Hinterland S2 (BBC4)

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Apologies for the lack of entries in May other than the epic Star Wars: The Force Awakens collaboration with John Hood. It proved to be one of those months where several work projects all managed to converge so that not only did I not have time to pen new reviews, I didn’t even have time to watch or read anything to review in the first place! Most of my television viewing has consisted of the final episodes in the current season of shows that I’ve already commented on here at Taking The Short View.

But with the start of June the work clouds have at last begun to part, so it’s time to get back in the saddle with a few reviews and to begin the month in the manner in which I would like it to continue. But before I get into ‘new’ stuff, a few words about the latest season of Hinterland, the first run of which I originally wrote about all the way back in January 2014.

hinterlandAs you may or may not remember, Hinterland is a Nordic Noir-inflected detective series set in Wales with dialogue in both English and Welsh (there’s also a second, all-Welsh version filmed at the same time which goes under the name Y Gwyll and shown in Wales on S4C.) Set in Aberystwyth the series stars Richard Harrington as the insular and depressed DCI Tom Mathias, with Mali Harries as his next-in-command DI Mared Rhys, and Alex Harries (as DC Lloyd Elis) and Hannah Daniel (playing DS Siân Owens) as the junior officers rounding out the team. There’s also the strangely menacing presence of Chief Superintendent Brian Prosser (Aneirin Hughes) permanently watching from the shadows.

“In the Dead of Night”, the first of the five episodes just shown on BBC4’s Saturday night ‘Scandinoir’ slot, was actually a rerun of a special feature-length episode originally shown at Christmas 2014 to plug the two-year gap between season 1 in 2013 and season 2 at the end of 2015. It picks up on the shattering events of the previous season finale with Mathias off work and on medication, but forced back to work prematurely by Prosser after a house fire leaves a mother and child fighting for their lives. Rhys has been acting up as DCI and has not been expecting Mathias to return; when he does, she’s (rightly) dubious he’s in any fit state to lead the investigation which duly ends calamitously.

In “Ceredigion”, Mathias is under investigation by the Independent Police Complaint Commission over the fatal outcome of the previous case, and is further thrown for a loop by the arrival of his estranged wife Meg (Anamaria Marinca) though which we finally learn just why he’s become such a miserable, morose figure. It looks like Prosser has decided Mathias is more trouble than he’s worth and is about to throw him overboard, but Rhys makes a decision to stay loyal even if it costs her a chance of that long-awaited promotion. An investigation into the death of a local bus driver puts Mathias into contact with ex-soldier John Bell (Mark Lewis Jones), and the detective faces his despair in the most visceral way possible.

Although it’s not entirely clear at first, the events of “Ceredigion” represent something of a turning point for Mathias who finally has to accept that he can’t sink any lower and must start to rebuild his life. It’s slow work though and only glimpsed in little looks and gestures through the remaining episodes: “The Tale of Nant Gwrtheyrn” sees Mathias trying to stop a lynch mob hunting a young boy who’s been living with his mother in an isolated farmhouse, but who is blamed after a local homeowner is found dead; in “Dark River” the discovery of a body in a car dumped in a river leads to an investigation of a small independent rural school; and finally in “The Sound of Souls” a charred corpse of a recently paroled murderer found on a windswept beach sucks Mathias and the team into a bitter family feud.

As well as Mathias we also begin to get some personal insight into the other members of the team: a missing woman proves to be the daughter of Lloyd’s beloved old headmaster who himself appears to be holding something back from the police and may even be a suspect; while in a later episode it’s clear that Siân has had a romantic relationship with one of the people who is briefly the main suspect in a murder case. Sadly Rhys misses out somewhat in the allocation of sub-plots and most of her time revolves around dealing with Mathias or in brief cut-aways to her family home life. Mali Harries is such a terrific actor that we can only hope she gets more meaty material to get her teeth into in season 3, which is currently filming.

And it’s good to know there will definitely be a third season, because this run ends with a huge cliffhanger. It’s the culmination of a minor but significant continuing thread through this run of episodes that also has links back to the very first episode in 2013, and which finally starts to penetrate the shadows surrounding Prosser. It also gives the second season more of a backbone to connect the individual cases, and as a result of this and the character development I can confidently declare this latest batch of Hinterland episodes to be even stronger than the first – and I was always rather besotted with season 1, too.

The real strength of the show remains its stylish direction – the countryside looks spectacular, even if the Welsh Tourist Board might not like how decrepit and rundown everything is made to look. The stories are even more compelling and diverse this season, and the showrunners Ed Talfan and Ed Thomas have made sure not to lose the unsettling, creepy atmosphere that marked out the first season. It’s a show of few words that doesn’t telegraph events or talk down to its viewers with prolonged exposition, but instead makes things clear through clever structuring and the universally strong performances by the entire cast.

Not only did season 2 not disappoint my expectations, it delivered well above them and in the process became one of the best things on television while it was on. Highly recommended if you can see it (streaming service Netflix shows it in America and Japan, while Amazon Prime has it in the UK) or get a copy of the just-released DVD.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Hinterland season 2 is available on DVD in the UK. A third season is currently being filmed, and will air on S4C in the autumn and on BBC4 early in 2017.

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