The last 15 minutes of Shetland were exciting and engaging and it’s just a shame that the previous one hour and 45 minutes couldn’t come close to doing the same. I enjoyed the two parts in general, and the show had a great and beautiful setting, but boy was it slow. If I was to be really harsh, I would say Shetland was like one really long, really slow, really pretty episode of A Touch of Frost.
The second episode continued as the first ended; slowly. After 20 minutes, we knew very little we didn’t know at the end of episode one. I found myself completely losing interest in the mystery, and not really caring who the murderer was. These flaws were evident in the first episode, and it was probably too much for the one hour second part to address on its own.
Shetland would have worked a lot better as one single episode; condensed, tighter, quicker, more interesting and with consistent pay-offs on all the various mysteries thrown up. A lot would have to be cut, but it’s perfectly possible to have an exciting film that has character depth and progresses at a contemplative pace, without needing two hours to do it in. The majority of movies are just 90 minutes long. Fargo for instance, the excellent – and slow – Coen Brothers crime drama, runs for just 98 minutes.
This episode did however build to an enjoyable climax. 15 minutes from the end, DI Perez sat down with the father of the main suspect, and had a conversation that was gripping and enthralling. The old man’s wheezy gasps of his oxygen tank really hyped-up the tension, as Perez revealed the heart of the crime. As a scene, it illustrated what the show could have been with a little tighter script and film editing.
The action then moved to the Up Helly Aa festival. I really love scenes like this; the policeman looking for a suspect in an oblivious crowd. Such scenes are really enjoyable, as are unique backgrounds – parades and festivals and the like. It reminded me of the final scenes in The Day of the Jackal or Southern Comfort, or the opening of The Conversation. There is something about scenes taking place amongst a large, unaware, happy crowd that really helps build tension.
And then Perez caught up with the various suspects, in one room, like a Poirot episode, and revealed the murderer. It was a little anti-climatic. A quick coda followed, between Perez and his daughter, and that was it.
Shetland, overall, was okay. The setting was by far the best thing; the beautiful scenery, the unfamiliar locations. The character work was great and it’s just a shame that the core plot was lacking in execution. If the show was set in London rather than the Shetland Islands, then I probably would have given up after the first episode. The acting though was good; from the leads, but also from the supporting actors, especially Mark Bonnar’s charismatic businessman. I also enjoyed the relationship between Perez and his daughter, played well by Erin Armstrong. I just wish the writers had put as much work into the plot, and devoted as much screen time to it, as they did with the characters.