Review by C.J. Bunce
Call it Scotland Noir or Nordic Noir, in its fifth season the BBC’s Shetland just keeps getting better. Just as viewers were treated to a satisfying wrap-up to this year’s six-part mystery of human trafficking, murders, blackmail, dead bodies in the ocean, and cheating hearts, Shetland may have pulled off its best scene of all in the final minutes of Tuesday’s season finale. Airing for the first time in the U.S. as a weekly series on streaming service BritBox, the series is a rarity: a police procedural with a following in the States that survived five seasons. It’s telling that the series has been renewed for a sixth season, which should air in the UK in the first half of next year, and a few months later in the U.S.
How can they keep coming up with such good police drama in such a small and desolate setting? Credit for another good twisty mystery should be split between the writers, Shetland regulars David Kane and Paul Logue, the five cast members that have carried the series since the first episode back in 2013. and the stark natural beauty of the Shetland backdrop. Better storytelling is difficult to find on TV, but the series knows how to juggle the murders, kidnappings, local and political leaders with deadly secrets, and the surprising interplay of international crime syndicates in Glasgow, Norway, and Africa. Douglas Henshall continues to lead the series as the driven detective inspector Jimmy Perez, and this season he solidified his defining theme: Everyone is a suspect. Often that nagging reality wedges its way into frustrating his most personal relationships. Is there a better way to empathize with your hero than seeing him stuck looking into the eyes of someone he cares about, forced to question them about their honesty and possible participation in a murder?
The ongoing relationship between Perez and his step-daughter’s father Duncan only gets more complicated and interesting. Mark Bonnar′s ability to portray Duncan as part sap, bungler, buffoon, sad sack, perpetual guy in the wrong place, and well-meaning everyman continues to cement Henshall and Bonnar as the best pairing and blend of buddy movie magic and chemistry since the Odd Couple. For fans who can’t get enough of Alison O’Donnell′s curious, determined, savvy, and lovable detective sergeant Alison “Tosh” MacIntosh, season five was a welcome change for the character, getting her back in control of her life and rounding out a multi-season story arc with a new love interest and the next too-cute TV couple.
But poor, put-upon detective constable Sandy Wilson. Native Lerwick actor Steven Robertson must either love or hate being the perennial punching bag of the police commissioners’ scorn. The onslaught for five seasons begs for the eager and ambitious Sandy to finally have his day next season. And despite that trademark stare from Jimmy and Duncan’s daughter Cassie, played again by Erin Armstrong, the writers managed to concoct another mechanism to return the now university student back to the island for another season, and keep her interesting.
The guest actors again provided fresh new suspects, victims, and other red herrings this year, with the most nail-biting scenes from Rakie Ayola and Titana Muthui. Other performers this season included Robert Cavanah, Catherine Walker, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’s Derek Riddell, Sea of Souls’ Kirsty Stuart, Angus Miller as Tosh’s new boyfriend, with Lewis Howden back as Billy and Julie Graham as Perez’s boss.
Tuesday’s episode did more than wrap up the fifth season, it created a new opening for the next pile of stories, where viewers can witness more chummy clashes between Jimmy and Duncan. The fun will be learning what the crimes will be for season six, and how they’ll interplay with the five leads who have been through so much together over the past five years. For that, we’ll have to wait until 2020. Then we’ll no doubt be asking for a season seven.
Catch all five seasons of Shetland now, exclusively on BritBox.
One last bit–Check out at some local flavor and language courtesy of the affable series’ star, Douglas Henshall: