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Reviews / Shetland: It could have been so much better

Detective inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall) arriving on his native Fair Isle to investigate murder - Photo: BBC

A flayed corpse hanging off Sheep Rock, suspended by a noose of barbed wire, crows pecking at the entrails, and DI Perez scaling the crag, bare-chested, lumbering to free the body.

Okay, maybe my expectations for the much-trailed Fair Isle two-parter were a tad too high. But come on – the preceding instalment saw a man bludgeoned to death on his wedding night with a salmon hook in a spare room-come shrine to his dead first wife.

Alas, part three delivered only a dreary end to the series, longer and slower than the two deaths it featured, and all the worse for it. The vexing thing is that it did not have to be this way.

Having dispatched with the first victim, a female ornithologist, early on, then done away with her toy-boy, who was mortally frazzled after an explosion in a peat shed, the first instalment ended with a fairly promising menu of potential murderers – all males, all weird – for DI Perez and his team to work on.

But by the time instalment two had moved from a crawl to a slow shuffle, each man was lost to an ineffectual sub-plot. The irony is that these might have actually worked, had they only been developed.

Most notable was a missed opportunity to explore a love affair between two young men. After that was an intriguing stalker voyeur, whose story was abandoned, quite literally, to a couple of tattie scones.

Much of the rest of the time was taken up with shots of DI Perez walking somewhere to ask someone some questions. And more shots of him doing so again. And again. And again.

A moment of near-tension came with a plot twist at the end – though we had waited too long by then – followed by a scene at the edge of a cliff. And that was it.

Visually it worked. The landscape and interior shots were convincing and at times stunning. But not enough was made of the location. Filming rarely left the locus of the Bird Observatory. No shop. No museum. Hardly a glimpse of the lighthouses. No bird life.

Parts one and two of the series had developed DI Perez’s character reasonably well. The latter especially so with the introduction of a potential love interest in the form of a visiting female forensic scientist from Aberdeen. Had she been drafted into Fair Isle, part three could have done so much more.

The first two shows had also made the most of supporting star characters, although Perez’s sidekick constants, Tosh and Sandy, were never allowed to breathe beyond their official roles.

One thing Shetland did manage to do consistently well was present convincing performances. If only the writing had been as strong as the acting, the Fair Isle episode might have worked.

It is a shame that things had to end in such sullen fashion, but at least parts one and two, especially the latter, were good.

Maybe we can all just forget part three ever happened.

Jordan Ogg

 

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