REVIEW The Valhalla Murders (S1 E7&8)

We all know that atmospheric Icelandic series, The Valhalla Murders, has been fairly generic in terms of themes, plot and things we’ve seen before a lot in crime dramas, but there’s no denying that it’s nonetheless an enjoyable and very watchable series.

Not least because of lead character duo Kata and Arnar.

It was revealed at the end of episode six that their boss – Magnus – was present at Valhalla the night young Tomas was murdered and that he had falsified reports to cover his tracks. So the question now was, how would Kata broach the subject, and bring down someone who had been a mentor to her?

Yes, it was time for The Rogue Detective.

She asked Borgarnes ally Hakon to lodge a complaint with a judge in order to open an investigation into Magnus, but it was shut down almost immediately from someone high up. Who that person was wasn’t clear but I had my suspicions. Remember Pétur, the State Prosecutor who had denied a cover-up by the authorities earlier on the series?

Yes, him.

Kata was going around everyone that she knew and trusted, asking for help in processing a blood sample to no avail – literally no one was willing to help. Even Arnar couldn’t quite believe that family friend Magnus would do such a thing.

So she did something desperate – she knew that Magnus was due to go on live TV to discuss the murders with Selma, so she gave the journalist her evidence and Selma confronted him live on air. Magnus floundered, and stormed – well, more like staggered, disoriented – out of the studio. Bang to rights.

Meanwhile, Arnar faced heartbreak when young Fannar – the vulnerable son of first victim Þor – tragically took his own life. Arnar had built up a strong bond with the teen during the investigation, and seeing him lying on his bathroom floor gave him extra motivation to crack this case. He found that Fannar had a mark on his forearm, as did other victims from Valhalla. They all had an identifying mark – it looked like they had been branded – and it was then he began to question Magnus.

With Magnus on the run, and Kata buoyed from the success of her bold move to get Selma to confront him on national TV, she went to Pétur’s place to get him to reopen the case. And, of course – and as entirely expected – it turned out to be a very bad move.

Pétur drugged her and began to cart her off to a basement (there’s always a basement) to finish the job. He also branded her with the same symbol he had branded his previous victims, which gave things a creepy feel.

Mangus called round while Kata was out for the count, and the two argued – something about Magnus freely accepting money, he shouldn’t worry because Pétur would take care of things, Tomas had it coming to him… So the two were in cahoots, but there was never a clear explanation as to what really happened and why.

Also while Kata was out in ga-ga land, Arnar (looking more and more like the Milk Tray Man) was getting busy. He visited Magnus’s house and had a chat with his wife Rúna, and they discussed Magnus and her history of foster parenting. And, specifically, why it had all come about and how, after they started adopting all of their money worries disappeared.

So there was a link between Magnus and teenage boys.

But again, it was kind of vague – did Magnus foster kids specifically from Valhalla? Why did he accept money? Was it for covering things up and letting Pétur get on with his horrific abuse?

We also had to find out what was really going on with Arnar and his brother and sister. While he was round at Magnus and Rúna’s place, they discussed his time with them as a foster child. So that was why Arnar and Magnus had a close relationship.

But that still didn’t quite explain why he was fostered. There was one final scene between Arnar, his sister and brother, which ended in a fight. However, even though their mother was mentioned, we still didn’t know what really happened between them.

The longer the final episode went on the more I felt that the show was trying hard to tie up loose ends but not doing a very good job of it. Each revelation seemed to produce more questions than answers.

In the end, Arnar managed to track down Pétur and Kata, who by now was beginning to come around.

After a traditional climax where both detectives faced very dicey situations, the day was saved. It reminded me so much of The Bridge, Karrpi… all of those shows. (Did anyone else think when Kata dived into the water to retrieve Arnar they would have died from the cold? And how did a man in his 60s overpower Arnar and even a half-drugged Kata anyway?)

Despite all of this – the twist not being too much of a twist, the signposting (I really think that they missed a trick by introducing Pétur far too early in the piece, or at least introducing the element of doubt in his character), the retrodden ground, the loose ends not being tied up satisfactorily etc – I actually did enjoy the series.

Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir was great as Kata, and she formed an entertaining partnership with Arnar, who revealed layers of emotional complexity. I also loved the atmospheric soundtrack (by Petur Ben) and Iceland was its usual spectacular self. And, for the most part, it dealt with a tricky, emotive storyline well and sensitively and explored themes of parenting, and the consequences of dereliction of care.

I’d go as far to say that I’d like to see more of Kata and Arnar in future series, because I really feel like now this establishing story is out of the way, Thordur Palsson and his team could really let loose and break the shackles of Nordic Noir conventions.

But, at the end of the day, when the world outside is a bit scary, you want something familiar and fun (in a crime drama kind of way). In that sense, The Valhalla Murders ticked a lot of boxes.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

LISTEN TO MORE: OUR PODCAST WITH NÍNA DÖGG FILIPPUSDOTTIR

READ MORE: OUR EPISODES ONE AND TWO REVIEW

READ MORE: OUR EPISODES THREE AND FOUR REVIEW

READ MORE: OUR EPISODES SIX AND SEVEN REVIEW

13 thoughts on “REVIEW The Valhalla Murders (S1 E7&8)”

  1. I think the most powerful and appealing elements in nordic noir remains the authentic “real life” hum-drum feel of the lives of the main characters, rural family oriented police officers, the small town/rural landscapes & scenic, isolated locations, the very last place you would conceive a seemingly random brutal spate of murders to occur. Iceland so much more than the perfect backdrop-a lead and meaningful full main character.
    The small town investigators finding themselves center stage as they seek to embrace the investigation of ever increasing number of murders.
    The strength has been the actors whom have provided strength and depth to the characters they portray….the unsophisticated investigative process-interviewing witness/persons of interest, following the various reliable/unreliable leads that may go nowhere, the different stages, and differing directions (tips/leads) and scope of the investigation process, steering our inexperienced & somewhat limited police team ….
    hope writers/producers will cease employing gory and shlock, as no need and will delve deeper into conveying the effects of violent crime on human beings, investigators, victim’s families & friends.

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  2. Could not agree more with Ann. Exactly why enjoy watching Nordic Noir so much. I wonder if Scandinavian viewers love Midsomer Murders or Vera as much? Would welcome a second series but perhaps with a totally different plot. For me a continuation which involved chasing Petur would not have so much appeal.

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    1. Yes, British crime series have always been popular here, whether it’s cosy crime/whodunnits or more gritty and realistic stuff. Just my own guess, but I think Shetland may be one of the most popular imports these days.
      (We have always watched loads of British series in general from all genres; modern drama, historical drama, literary adaptations, comedies, etc. So we have a more varied British diet than you do Scandinavian or Nordic.)

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      1. Now Shetland is my particular favourite. I believe two more series have been commissioned with the first screening hopefully early in 2021.

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    2. Just been having that discussion with my husband wondering about how well our crime series go down abroad. I’m fairly new to Vera and catching up on ITV player but I do love the way the bleak landscape is used in it. I was wondering if just as we like the Scandinavian scenery whether ours inspires as much interest.

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  3. When I was in Copenhagen two years ago, I was keen to chat about Scandinavian dramas…the lovely people I chatted to were keen for British drama recommendations, so there is a lot of love, both ways :-)

    As for the series, it was ok, watchable, but it did feel piecemeal- that’s from Line of Duty, that’s from Trapped etc- and there was nothing new, or inventive on offer.

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  4. I agree with Elaine. It was derivative, particularly of The Bridge, I thought, And the first episode was so slow I fell asleep. But it got better and better with every successive one and by 10.30 last night I was regretting it was the final episode. I hope these two get together again in another series. They do have a chemistry. I didn’t know Petur Ben wrote the score but now I do I’m not surprised; one of the top composers in Iceland. BTW it’s Borgarnes, not Bargarnes.

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