This review contains spoilers.
The opening hour of Shetland introduced its audience to a complex web of characters set amongst a tight-knit community in the splendid isolation of the Scottish isles wilderness. It closed with a second murder that set up a good deal of intrigue as it seemed unconnected to the first killing that had begun the show.
All that Shetland did well in part one though became its undoing during its second half. Having established this intricate pattern of character relationships between its feuding families and those surrounding central character, Douglas Henshall’s Detective Perez, the show found itself painted into a corner, having a bit too much to tie together for its concluding chapter.
In fact, for much of the first half of episode two, Shetland faffed about trying to dangle red herrings at the viewer in a very slow-paced fashion. The focus is on the discovery of archaeology student Hattie James’ body after her apparent suicide. Perez isn’t buying the suicide theory and immediately goes after Hattie’s supervisor Professor Paul Berglund, with whom Perez had clashed in episode one.
Berglund has been getting overly familiar with his students which supplies him with a motive to kill Hattie. It turns out he’s also been having an affair with islander Anna and that Mima, the original victim, may have been about to expose this.
Unfortunately, the way Shetland plays this out is very slow as though it’s stalling for time and screaming of leading the viewer down the wrong path. Time isn’t something that Shetland has a lot of and it feels like much of the first half of episode two is wasted. Aside from some welcome comic asides from Alison O’Donnell’s Tosh, it’s hard going. During episode one it felt like Tosh’s wit was out of place in Shetland but it actually became one of the show’s best features from a character who ended up as its most likeable.
Berglund was revealed to be the father of Anna’s baby, not her husband Ronald in a nice twist, but one which left the audience wondering if it really cared. Ronald and Anna were just another two characters lost in the mix by this time and the revelation didn’t have the impact that it felt like it should have done.
Moving into the second half of the episode, this diversion-style plot was dropped. To bridge the gap, Shetland filled in a few blanks with regards to Jimmy Perez. His return to Shetland was motivated by having his stepdaughter in close proximity to her real father. That’s about it though and like almost everything else in this episode, it was dealt with too quickly.
Soon enough we’re getting the ‘looking at old newspaper clippings’ trick to drop us a few clues as to what’s really behind these murders and it all seems to be pointing to the body parts that were found in episode one at the archaeological dig, and the Shetland bus people smuggling ring that Mima was a part of a long time ago.
The pace of the episode picked up in its second half, but the pieces of the puzzle fit too well so that the story was left with little to surprise the viewer. It all boiled down to some stolen money which helped the Haldanes fund their fishing business and the retrieval of the body parts could have exposed this. It ties everything up nicely but the murderer was caught by a slip of the tongue rather than anything cleverer. It’s that old “I never said there was blah blah blah” trick.
After making a big deal about the town black out for the annual Viking festival in Shetland, this had next to no impact on the story and it’s the last example of Shetland setting too much up and not having enough time to pay it off.
Shetland promised much in its first episode but just couldn’t back it all up satisfactorily. The pace of episode two was all over the place, at first too slow and then too rushed. The motive for the killings made sense in the end but Tosh screwing up reading the murderer their rights cut the bit of tension that the episode had finally managed to build.
Shetland bit off more than it could chew. If this had been allocated another two hours and shown over a period of weeks, it could have been a great drama. The concluding episode failed to capitalise on the Shetland character that the first set up so well, robbing the show of one of the things which made it a bit different. It’s a sad case that Shetland became a victim of its own complexity and time constraints. The two-parter wasn’t without merit, Shetland looked stunning and Henshall gave a character whom we would likely tune in to watch again. One thing that you can’t say of the Scandinavian dramas that Shetland was clearly trying to imitate was that they were rushed – if a return to Shetland does happen it should be in at least double this number of instalments.
Read James’ review of the previous episode, here.
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