4 out of 5
Created by: Megan Gallagher
Covers season 1
For exactly 6 of its 8 episodes, Borderliner is perfect noir. It gives us twist-the-knife morally grey decisions that we, along with lead cop Nikolai Andreassen (Tobias Santelmann), toss and turn over – is that what I would do? What’s the righter right? – and then, after any given brief moment of fresh air, tosses a turn our way that triggers the struggle all over again. For both classic and modern examples of the genre, nailing this balance is difficult: very often, we can blame the main character directly for getting involved in what follows, which can cause an initial break in the tension and prevent any following perturbances from seeming exactly necessary. But when, as in Borderliner, we can see the steps that lead to that initial, in-over-your-head decision, and be caught up in the same deciding factors that veer us toward a darker path, if that same logic is continually applied – which it is in this show – then its a damned good, affecting ride.
Nikolai, on leave from his own station while there’s press burbling over an allegation of corruption he’s made toward another officer, visits his hometown, in which his father (Bjørn Skagestad) and brother (Benjamin Helstad) are both cops as well. Opportunity allows him to help out on a case, and Nikolai quickly spots signs that what appears to be the suicide of a local rabblerouser, Tommy, is actually a murder. But when his own diligence with the investigation leads back to his brother, Lars – a single father, raising two kids – Nikolai hears out Lars’ side of things and decides it’s in the greater good to keep it looking like a suicide.
Things are, of course, never that easy in noir, and when another investigator, Anniken (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), steps in and proves to be just as attentive as Nikolai, he finds himself juggling white lies with escalating bigger lies, as the incident starts fanning out to involve other people and to be much more than just, as it was initially pitched to him, an argument gone awry. The brilliance of having Nikolai embroiled in this corruption accusation is a fantastic counterpoint to what we witness, and Santelmann puts all of that into his performance, masking his struggle between truth and lies when talking with Anniken – Petersen also putting in a fantastic performance in which she must continually balance her openness on the investigation with Nikolai with her fomenting suspicions of foul play – and then the silent debates he has with himself over next steps.
And this all holds up with nerve-fraying tension for those 6 episodes. The remaining 2 episodes are a pretty good thriller.
The two modes do tie into one another (the events in the latter inform some of the events in the former), but the clear shift between the focuses sucks out a lot of that initial tension, and there’s the possibility the show wouldn’t have been structured as such if it had been conceived as a one off, but episode 8, indeed, leaves it open for a followup. The strong lead performances and confident and moody filmmaking still make these concluding chapters intriguing, but Borderliner was close to maintaining its perfect noir streak… had it just stuck to its genre.