If you trust my recommendations dear reader, stop reading right now and just watch this. If you need a little more convincing, read on. It’s only March and Midnight Sun has quite possibly staked the claim for most gripping episode 1 of a drama series this year. It’s an hour of tv that’s up there with The Killing and The Bridge. All the praise to Sky Atlantic for serving up this slice of stunning high-end noir. My only criticism is they’re portioning it out into weekly helpings, and I can’t bosh the lot in a weekend. Because I very definitely would.
This is a French-Swedish coproduction (yes, it has the Canal+ mark of quality) which follows Kahina Zadi (Leila Bekhti), a French police officer, as she heads to a small mining community in remote northern Sweden to lead an investigation into the spectacularly grisly murder of a French citizen. Her Swedish sidekick is local DA Anders Harnesk (Gustaf Hammarsten) and his rather more jaded boss Rutgar (Peter Stormare). Even with just a few minutes under the belt we can see that all of these characters are fully fledged with their own particular quirks and histories just beginning to be hinted at.
Saying the first 30 seconds are visually arresting is quite the understatement. This opener shoves you back down into your chair. Hands off the remote – we need to know what happens next! In technical terms, this right here is some fucked-up shit. One Frenchman tied to a helicopter rotor blade and an unseen pilot turns on the engine. Said Frenchman stops screaming just in time for his head to explode and decorate the surrounding countryside like a butcher’s spirograph. Good job the police could trace him from his plane ticket as even dental records would be hard to find given his extremely scattered cranium. Rutgar isn’t the only one who wants to puke.
As Kahina and Anders (plus handsome pilot who I expect we’ll see a lot more of) fly around investigating crime scene number one, they spot a naked man covered in blood chained up in the rocky wilderness being set upon by wolves. Actual frickin’ wolves. His attacker has cut him so the local predators can smell him, and chained him up as a wolf snack. As grizzly as this is we have to applaud the inventiveness of this terrible human being. His crimes are at a Game of Thrones level. Ramsay Bolton’s famous dispatches have nothing on this guy.
Meanwhile the town of Kiruna is a seemingly happy place in festive mood. The action takes place 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where the midsummer sun never sets. People are celebrating the midsummer festival, wearing flower headdresses at beautiful alfresco dinner tables with plenty of alcohol and singing. The celebrations are a big deal. Everything is bright and beautiful, even at 3am.
But Kiruna is a strange place. Sweden’s most northerly town is in the process of being moved 2 miles to the east so it doesn’t get swallowed up by the world’s largest iron-ore mine. Either the mine must stop, creating massive unemployment, or the whole town and everyone one in it has to move. This town is being displaced in favour of industry that’s slowly wrecking the landscape and polluting the area. The jobs are well-paid but dangerous. People work there because there’s no alternative, and the rest of the town’s employment and infrastructure depends on the success of the mine. Darkly, they joke that the mine is called Mummy. There’s a genuine fear of subsidence. Life in Kiruna might actual be more worrying that living over Sunnydale’s Hellmouth.
Kahina is more than happy to leave Paris for a while. It seems she’s running away from a messed-up family situation, quite possibly of her own making. There’s a young man at the door who says he knows he’s not her brother. With sparse language, lots of emoting and the reliance on subtitles, it took me a while, but I guess that means he’s worked out that Kahina is in fact his mother. And her response is to just drop everything and flee. Worse still, she actively seeks out a rusty nail in some street furniture and pushes it into the palm of her hand. Later she reveals razor scars on her back to compare it to the body in the morgue. This is a woman who knows all about scars in the most personal way.
Anders seems downtrodden and eager to please his daughter, still dealing with his divorce. But he has his limits (only one glass of wine each guys!). He’s shifty and worried, and needs to get something off his chest. What is he desperately trying to tell her? Maybe pick a better moment than when she’s puking her guts up in the toilet (that one glass of wine rule seems like a good idea now). Why do her friends think he’s a creep? Is it connected to his divorce? The hints are there but very subtle.
Rutger seems very capable and sure-footed, despite his hatred of helicopters and his strange and rather sweet liaison with his wife in the displaced police station. I like his trademark faded red baseball cap. This is a guy who doesn’t have to dress to impress, he lets his work speak for him. But as he hallucinates terrifying subsidence in a street it’s clear he won’t be well enough to lead this investigation.
The elegant use of three different languages and the interactions between the agencies seem quite natural and not at all forced. There’s heavily accented English from both the Swedes and the French, but well balanced with the subtitles. It’s in a different league to the woeful The Team.
Episode 1 leaves me absolutely desperate to watch the next episode, and I’m crossing my fingers, toes and eyes that they can maintain this standard throughout the whole series. And with show writers Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein having cut their teeth on The Bridge, the forecast for this noir drama looks bright.
The first two episodes of Midnight Sun are available now on Sky catch-up or Now TV, with a new episodes being added each week.