SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this review unless you have watched Salamander
Over the last few years BBC4 has built a reputation as the fearless champion of subtitled northern European dramas, such as The Bridge and The Killing. But Salamander, the latest to fill BBC4’s hallowed Saturday night slot, marks a stark departure from the infectious plots, gruesome murders and grey soaked milieu of the Scandinavian drama, ditching these gloomy tropes in favour of a light Belgian conspiracy thriller.
Things kick-off with a gripping swoop on a private Belgian bank, where a clever gang of thieves raid the safety deposit boxes of Belgium’s elite. But instead of targeting that vast sums of wealth unquestionably stored there, the sneaky plunderers are after the dirty secrets of the rich and powerful; the kind of dark revelations that cause one victim to immediately commit suicide upon hearing the news. The rest of the ‘wronged’ instruct the bank to instigate a cover up, lest a police investigation direct undue attention to their luxuriously filthy laundry.
Unfortunately for them, but thankfully for us, that’s when relentless Chief Inspector Peter Gerardi comes snooping around, following up on a dodgy tip-off from a typically boozy informant – do the police only recruit informers from Alcoholics Anonymous?
Gerardi keeps with gritty-TV-cop-tradition by seemingly ending every utterance with an exasperated “dammit” to signify his bitter anger, something that comes all the more frequent when his superiors, under the bank’s powerful influence, block his investigation. Suspended from duty, and with his family placed under constant surveillance, Gerardi turns Jack Bauer, operating on the run and outside the law, but all in the name of an almost saccharine notion of justice: “For me murder is murder, regardless of who’s behind it.”
Salamander deliberately avoids the kind of dark, insidious plotting The Bridge revelled in, opting instead for a lighter form of entertainment. This not only means that scenes take place in actual daylight, but that we are also treated to a pacey plot with plenty of action, such as a slaloming car chase and a tense stand-off, that makes for a pleasing dose of Saturday night entertainment.
All that’s missing is a little more human drama and depth of character, which here only extends as far as making Gerardi moody and beardy. There’s potential to explore how secrets can eat away at a person and affect their actions, which could add more tension and impetus to action that occasionally feels tired and motionless, but all we get is brief clandestine meetings in stately offices – the bank’s influence stretching all the way the high-ranking politicians.
Much like how Hostages was crushed by comparisons to Homeland because they shared Israeli origins and a Channel 4 home, Salamander may struggle to escape the shadow of its more complex Scandinavian neighbours. Until that day comes, however, we can all enjoy an exhilarating conspiracy thriller; it’s a nice change of pace after so much northern European gloom.
Click here to watch the trailer for Salamander