Thrillers from Finland to Afghanistan
Regular readers of this column have doubtless noticed there’s nothing I like more than a conspiracy thriller. So when Walter Presents, Channel 4’s sub-channel for foreign crime and drama, highlighted the Finnish series Enemy of the People, I immediately marked it down for potential review. Especially as the protagonist is a heroic investigative reporter with a chaotic love-life. Did it deliver? Absolutely. I was hooked through all eight episodes.
Kreeta Salminen gives a bravura performance as Katja Salonen, a dogged, manically-focused journalist uncovering a sinister web of dirty money, corruption and murder in Tampere, Finland’s second city. The series opens with Katja writing an article about a local footballer, Samuli Tolonen, that sparks a deluge of abuse on social media.
Tolonen, now living in Barcelona, makes contact and offers to give Katja a much bigger story. He is then swiftly murdered. There is indeed a bigger story: a cabal of corrupt high-level municipal officials and businessmen, a dodgy crypto-currency and vast amounts of dirty cash. Katja flies to Spain and starts digging.
there are echoes here of The Paper, the excellent Croatian series set in a newspaper in Rijeka — although Katja’s editorial office has much more stylish furniture and a larger editorial budget. Katja is an engaging heroine — an obsessive with poor social skills, who cannot see when to step back and let her colleagues grab some of the limelight. But her tough exterior is all a front and she is also touchingly vulnerable — especially when she embarks on an ill-advised hot mess affair with one of her married colleagues.
Skilful directing and a smart script keep the story moving at a brisk pace, zooming in on the inner dynamics of the newsroom and Katja’s battle to get the story published, then out to the broader conspiracy of the local power players. There are also some sharp observations about the shocking levels of abuse and threats women reporters now endure, but you certainly don’t need to be a journalist to enjoy this fast-paced drama.
Who is Erin Carter, now showing on Netflix, tells a more complex, occasionally bonkers but engaging tale. Erin Carter — or the person going by that name — is a supply teacher in an English-language school in Barcelona, living a life of quiet domesticity with her husband and daughter. But when her local grocery store is held up, and her daughter is threatened, she goes full Krav Maga on the robbers and ends up killing one of them.
Clearly, whoever Erin Carter is, there is more to her than meets the eye. Evin Ahmad, a Kurdish-Swedish actress, plays Erin with passion and elan, alternating between being a devoted teacher, the best mother she can be and someone who takes down multiple attackers with skill and verve. Indica Watson is marvellous as Harper, Erin’s daughter.
Who is Erin Carter also raises some intriguing questions about whether we can ever truly know anyone
The series takes a couple of episodes to get going and decide exactly what story it wants to tell. Considering Erin is a teacher and her husband Jordi is a nurse, they live in very large and stylish house. She spends a lot of time feuding with a glamorous but deeply unhappy (naturally) neighbour. The fight scenes occasionally have a comic book quality. At once stage Erin is shot through the stomach but somehow carries on brawling, which seems unlikely. In another she is left for dead, wakes up in hospital then bolts.
Once the series finds its feet it loops back to the violent events in London that brought Erin to Barcelona. The local gangsters are chillingly menacing. But while Erin can run, in the end she cannot hide. Her past soon catches up with her — with deadly consequences. Evin Ahmad’s manic energy always keeps things moving, but beyond the action, Who is Erin Carter also raises some intriguing questions about whether we can ever truly know anyone.
Spy Ops, a new series on Netflix, tells the inside story of some of the highest profile espionage, covert military operations and secret service assassinations of recent years. They include the CIA’s Operation Just Cause to depose Manuel Noriega, the dictator of Panama, the SIS’s Operation Pimlico which exfiltrated the KGB spy Oleg Gordievski to Britain and a two-parter on Operation Wrath of God, the Mossad kill squad which assassinated the Palestinian terrorists who massacred Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
So far I have watched Episode Seven — “Taliban Spies”, the intriguing tale of how the CIA secretly brought 29 Taliban operatives across the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan. The aim was to turn them and build a network that could then infiltrate the Taliban. It was an audacious idea, although in the end most of the Taliban were sent back to Pakistan.
Spy Ops takes a classic approach, with a decent amount of backstory, a narrative explanation, and historic footage weaved in with plenty of present day interviews with talking heads. The series has an agenda: to help the viewer discern fact from fiction about spy agencies and governments, executive producer Jon Loew told Deadline, and to “highlight the successful missions of the CIA and other organisations who are working to protect us”. So I’m not expecting too much about the darker side of espionage: the assets and agents that are burned or sacrificed and strategic intelligence failures.
But the producers have secured high-level access with plenty of senior officials keen to tell their stories — including their mistakes — which makes for absorbing and informative viewing
This article is taken from the October 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
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