hand movements and the curling of his long fingers, and his demonstrable ticks and quirks that seem to be constantly batting something away, his strange physical movements have led many to speculate he’s ‘on the spectrum’.

Here, in this final series, we find out the reason for these physical quirks – hypersensitivity since an early age, which is the condition that causes symptoms including being highly sensitive to physical (via sound, sigh, touch, or smell) and or emotional stimuli and the tendency to be easily overwhelmed by too much information.

It all makes perfect sense.

Portraying Sorjonen is Ville Virtanen, and he’s never been better. Like Sofia Helin with Saga Norén, he completely and utterly inhabits the role to the extent you just can’t imagine anyone else playing him. Virtanen is a tall man, and brings his bendy physicality to the role, contorting himself as he digests information and scrunches his fingers together and screws them into his temples as he desperately joins the dots inside to watch, almost like a mime artist.

READ MORE: ALL OUR NEWS AND REVIEWS OF SCANDINAVIAN CRIME DRAMA

It’s this intense physicality that makes him not only a joy to watch, but also so magnetic – Virtanen’s performance is an entirely holistic one, encompassing as it does quiet moments, darting eyes and, yes, that physicality.

Another reason why Sorjonen is such a great character is his vulnerability. He’s smart and almost supernaturally gifted, but the heartbreak he endures after his wife passes and the struggle he wages in trying so hard to open up and connect with his daughter makes him vulnerable, and intensely likeable.

His team at SECRI also gets a look in – most notably Lena, who has her own problems with teenage daughter, Katia – and there are some neat callbacks to series one (most notably the Degerman company and Sorjonen’s own Moriarty equivalent, Laase Maasalo) but really this is the Kari Sorjonen show.

There’s been some talk recently about whether the whole Nordic Noir genre’s ship has sailed. But watch Karppi and then watch this, and you realise that series set in the region can still be thrilling, clever and full of characters that you can really connect with.

Perhaps Finland is the new go-to country for Nordic Noirs.

I still strongly contend there are more stories to enjoy from Sorjonen in the future, so the news that this is likely the final series is such a shame. Just when it was hitting its stride we have to say goodbye, even though the end of this series hints at happier times and new beginnings for all the main players.

After watching this series, you’ll feel a bittersweet sensation – utterly satisfied but slightly bereft. Farewell Sorjonen, we hardly knew you.

What’s bad about it…

Nothing, or at least nothing much. Perhaps it sags slightly in middle during the three-part story (and you could argue the triple perspective approach is too clever for its own good), but it’s nothing less than intriguing, picking up again for the final two stories.

Why it’s worth a binge

If you like your Nordic Noir just like äiti used to make them. A snowy Keralia looks majestic, there’s a hugely charismatic lead and the crimes (which are extremely grisly) are beautifully balanced with some genuinely emotional family scenes.

We haven’t seen a Nordic Noir as good as this since series one of Trapped.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

READ MORE: OUR SERIES TWO REVIEW OF BORDERTOWN

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Dan. H says:

    One of the things I’ve really appreciated about Sorjonen is that the main character has all the social and emotional flaws of your standard Nordic Noir protagonist, but instead of just being a failure as a spouse and parent as a result, he’s surrounded by a loving family he noticeably loves and they work through all the problems he and his job cause (not always, or ever, easily, but they do). It’s a refreshing change.

    Like

  2. Seija says:

    Love your review, Paul! And a newsflash, there will be a Sorjonen film in the autumn of 2021. It’s a completely stand-alone film, but all regular actors/actresses will appear in it.

    Like

    1. Paul Hirons says:

      Oh wow… fantastic!! Do you have a source/link?

      Like

      1. Seija says:

        Only in Finnish, a local newspaper, a tabloid and a net paper of sorts… Here are the links if they are any help? There isn’t much information in them, though. I hope this film in 2021 will be the first of many to come!

        https://esaimaa.fi/uutiset/kulttuuri-ja-viihde/5de463c1-a951-45ac-944c-faaa3510ab10
        https://www.iltalehti.fi/tv-ja-leffat/a/7e6b0662-d072-4c56-b14b-25865e52f293
        http://mesta.net/sorjosesta-tehdaan-kansainvalinen-elokuva-new-york-times-yksi-vuosikymmenen-merkittavimmista-tv-sarjoista/

        Like

      2. Seija says:

        P.s. This site seems to have more compact information about the upcoming film which was decided upon in February, announced in June, and will start filming in October this year. ETA for the finished Bordertown/Sorjonen film is in autumn ’21 https://www.epressi.com/tiedotteet/musiikki-ja-viihde/sorjonen-valloittaa-valkokankaat.html

        Like

      3. Paul Hirons says:

        Kiitos Seija!

        Like

      4. Seija says:

        You’re most welcome :)

        Oh btw, do you have any news/information about the whereabouts of Charlotte C.? I haven’t seen her writing here in a long time?

        Like

      5. Paul Hirons says:

        I think she’s fine… she’s been active on Twitter and I’ve had conversations with her offline

        Like

      6. Seija says:

        Oh, that’s a relief. Please, say hi to her from me :)

        Like

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