‘Annika’ Season 2 Review: A Fresh, Innovative Take on the Police Procedural

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At some point, I lost track of all the police procedurals on television. From Law & Order to FBI, it seems like just about every possible branch of law enforcement has been covered to some extent, with varying degrees of success. There’s some that have been around as long as I can remember, but Alibi’s series Annika hits a kind of criminal investigation I’d never heard of before, following Nicola Walker as the detective inspector of a Marine Homicide Unit in Glasgow, Scotland. The show’s back for a second season on Masterpiece, and with it comes even more of the quirks to be found in a unique perspective on the murder mystery.


Naturally, the show follows the standard format: an aquatic murder of the week, interspersed with more extended emotional beats for each of the show’s investigators. This season, there’s a whole host of the latter: DC Ferguson’s (Katie Leung) pregnancy, DS Clarke’s (Ukweli Roach) desire to become an inspector, and Annika’s many and varied personal issues, including the parentage of her daughter and the reappearance of last season’s old flame. Understandably, it’s the latter the series hinges on, and in a world where season-long arcs often feel like extra, unnecessary drama in most procedurals, Annika manages to step up its game in season two, battening down the hatches with fresh, improved scripts.

It’s no surprise that Walker’s as effortlessly entertaining a lead as she is — she’s led no less than three other procedurals before, including fellow Masterpiece series Unforgotten, and she seems to it down to a science, even though Annika is as different as she could possibly be from those other roles. She fits into the Gene Hunt class of “probably the wrong person for the job, but just insane and unconventional enough to be good at it” — i.e., the best kind of DI, at least for someone who’s been watching police procedurals since she was old enough to say NCIS. She’s holding her life together with duct tape and a prayer, and yet is usually still the smartest person in the room, at least on some level, and Walker slots seamlessly into any situation, with a practiced ease that keeps you watching even if you can spot the killer from a mile off.


‘Annika’ Brings a Unique Twist to the Police Procedural

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Image via Masterpiece

That usually isn’t the case, though, as this season’s mysteries wind around and in on themselves in new and more adept ways. By and large, everyone seems to have stepped up their game this time around, and season two wisely doubles down on what made the series work so well in its first outing: Annika’s fourth wall breaking, and her relationships with her fellow officers. The first is certainly the most unconventional of the lot, but was just the thing that made the show stand out in the first place: a protagonist who speaks directly to the audience, narrating not only the action but offering commentary on her own life, in a sardonic, self-effacing monologue.

It’s a tactic brought over from the BBC radio drama on which the series is based, Annika Stranded, but manages, especially in its second season, to feel less like a gimmick and more a central part of its emotional core, as the show values characters’ personal relationships almost more than the crime of the week. It helps that Annika’s monologues have some structure — usually focused around a particular piece of literature, whether that’s the more common Nordic folk tales or George Orwell’s 1984, all of which reflect the show’s themes with surprising specificity. I’d love to pick writer Nick Walker’s brain to see how he chooses them, and how he manages to fold a standard procedural around such complex literary themes, the kind that encompass everything from death (a given) to the fragile nature of mother-daughter relationships.

It’s those monologues that underline the show’s dark humor, a thread that carries Annika and her coworkers beyond the stale standards of the British cop drama — and really, there’s about a million of those, so it’s a blessing in disguise. Annika’s a chronic oversharer, and the audience gets to see a side of her that no one else does — not her coworkers, her love interest, or even her family. She’s a ball of nerves at the best of times, cracking jokes and regretting things as they come out of her mouth, with a certain notch in her confidence that seems atypical of the kind of person meant to lead an investigative unit.

It’s very nearly its own sitcom at times, shifting from the grim tragedies of murder to Annika’s love life, straight to her making bad jokes no one gets before coming all the way back around, somehow keeping each piece relevant to one another — especially as Annika continues to mingle with her team, who seem to trust her infinitely more after rescuing her from an exploding car at the end of season one. Even though DS Clarke sadly departs halfway through the series — presumably so Roach could lead the BBC’s Wolf — the dynamic feels much tighter than last season, where everyone was still adjusting to Annika’s position as detective inspector. Now, they’ve hit their stride as a team, and it’s much more fun to watch them go through the motions when they feel something more than indifferent about each other.

This season’s writing is sharper, with better focus than the last, and the interplay between the team’s dynamic and the crimes they investigate feels more evenly balanced, with better links between everyone even as Annika herself seems more chaotic than ever. The same is true for her relationship with her daughter Morgan (Silvie Furneaux), a teenager who’s grown from grumpy and standoffish to playfully meddling as her screen time increases this season. It’s a welcome improvement, giving both Furneaux and Walker a chance to stretch their legs and do something different, and makes Morgan as much a part of the team dynamic as anyone else, especially towards the latter half of the season.

Season 2 Narrowly Avoids a Dreaded Dramatic Trope

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Image via Masterpiece

There’s two faces, though, that Walker gets the most time with this season. One is Jamie Sives, playing Annika’s longtime friend and coworker Michael who also happens to be Morgan’s biological father. The latter fact is what lands them in hot water, a heavy burden that gives their solid, trustworthy friendship some stress fractures, and it creates a complexity that allows both characters to grow beyond simply bantering coworkers, cracking open their pasts and disturbing their present as they reevaluate how to work together going forward. Sives is able to keep up with Walker almost without trying, and even though I habitually have to rewind to decipher his thick Scottish accent, he’s a scene stealer now that he’s given more to chew on.

Then there’s Paul McGann, as Annika’s on-again, off-again love interest, Jake, who also happens to be her daughter’s former therapist. He’s much more on-again this season, and his chemistry with Walker is no surprise — at least, not to me, since I arrived at the series because I loved their work together in Big Finish’s long-running Doctor Who audio dramas. Their characters’ relationship in Annika is largely different, but still incredibly compelling — it’s about the closest thing either of them have ever gotten to doing a rom-com, and I could watch hours of just the two of them bantering, murder of the week be damned. They pal around quite well, and McGann’s appearances are often a welcome respite from the gritty details of the murder, his smiling face popping up right when I start getting people on Annika’s long list of suspects confused.

In any other world, both of those men together would make for a situation I dislike watching, and dislike writing about even more: the dreaded love triangle. An outdated, old, useless piece of storytelling, particularly for a tale like this, which is already weaving its personal stories into a pre-established procedural framework. But for once, competing attentions don’t really clash, save for Michael’s mild distaste for Jake, which only really appears as a returning one-off joke from season one.

Annika has equal but distinctly different chemistry with the both of them, and it’s less a question of “which one is better” (though I do have my own personal answer to that question) and more “how is she going to handle her relationships with both of them,” something I can’t answer here for the sake of spoilers. It’s a compelling emotional circumstance for Annika, and even if a love triangle is still the goal if (and hopefully when) the series is renewed for a third season, it doesn’t feel overt or poorly handled at this point. Thankfully, writer Walker seems more concerned with the series remaining a police procedural than drifting into soap opera territory.

Only One Tripping Point

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Image via Masterpiece

The only place this season trips is on a plotline we saw bits and pieces of in season one: Annika’s relationship with her cold, emotionless father (Sven Henriksen). What was merely a thread left unfollowed in the first season overwhelms the last two episodes, meant to expand on why Annika’s relationship with Morgan can be as rocky as the banks where the MHU’s victims are often found. In theory, exploring it makes sense, but it feels more like rough building blocks in practice, a rather basic means to an end, especially once fans see the finale. It feels unfinished, compared to the rest — I’d much rather watch Annika bond with Morgan or continue bantering with Jake — and there’s a sense that Walker didn’t get the episode count he wanted (or needed) to flesh Annika’s daddy issues out, leaving us wanting a little more as the season rounds out.

Ultimately though, it’s one sticky point in an otherwise smooth season, which glides over the waters of rural Scotland and plays chicken with the audience’s expectations, much like Annika foolishly does with an escaping suspect’s plane. Pro tip: even if DS Clarke does, don’t take career advice from her. Unlike some dramas, which feel like they’ve run their emotional course even before the end of their sophomore season, there’s plenty more to be explored with the Marine Homicide Unit, even if not all of it shakes out properly. After all, not every crime gets brought to justice.

Rating: A-

The Big Picture

  • Annika season 2 brings fresh, improved scripts and tighter writing, providing sharper focus and better links between the team’s dynamics and the crimes they investigate.
  • The show’s protagonist, Annika, continues to be a unique and entertaining lead character who speaks directly to the audience, offering sardonic commentary on her own life while narrating the action.
  • The season successfully avoids a dreaded love triangle trope by establishing compelling chemistry between Annika and two male characters, and prioritizes the show’s police procedural nature over soap opera elements.

Annika season 2 premieres on Masterpiece on October 15.



Source
Las Vegas News Magazine

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