The Shetland series critique – who needs Jimmy Perez when you have this dynamic female duo?
Could Shetland exist as Shetland if DI Jimmy Perez was not a part of it? For seven seasons, actor Douglas Henshall portrayed the BBC One detective, gradually gaining more recognition in the world of British crime dramas. His character was a damaged and troubled homicide detective, with no gimmicks other than his gradual loss of determination. In the previous season, Perez ultimately resigned from the force due to an injustice that forced him to break rules, and his own desire to no longer have his personal life suffer from the demands of the job. Henshall left the show after successfully portraying a nuanced TV detective.
Despite the considerable absence of Henshall, Shetland remains a popular destination with plenty of attractions to offer. Its picturesque scenery, with its lack of trees and dark green and grey hues, is suddenly forgiven by the vibrant blue of the sea. The landscape’s enchanting Nordic noir vibes would add intrigue to any murder mystery. And while Shetland may have been seen as a one-man show in the past, fans have become equally invested in Sergeant Alison “Tosh” McIntosh, who was once just a sidekick. Portrayed with honesty and intelligence by Alison O’Donnell, Tosh has become even more beloved since the bold season three storyline in which she was a victim of rape. O’Donnell’s sensitive portrayal, along with that of Perez, has created a strong bond between the audience and the show, making it more valuable than any typical detective series.
However, Tosh requires a replacement and Shetland needs a fresh boost. In order to address these needs, the most recent episode incorporates various elements of crime drama, the first being one that is unrelated to the usual Shetland setting: for the first eight minutes, all of the established characters are absent and we are instead watching a different show, focused on organized crime in upscale London locations. A young thief, Ellen (played by Maisie Norma Seaton), accidentally steals from the wrong luxury apartment and finds herself on the run with a bag full of money belonging to the employer of two cold-blooded hitmen. As she is pursued by the assassins, she flees back to her hometown of Shetland.
DI Ruth Calder (played by Ashley Jensen) is a detective with the Met police, who is currently on the trail of Ellen. Ruth is from Shetland herself and is not pleased about having to return there for this case. This setup follows the common trope of a city detective going back to their small hometown, where the locals are aware of their past and the local detectives are not fans of their arrogant behavior. However, when the hired killers arrive in Shetland, they bring a touch of dark humor reminiscent of the show Fargo. One of them is a seasoned and jaded veteran, while the other is a hot-headed bird enthusiast. The latter insists on going birdwatching after they have completed their mission of killing Ellen and retrieving the stolen money.
Recent developments indicate that Shetland may be trying too hard to make up for its significant personnel change. The character Ellen, who is likely to meet an unfortunate fate, belongs to a powerful local family who prioritize taking care of their own. The addition of Phyllis Logan as the strong-willed matriarch is just one example of the show showcasing its impressive casting choices since becoming the BBC’s leading Scottish drama. Jamie Sives also joins the cast, reuniting with his former Guilt co-stars, as the irresponsible but charming ex-lover who DI Calder cannot resist reuniting with upon her return to Shetland, reigniting old tensions.
In the role of Calder, Ashley Jensen shows great potential as a replacement for Henshall. Her performances often feature a glimpse of her inner child, making her adept at portraying genuine, direct, vulnerable, and at times, petulant women. Ruth embodies all of these qualities as she reluctantly confronts her childhood, which she had worked hard to forget. The familiar narrative of criminal investigations unearthing old wounds, particularly for the investigators, is given a thought-provoking treatment in Shetland. This sets the stage for a well-crafted dynamic between the new crime-solving duo, Tosh and Ruth. Both carry the weight of past trauma that is deeply rooted in their Shetland upbringing, but only one has chosen to distance themselves from it. This tension presents the opportunity for a compelling partnership to blossom.
Paul Logue, the writer of the episode, expands on what could have been a cliché clash between two very different women as they recognize each other’s imperfections. Ruth becomes angry when Tosh introduces herself timidly as “temporary DI McIntosh”, a characteristic trait of Tosh’s, but then Tosh takes charge when Ruth’s impatience leads her to ineffectively pressure a witness.
The latest installment has yet to be completed: even with the presence of armed individuals causing chaos, there is no puzzle to solve at this point. However, Shetland continues to excel in breaking away from the expected, even without its previous main character. It is self-sufficient.