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Saturday, 16 February 2019

Trapped - One of the finest foreign dramas returns

Trapped Series 1 was an extraordinary bit of television, the first ever Icelandic drama broadcast on British TV. The first series was the highest rated series ever on RUV, watched by 86% of TV households in Iceland. In the UK it passed 1.2 million viewers on BBC Four. Safe to say then that series 2 has quite a bit to live up to. I'm hoping it's worth getting excited about.



Bearded man-mountain Ólafur Darri Ólafsson reprises his role as chief police inspector Andri now back in Reykjavik when he is entrusted with an extremely high-profile case. In classic nasty Scandi style we have an immediately gripping immolation opener which is fascinating even as you recoil in horror. Gisli an impoverished sheep farmer from the Icelandic Highlands sets himself on fire in front of the government building, trying to kill the Minister of Economic Affairs who just happens to be his twin sister. Andri is back on top again - a rise so meteoric I'm surprised he doesn't have a nosebleed. From zero to hero thanks to his hard work and persistence in Series 1. In the first five minutes he's already chatting to Iceland's Prime Minister who cuts right to the heart of all Scandi noir motivations - was this attack personal or political?


Vikingur (an early contender for best name of the series) is Gisli's son, working at the controversial aluminium plant up north. As in the first series, we get a break from subtitles thanks to the international element here in this industry; something that right-wing Icelanders like the Hammer of Thor group are protesting against - who profits from the devastation this plant causes to their landscape and their livestock? Vikingur already has a lot on his plate before his father's horrible suicide - he's in a relationship with Jorunn, a black colleague who seems like he's in the country illegally.



Andri's wayward daughter Thorhildur (awarded the Best Name of Series 1) is mates with another of Gisli's sons Aron. Both of them now connected by messed-up families who enjoy a bit of deadly arson. And the messy family life just continues to unravel. It turns out Gisli's wife left him and married his brother, he then lost his farm and his livelihood. You can begin to see why he took drastic action to end his life.


Andri gets a warm welcome from his colleagues in the sticks - Hinrika, promoted to chief in his place, and bumbling Asgeir. The scenery looks so different in summer. We've lost the glacial gorgeousness that made Series 1 so appealing and they've been replaced by muddy greens and browns. Visually it's all a bit flat until we get out north and see the shepherds roaming the mountainsides.


The northern farmers organised by local rabble-rouser Ketill are up for a fight in the town square and bring their own decorations - dead sheep that Gisli looks like he may have put out of their misery before he did the same to himself. Not all Scandinavians are stylish, but with the right tourist board spin we could market it as an authentic Icelandic festival and watch the profit roll in.


To bookend the first episode there's another body - Finnur, Gisli's brother-in-law is dangling from the rafters of his own barn shot through the head with a bolt gun. These two unpleasant deaths are not really enough to sustain my interest in episode one, especially as it suffers under the weight of far too many characters. This is a key problem with many police procedurals especially of the Scandi kind (The Bridge and The Killing are guilty here too). We the viewer are expected to connect with a huge cast who only get a couple of minutes of screen time at best, remember them as individuals even though many of them look very similar to each other, and remember their family connections all in about 50 minutes while reading subtitles. It's far too demanding on the script and on the viewers. As this happens so often in TV shows I watch I'm suggesting a name for the phenomenon - The Grand Old Duke of York Problem, named for a guy who also got in a muddle with 10,000 men.


Thankfully the pacing settles in episode two, and as long as you can hang on in there this may well turn out to be a decent story. We learn a little more about Aron as he buries the body of poor Moli the sheepdog on what might be a haunted hillside. This guy is emo to the core. And we see Thorhildur seems to really care for him as she stays with his family shocked and grieving for Finnur instead of making herself scarce and going home.


Andri and team are on the hunt for Ketill's sons who seem to be tagging the town far and wide with red spray paint and propaganda slogans, some nasty racist right-wing stuff. This finally brings us out of the town and up into the hills for a glimpse of the farmer's way of life with huge flocks of sheep and shepherds on horseback; a very chilly Wild West. It's epic scenery and the people in it look ancient, almost medieval until Skuli takes out his mobile phone to make a call. He's flat-out refusing to come quietly so he's off on his horse like a knight in muddy armour while his brother takes the wrap and makes an obviously false confession to Finnur's murder. Is Skuli hiding in the hills because he's a killer or because his protests against the plant have taken an illegal turn? Watching Andri and Ketill sit side-by-side in the prison cell shows when it comes to errant children causing trouble for extravagantly bearded fathers they have quite a lot in common.


Vikingur and Jorunn may be worried about their relationship, but it's not exactly a secret either at home or at work. He wants advice on helping his boyfriend get Icelandic citizenship. Finnur was threatening to blackmail them - now that's got to be a motive for murder. Footage from the plant shows that Gisli was involved with the Hammer of Thor vandals, spray painting cars with slogans. Finnur's car had that same makeover. Does this mean he's a victim of the same plot or is that a handy way for the real murderer to cast suspicion on a political group? And the Hammer of Thor decorators are still at large with mayor Hafdis coming home to find her garage now covered in the latest must-have red spray paint accentuated by one dead chicken. Banksy has nothing on these guys.


So, as the Prime Minister asked at the very start, are these killings personal or political? My best guess is it's a little of both. Now the pacing has slowed and Trapped might let the viewer up for air after such a breathless barrage of characters we have time and space to think who benefits from these deaths? And what does Andri need to work out next to make sense of them all?
Contributed by Sarah Kennedy

Trapped Continues Saturday at 9.00pm on BBC Four

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