Comment • reviews • Nordic Noir • whimsy
I binge-watched Midnight Sun and I am a wreck, such is the force of its final episode. This is a series that takes familiar elements from other series – a cross-national investigation force, a storyline involving corruption, seemingly indestructible characters, a spiritual dimension, possibly unnecessary violence – and uses its location far, far in the north to stretch their emotional intensity way past a norm.
By the end of episode 8 I can’t begin to compute the body count. Deaths seem random, cruel and unusual. The whole thing veers at times away from Insomnia and towards Fortitude. And I wish I hadn’t seen episode 8: a chase is undeniably exciting, but it includes a scene which is probably the saddest I have seen on TV. Curiously, it muddies my sense of what is important about this series. Episodes 1-7 will get you there.
It’s a few days now since I wrote the above, and I feel the same about episode 8. But I am less certain about the randomness of the killings. A source of irritation for me is the indestructability of some of the characters who survive attacks which in other dramas would kill them off. I don’t think I am giving too much of a spoiler to say there’s a serial killer at large: I’m not going to go back through the series to check but I wonder whether in retrospect there is in fact a pattern about who dies and who survives, in keeping with the spiritual theme that runs through the drama.
For Midnight Sun is nothing but ambitious in its themes. Ostensibly a transnational police procedural, it is really about identity, belonging, exclusion and power. Its lead characters can each be seen as outsiders in particular contexts. They each struggle with their families and with the more traditional elements of their societies. And the question arises as to the extent to which the individual truly has agency, against the interests of the group, and whether a group must always be dominated by a larger group.
I think I read somewhere that the indigenous Lapland community were hopeful about the way in which they’d be portrayed in Midnight Sun, and that they were disappointed. I think they are right to be disappointed – the drama does not explore Sami culture except to present it as a bit exotic, a bit traditional and as a source of victimhood. The Laplanders are used to make wider points and what it is to exist as an indigenous people is not explored other than in the actions of a few, lead characters. Perhaps the programme will encourage viewers to find out more on their own.
The long-form format fits the unveiling of the different layers of the plot: languid (the lighting by the way is amazing, especially in the earlier episodes when there is a contrast between each of the locations) with sharp moments of high action. This means that from time to time an encounter happens that doesn’t make sense until later. The viewer is challenged to remember how the different aspects of the case fit together. Indeed there are times where the initial murder investigation and the progress being made thereon is incidental to what is really going on. By the end, I can’t remember why one particular murder takes precedence and nor do I care, and this is a good thing. All that is a tribute to the fine acting and quality story-telling but it does raise the question of whether all those exotic deaths – which I suspect turned off much of its potential audience – were worth it.
Now go and watch it. Final episode optional.
Midnight Sun is available from 5 June. Get it here.