FIRST LOOK: Sisterhood
NOTE: This is an account of my first impression on the Icelandic TV series "Sisterhood", based on the first two episodes. The season is comprised of 6 episodes in total and I hope that I will have the chance to edit this review soon.
Sisterhood is one of the latest exports of the Icelandic wave in crime fiction that progressively conquers the global audiences during the last decade with a far-reaching number of authors, cinema artists and television producers testifying its elevated quality status. In television, shows such as Trapped, Case, The Lava Field, and Valhalla Murders comprise only a small part of a much wider picture that involves several noteworthy Icelandic directors, screenwriters, and actors who are framing an ever-increasing number of the genre's productions featured on the country's small screen. One of the co-screenwriters of this show is Jóhann Ævar Grímsson, a respected figure among his peers as the man responsible for the scripts of shows and feature films like Pressa, Thin Ice, and Mr. Bjarnfreðarson , who gave an interview to Michael Pickard for Drama Quarterly, published on January 22, 2021, in which, first and foremost, he explicitly states that the overarching theme in Sisterhood is none other than guilt, its mechanics and effects on the lives of ordinary people having to struggle with their own selves over a traumatic event that occurred in the past.
Ævar Grímsson has recently also delivered the visually alluring second season of the much-lauded Stella Blómkvist series, collaborating ideally with director Óskar Thór Axelsson, and even though it may be hard to instantly draw any analogy between that show and Sisterhood, the screenwriter claims that they are "sister series", in the sense that they both defy some of the most prevalent tropes of the genre, introducing a fresh approach to storytelling: "It’s a weird thing but, in a certain sense, Sisterhood is a sister series to Stella Blómkvist in that, in both cases, I am reacting to the idea of Nordic noir and crime shows (...) I’m trying to figure out another way of using the format". The show negates the stereotyped structure of the typical whodunit storyline as the audience knows the culprits of the crime from the beginning and gives prominence to the question of "why", the reasons behind the deed. Furthermore, it features three women as the offenders, a role traditionally reserved for male characters, the triad that remains in the spotlight of the whole show throughout the course of the season: "To be frank, we don't see so many female criminals (..) That’s why I reference Stella Blomkvist as a sister series because I did a lot of twisting and turning with roles that are usually meant for men or women".
Ævar Grímsson's arch enemy is repetition, the endless litany of the same narrative style that is bound to jade the audience. This is what he has to say regarding his intentions about the narrative innovations of Sisterhood: "It’s just a way of trying to find new ways of telling the same stories. If you are used to the tricks that have already been used, then you stop enjoying the drama and you stop enjoying the story.” The attempt at an alternative build-up of the story pays off and we get the opportunity to observe the effects of guilt on the lives of three women who are bound together due to a well-buried secret that they keep for decades without this choice overshadowing the suspense element which is kept alive throughout the season. It is the grim discovery of skeletal remains in a quarry that incites the beginning of the nightmare for the three childhood friends and the subsequent police investigation, conducted by detectives Vera (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) and Einar (Jónmundur Grétarsson), threatens to reveal their crime. Elisabet (Lilja Nótt Þórarinsdóttir), Karlotta (Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir) and Anna Siga (Jóhanna Friðrika Sæmundsdóttir), each respond to the crisis in their own way: Elisabet suggests that they should remain calm and tell nothing, Anna Siga is in favor of coming clean and confess to the authorities while Karlotta is the most shaken of the three, for reasons that primarily have to do with her unstable temperament.
The show follows the painstakingly slow police investigation on a cold case dating back more than 20 years and at the same time sheds light on the struggles that each one of the three protagonists have to face in their personal lives. The creative team is not afraid to provide a realistic portrayal of the analytic procedures that the police follow in order to solve a case. With regard to that matter Ævar Grímsson says " “It’s just a slow slog through data after data and data and trying to figure things out slowly but surely. It isn’t some sort of a eureka moment". At the same time, we follow the protagonist's everyday routine and witness their personal challenges. Karlotta, for example, as portrayed in the first episodes, is a volatile persona, fighting her overwhelming feelings of anxiety with yoga, running and other activities that keep her busy. Anna Siga works as a chef in a restaurant owned by a despicable boss who treats her badly, while Elisabet is a priest as well as new to motherhood and probably has the more to lose if they get arrested for the murder of their old acquaintance. The director interjects some flashbacks depicting some isolated scenes from the women's early years, the period in which the crime took place, though their exact role within the overall narrative process remains to be seen. The cinematography is gloomy, going hand-in-hand with the dire weather conditions so prevalent in Reykjavik while the performances are truthlike with the three women protagonists giving their best selves in the rendition of their respective, demanding roles. Sisterhood bears all the characteristics that make a compelling Nordic crime show, scoring highly in every aspect of the production.
I will binge-watch the remaining four episodes and I'll be back for a completed account very soon.
P. S.: You can find Jóhann Ævar Grímsson's interview to "Drama Quarterly" here.
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