A new Nordic Noir for January…
The increase in Finnish crime drama coming to our shores here in the UK is a very welcome thing indeed.
Part of the Nordic group of nations, Finland has its own culture and history, characteristics and stories to tell and, like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, its own landscapes and climate in which to tell them.
We’ve already had some good series like Karppi and Sorjonen in the recent past from Finland that have set the bar very high. Now, thanks to Walter Presents, we’re getting a series that did extraordinarily well in its home country on streaming service Elisa Viihde. In fact, it attracted record-breaking audience figures.
Bearing all this in mind and the fact that All The Sins is from Finland (one of my favourite countries), expectation was high.
What I got was a sometimes-brilliant series, but also some infuriating moments and characters.
Let’s go over the central premise.
Detectives Lauri Raiha (Johannes Holopainen) and Sanna Tervo (Maria Sid) are from the country’s National Bureau of Investigation in Helsinki and are seconded to the northern Finnish town of Varjakka (near Oulu) to investigate the seemingly ritualistic murders of two men.
What we quickly learn is that Lauri and Sanna are very different. Lauri is a gay man who’s struggling with anger issues (understatement of the year: he’s in therapy after physically abusing his partner), while Sanna is a middle-aged woman who is a bit of man-eater (we see her enthusiastically sleep with three men in the opening couple of episodes) but can’t commit to a long-term relationship.
Yes, these two have issues. They’re thrust together on this trip up north, and throughout the series we see them work out their respective personal problems thanks to the case. We’ve seen it countless times before in crime dramas (where lead characters use the case they’re investigating to help resolve or process things in their own lives), and here we see it again. And yet… it’s still an important part of a mesh between the main narrative strand and character development, and it still makes for engrossing viewing.
When they arrive in Varjakka, it also becomes apparent that the nervous and uptight Lauri is even more nervous and uptight because he’s returning to his hometown. The town, dappled in hazy Midsommar light and surrounded by rolling, green fields and pretty wooden houses (which are beautifully captured by plenty of footage shot on drones), is also home to a sizeable Laestadian community, who make Mormons look like hedonistic party animals.
As Lauri says early on: everyone in this town is a suspect.
But things start to focus on a few characters – Iraqi immigrant Fahid, who works at a pizzeria with his father; slimy supermarket owner Reima Lindman (who Sanna slept with on her first night in town); and anti-Laestadian, anti-religion anarchist gang leader Aaro.
As the investigation progressed, I have to say I didn’t warm to it. Lauri and Sanna didn’t seem to fit together and whenever they spoke during scenes they always seemed to be interrupted by their mobile phone ringing. With both facing crisis at home (Lauri with his partner, and Sanna with her estranged daughter and dying mother) you would’ve thought either of them could have taken a day off to go back to Helsinki and sort things out. Spousal abuse and a dying mother really do merit some time off.
However, just as the investigation didn’t seem to be going anywhere and the characters began to grate, episode five suddenly turned things around. All The Sins suddenly became really very good indeed.
Bringing Lindman, Fahid and Aaro in for questioning in the tiny police station an intense, three-way interview segment ensued, which not only served to process the suspects but also to add tension, pace and intensity.
From that moment I was hooked. Those final two episodes provided an excellent twist and justice for victims of abuse and extreme negligence by the Laestadian church and wider community, as well as a chance for Lauri and Sanna to work through their own problems, bury ghosts from the past and mend fractured relationships.
To say there was a lot going in those final two episodes is an understatement, but it was good stuff; good, engrossing, often heartbreaking stuff. It also did an excellent job of showing how some members of religious communities in small towns can manipulate with guilt and shame, and exploit those who follow.
In the end, you can see why All The Sins did so well in its home country. It has everything you want from a Nordic Noir: interesting characters, a strong sense of place and a case that intrigues and keeps you guessing. It didn’t all work (for me at least), but all-in-all it was an enjoyable, solid watch and almost a very good series.
All The Sins is available to watch in its entirety in the UK on All4/Walter Presents