DCI Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) has returned to our screens in a second series of Aberystwyth-set crime drama Hinterland.
Although he is Welsh himself, Mathias is still an outsider – a police officer from London sent to Ceredigion region on the west coast of Wales following a mysterious personal breakdown. The opening shots of this story show him still living in the revolting static caravan filled with filthy fly traps in which he dwelled for the first series. Mathias has been on unofficial sabbatical following a previous case which brought him to the edge of personal and professional ruin (again). His superior forces his return to work to the surprise and evident unease of colleagues including DI Mared Rhys (Mali Harries).
Mathias walks straight into the ongoing investigation of an arson attack on a farmhouse that has left a mother and son in critical condition. This soon becomes a murder case when the eight-year-old boy dies. Tensions within the team mount when Mathias is promoted to lead investigator over a seething Rhys who views this as workplace sexism regardless of the fact that Mathias himself has been press ganged back into service.
Originally broadcast as a one-off feature length episode in Welsh on January the 1st 2015, ‘In the dead of night’ is now presented as the first episode of the second series in its English and Welsh language version. This was a sombre story, presenting the detectives’ work as bearing witness to tragedy and pain. Motive was discovered in the victim family’s logging business and the husband’s acquisition of a bankrupt farm to expand. The family that had owned the farm for generations claimed that their animals had been poisoned to drive them off their land. In turn, the logging business has come under frequent attack from vandals. Clearly there is bad blood flowing through the veins of this rural community.
Throughout series 1, hints were dropped about the reasons Mathias had left London, with much significance being placed on a photograph of two young girls he keeps in his caravan. Investigating the death of a child appears to have a special resonance for the troubled detective.
Hinterland’s first series established the show in the sombre tradition of Scandinavian crime drama with a psychologically scarred hero brought into a hermetic social environment filled with secrets and intrigue. This first episode of series two did nothing to break the mood. The series is leisurely in pace, more concerned with establishing mood and place than in driving the narrative along. The crimes investigated are often unglamorous – if Aberystwyth is awash with high rolling drug barons or Russian gangsters they are still to make an appearance. Hinterland’s crimes are taken from local history and the isolation of the rural environment.
While not a show to appeal to action fans. Hinterland is beautifully shot, making great use of the landscape of Ceredigion. Mathias is a variation on the troubled detective figure, some might say cliché, but Harrington brings soul to his character. Finally, at the close of the episode, fans of the show and the character were rewarded with some heartbreaking revelations about his murky past.
Did you tune in for Hinterland series 2 episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Spoilers for Hinterland series 2 episode 2 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s episode 1 review here.
Of Hinterland’s last episode, I said, ‘if Aberystwyth is awash with high rolling drug barons… they are still to make an appearance.’ Of course, the second episode featured a murder with a drugs angle. There were, however, no sharp dressed dealers cruising the streets of West Wales in shiny black sedans. Instead DCI Tom Mathias and DI Mared Rhys discovered drugs being trafficked to school children by the driver of a bus. This was the drug trade stripped of glamour, a dealer making a meagre living, his clients bored children.
Drugs produce casualties whether consumed in expensive nightclubs or rural bus shelters. The detectives investigate local drug cases and find a family whose son fell into a coma after suffering a severe allergic reaction. When connections are made between the family and the murdered bus driver, Mathias looks for motives. Also under suspicion is the bus company owner, whose operation barely breaks even, and his mechanic, an ex-serviceman with a history of violence.
Mathias’s personal and professional lives are falling apart. His estranged wife Meg (Anamaria Marinca) has arrived with an ultimatum. He is under investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission following the tragic ending to his last case. Relationships within the team are severely frayed. Mathias’s relationship with his Chief Superintendent (Aneirin Hughes) is approaching breaking point due to his erratic behaviour.
Parental relationships formed a strong theme in this story. We discover Mathias has abandoned his wife and daughter following the death of their other child. Details of that tragedy remain shrouded in mystery, but it is clear he holds himself responsible. DI Rhys is prompted by the case to broach the subject of drugs with her daughter who reveals that she feels social stress having a cop for a mother. The family of the drug victim has broken down in the wake of that tragedy, mother unable to face her wheelchair bound son in his vegetative state, surviving sons resenting their father as weak. The mechanic is living in rural seclusion with a young man he met in prison and is trying to be a role model to him. However, he also has his own demons to exorcise.
Mathias’s mental state was so fragile in this episode that his co-workers were right to treat him with suspicion. Stung by his wife’s revelation that she wants to move to Canada, he lashes out at colleagues and the IPCC investigator. His mental disorder continues to be represented by the filthy caravan he insists on staying in. He tells Meg that this is what he ‘needs’, but is he just flagellating himself for the death of their daughter? Obsessive tendencies can be seen by his need to straighten an askew carving knife on a table arrangement when conducting his investigation. Mathias is coming apart at the seams.
Hinterland series 2 episode 2 was a strong instalment, nicely directed by Gareth Bryn. Richard Harrington continues to make Mathias an interesting flawed hero. Made on a reportedly small budget, Hinterland makes the most of the bleak but beautiful Ceredigion landscape.
Did you tune in for Hinterland series 2 episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Hinterland series 2 episode 3? Read Stuart’s episode 2 review here.
In Hinterland series 2 episode 3, DCI Tom Mathias’s team must investigate the murder of a prominent barrister. From the start there is pressure for quick results from the Chief Superintendent. The victim was an important man not only in the local community but also in London where he practised law. The investigation takes on urgency when suspicion falls on Daniel Protheroe, a teenage boy raised in seclusion by his mother. Daniel has incurred the enmity of locals through poaching and petty thievery. Farmer Glyn Powell suspects he is the murderer and is already outraged because Daniel is in a relationship with his daughter Beth. Powell unites the local community against the boy and when he flees onto the mountain they form a vigilante group to hunt for him.
Written by Irish novelist Eoin McNamee, this episode of Hinterland put Mathias’s personal issues on the back burner and paid greater attention to the mystery at hand. The detective is not past his troubles but the IPCC investigation that has cast a cloud over his professional conduct has concluded in his favour.
The initial murder quickly became less interesting than the hidden history Mathias uncovers when looking into Protheroe’s background. A search of the remote cottage where the boy had lived together with his mother leads to a macabre discovery that raises further questions.
McNamee’s twisty script had a slight edge of gothic romance, with Daniel an absent hero/villain cast out to wander the mountain and pursued by vengeful locals who, while not actually wielding pitchforks, may as well have been. There were touches of folk horror in the story too, particularly in one evocative scene where Mathias stumbled on a makeshift grave in the woods.
Hinterland has not been shy with downbeat endings, and as the murder case shifted into focus a potential tragedy loomed. This leads to the tensest final act of the series to date. The episode’s director Julian Jones shot the story mostly at night and staged effective sequences of Mathias searching for clues by torchlight with the flair of a good horror film.
Mathias’s greatest strength as a detective is his sense of empathy, but Rhys is aware that it is also his most serious weakness, leading him to be personally involved and to lose detachment. The IPCC investigation has likewise placed a strain on their professional relationship. Rhys is also struggling with her own work/life balance, as Mathias remarks – rather cruelly – she is spending more time in the office than with her own daughter.
Hinterland series 2 episode 3, ‘The Tale of Nant Gwrtheyrn’, relied on genre thrills more than usual for the drama. The vigilante ‘posse’ led by Glyn Powell was perhaps a little fanciful in comparison to the downbeat and muted tone of other episodes in the series. If it sometimes seemed that Mathias was a western sheriff on a manhunt, a final showdown made this story feel like an attempt at a Welsh Western.
Did you tune in for Hinterland series 2 episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Hinterland series 2 episode 4? Read Stuart’s episode 3 review here.
Crime procedurals are often set in urban settings. The classic 1948 film noir Naked City ends with the lines “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” So much humanity in such close proximity can lead to conflict in life and in art. A pastoral setting is often used for a more innocent and nostalgic type of storytelling – for example the long running series Heartbeat – but a rural community can also bring a particular kind of darkness and fear. Hidden underground rivers of isolation, insularity, secrets and blood feuds. This ‘Dark River’ fills a well from which the show’s writers draw, and Hinterland series 2 episode 4 examined issues of obsession, stalking and male violence.
A car is pulled from a lake and a woman’s body is discovered inside. Arriving on the scene, DCI Tom Mathias scanned the horizon as if searching for something malevolent in the very landscape itself. His examination of the body finds marks of strangulation turning the unexplained death into a murder investigation. Mathias’s team trace the car to Greta Prichard, a missing primary school teacher. The mystery deepens when the body in the car is discovered not to be that of the missing woman. Who is the dead woman and where is Greta?
This was a bleak story in its examination of relationships between men and woman. As the detectives scratch at the surface of Greta’s relationship with her father Gwilym they find hidden cracks. Gwilym is a respected head teacher, and the deep ties that bind a small community are shown when DC Lloyd Ellis reveals that he had been taught in his school. The relationship between father and daughter had come under stress following the death of Gwilym’s wife – Greta’s mother. The daughter had started to drink and the police find a history of failed relationships with men. A mechanic Greta had briefly dated emerges as an early suspect, especially when the detectives find out that the missing woman had made complaints about him. But the man claims Greta was simply unbalanced.
The case revealed more about DI Mared Rhys’s frosty attitude. When DC Ellis uncovers an important lead in Greta’s internet dating history, rather than compliment him she makes an unkind joke about the junior officers familiarity with dating sites. When additional evidence is uncovered she remarks, “It wouldn’t be the first time a man lied about who he was”. Rhys has previously complained about Mathias bringing his personal life into cases, but clearly Rhys has a personal history too.
This story found Mathias in a more active role leading to a tense finale as he closed in on the missing teacher. The often underused supporting character of Lloyd also provided a key role, while his colleague DS Sian Owens was relegated to the background.
In Hinterland series 2 episode 4 there were some missteps, and the introduction of some elements of a larger story arc was clumsy. A sudden appearance by a character from the preceding series clearly foreshadowed events to come, but even die-hard Hinterland fans might have been scratching their heads trying to remember the details…
Did you tune in for Hinterland series 2 episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Hinterland series 2 episode 5? Read Stuart’s episode 4 review here.
Hinterland‘s second season comes to an end with a third season in the works – which will come as a relief to fans of the show as Hinterland series 2 episode 5 brought very little closure to the plot threads that have been woven through it and added several new strands of yarn to the mix.
A burnt body is discovered on a stretch of Ceredigion beach. The autopsy reveals that the male victim was killed by a blow to the head – the corpse then set alight in an attempt to destroy any evidence. Mathias’s team quickly identifies the body as that of Aron Bowen, a man recently released from prison after serving thirteen years for the murder of his girlfriend and mother of his daughter.
Mathias finds that his case has roots going back even further. While the murdered man had always protested his innocence, his family and that of his murdered girlfriend have a history of bad blood. There is also resistance from Chief Superintendent Prosser to reopening the earlier case. Prosser was the investigating officer then and regards it as closed.
Aron Bowen is an outcast from his own family and hated by the relatives of the woman he was convicted of killing. There is no shortage of suspects in the case but no one is talking. The reticence of families to aid the investigation and official resistance from his superiors frustrate Mathias. However, the now teenage daughter of the murdered man forms a bond with our troubled detective and proves to be the catalyst that brings key details into the light.
While the mystery of Bowen’s death was revealed at the end of this episode, many plot strands were raised and left unresolved. DI Mared Rhys is still failing to connect with her own daughter. DS Sian Owens is startled to find a personal connection to a suspect, but the exact nature of their relationship is not revealed. Most crucially there are growing hints that Prosser is hiding something about the past. He even hints that he interceded in the internal investigation of Mathias in the expectation that he would owe him a favour.
At times Hinterland series 2 episode 5 was so filled to the brim with layers of subterfuge it was hard to follow – something not helped by references to earlier episodes that assumed a large degree of familiarity from the viewer. It no longer seems fashionable to feature ‘previously on…’ recaps before the opening credits roll, but Hinterland would benefit by giving its audience a little bit of help.
All in all, this was a strong second outing for a series that breaks away from the crime genre pack with its distinctive rural setting and themes. The Nordic noir influence is strong, especially in featuring a psychologically complex and damaged protagonist. Mathias is a man whose personal life has exploded and who is barely holding his professional life together. It will be a long wait for the third series, with the Welsh language version screening first, but when it’s finally here it will hopefully bring some resolution to Mathias’s story.
Did you tune in for Hinterland series 2 episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!