Shetland Seasons 1 and 2 Review

  • Series Title: Shetland
  • Season: 1 and 2
  • Episodes: 4 (Stories, each are 2 parts)
  • Discs: 3
  • Network:  BBC (Produced by ITV Studios)
  • Cast: Douglas Henshall, Alison O’Donnell, Steven Robertson
  • General Information: Based on the mystery novels by Ann Cleeves

Red Bones
Season 1 Episode 1 (of 1)

An older woman looks through photographs in an isolated croft in Scotland, specifically the Shetland Islands. She hears something outside, goes outside to investigate, and there’s a gunshot. The next morning, a young police officer, Sandy Wilson is calling for “Mima”. He finds the body on the property and calls it in, but his cell phone signal gives out.

DI Jimmy Perez arrives at the croft and calls his photographer and begins an investigation. He has Sandy call for an ambulance from the landline. Sandy has to plug in the phone to get it working. Later at the station, Perez puts Sandy on leave because he cannot investigate his own family. DI Perez interviews suspects and tries to find out what happened. There is also an archeological dig taking place on Mima’s land near her croft. The dig had recently uncovered a human skull, which isn’t totally unexpected in an archeological dig, but it seems to have precipitated the murder. The village’s annual festival is coming up, and at one point Perez tries to have it canceled, but he fails – the village needs both the tourist money and the change of routine.

The villages in Shetland are beautiful, and the countryside is wild but gorgeous. But all the houses are isolated, and so are the people. Near to Mima’s croft are a richer family, who were the first to have a good-sized fishing trawler on the island, and the rest of Mima’s relatives who are poorer. Everyone from Sandy to all the relatives insists this isn’t a problem.

As Perez investigates further he also looks into the Shetland Bus, a group of fishing boats that aided the resistance and helped people to escape the Nazis in World War II. They brought spies, saboteurs, and money into Norway and came back with refugees. Both Mima’s long-dead husband and Perez’s chief suspect were involved in the Shetland Bus, and the photo Mima was looking at was of the two, plus a third man.

One of the archeological students had also befriended Mima and said she was someone she “could tell anything”. Mima had given her a necklace with an image of Freya, the Norse god of love. Perez discovers that the third man in Mima’s photo was wearing the necklace. This girl, Hattie, calls Perez in distress, but the call drops. Perez treats Hattie as a missing person, and later her body is found at the dig. At first, it looks like suicide, but Perez is convinced it’s murder. He’s proven right by forensics.

The search for the murderer concludes during the festival, and Perez actually hears someone slip and mention the phone being unplugged at the croft, something only Sandy and Perez knew. Perez arrests the murderer and at the festival, the police stop a member of Sandy’s family from killing another relative who seemed suspicious but wasn’t actually guilty.

Shetland – Red Bones is an atmospheric mystery. The scenery is beautiful. The crofts and villages are isolated, which adds to the atmosphere. Everyone carries cell phones but they seldom work because this is very rural Scotland. I also really liked Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez. “Red Bones”, per Wikipedia, is the only story in season one, though the DVD set bundles Season 1 and Season 2 together, so there are three more two-part stories in the set. Recommended!

Raven Black
Season 2 Episode 1 (of 3)

“Raven Black” opens with a Midsummer beach party. Two teenaged girls are starting into a bonfire, as an older and slightly suspicious man stares back at them through the flames. The next morning, one of the girls, Catherine Ross is found dead on the beach. Jimmy Perez will investigate the murder with his team. A tabloid reporter also tries to connect the murder to the disappearance of a young girl nineteen years earlier. Perez sees very little connecting the two crimes – and is fighting public opinion throughout the story.

Catherine and her friend Sally not only attended the party together, but they had, on a dare, visited the “strange recluse” living in an isolated croft on the hill. For many in the nearby isolated Shetland village, the man’s “strangeness” is proof he’s involved. This also becomes an important thread to the story.

At the end of part one of the two-part story, a second body is found buried in the peat – it’s Catriona, the girl who disappeared nineteen years ago. But as Sandy says when Perez and his team are reviewing the case, he could see the recluse, Magnus, “for Catriona, maybe or for Catherine, maybe, but not both”. As it turns out, Catriona’s death was an accident, she fell in the peat cuttings and hit her head on a rock which cracked open her skull and killed her. Catherine’s death is murder, but despite a number of red herrings, it’s a major surprise who actually killed her.

Perez discovers that Catherine was only using her cell phone as a camera. She wasn’t on social media, and she made few calls or texts for a teenager. Magnus receives a gift, a beautiful portrait phot Catherine took on her photo, adjusted with an app, and then printed. The young girl Catherine babysat also receives a gift, an email with a film – Catherine asking questions, “What do you like about living on Shetland? What don’t you like? Tell me a secret.” Perez realizes that between Catherine taking pictures and her film, she may have stirred up something. That her phone was missing, her laptop wiped and even the hard copy notebook of her film project emptied makes the idea even more probable.

Perez starts to look at the older man from the Midsummer’s Party – especially after he finds a clip from Catherine’s film where she accuses him of assaulting young girls. When Sally goes missing, he calls for a search and “obvs” on the suspicious man. He and his sergeant, Sandy, go first to the man’s trucking company and then to his trawler. When Tosh (Alison McIntosh, Perez’s other detective) calls Perez and tells him that the man in question has an alibi, Perez is forced to consider a new suspect – and it’s pretty dark.

Shetland is an atmospheric British mystery series, set in the Shetland Islands, and filmed in Scotland. But against the rural and wild beauty, DI Perez’s territory is full of secrets, intolerance, and harsh conditions. Magnus nearly becomes a scapegoat, and it’s fortunate for him that Perez is more forward-thinking than many of the people in his village. As it is, Perez is forced to put Magnus in protective custody, Magnus’ pet bird is killed by the same people that trashed his place, and Perez discovers Magnus was arrested in 1969 and beaten by corrupt cops. Because of the bad experience, Magnus never told anyone he’d seen Catriona being chased on the moors, though her death did turn out to be an unfortunate accident. The contrast between the wild beauty and the horrors bubbling beneath the surface make Shetland an intriguing series to watch.

Blue Lightning
Season 2 Episode 2 (of 3)

The second episode of the second season of Shetland takes place on Fair Isle, DI Jimmy Perez’s home and a tiny island of just 70 people. The episode opens with some researchers studying birds on the island and a big party that Perez’s daughter is attending. We find out later than the party was for Angus’s 18th birthday. Angus is DI Perez’s godson. But when the lead researcher, Dr. Anna Blake is found dead in her lab the next morning, DI Jimmy Perez and his DS Alison “Tosh” McIntosh arrive to investigate. Soon there is a second murder, Peter Latimer, a graduate student also working with the research team studying the birdlife of the island. To make matters worse, a gale is brewing and Fair Isle’s tiny airport is shut down and there is no way to reach the mainland or the other Shetland Islands until the storm passes. Sandy remains at Lerwick but is involved in the case, doing the legwork for DI Perez that proves vital.

DI Perez and DS McIntosh rush by plane to Fair Isle ahead of the storm and begin their investigation. They discover one of the scientists, Peter Latimer is missing. He’s found and claims he was researching birds, but this is later disproven. Tosh and Jimmy don’t know what he was up to – but they know it wasn’t research. However, by the end of part 1 in this 2-part story, there is an explosion and fire in an abandoned hut or hide and Peter, who is found inside, dies from his injuries. Sandy reports to Perez it definitely wasn’t an accident, Peter was hit on the head from behind.

But Peter isn’t the only question. Perez and Tosh find out a researcher named Finley was taking a lot of secret photographs of Anna Blake. Sandy interviews a woman in Lerwick who Finley had previously stalked. She tells Sandy that Finley sent her creepy pictures of herself after they had one date and she declined to see him again. Finley was cautioned, and eventually, the emails stopped. However, the woman tells Sandy that Finley never attacked or assaulted her. Tosh, however, figures out that if Finley was stalking Anna he might know if she was having an affair. It turns out she was – with Peter. When Perez and Tosh confront Anna’s husband, another researcher on the bird project, he eventually admits he knew about Anna’s affairs, including the one with Peter. Neither Peter nor Tosh at first realize the importance of the word, “affairs”.

Anna and her husband have a son, Joe, who returns from school early at the party. He tries to talk to Angus but is thrown out by his parents (who are great friends of Jimmy’s). Joe keeps trying to contact Angus but fails. Finally, Joe contacts Jimmy and accuses Donnie (Angus’s father and Jimmy’s friend) of murdering Anna. He even accuses Perez of covering up for his friend. DI Jimmy Perez handles this turn of events well, finally discovering that Joe is upset because he and Angus are both gay and started a relationship before he was sent off to school and Donnie had a fit about Angus. Perez lets Joe know that it was wrong that he was mistreated for being gay. But this information leads Jimmy to a new line of inquiry.

Perez and Tosh, with help from Sandy discover that Professor Bill Warren, who claimed he met Anna, her husband, and her son Joe, when they all arrived to do research at the Fair Isle research station was lying. He met her some 18 years before on another research trip. Also, Bill and his wife had a son, David, who died from leukemia. Their David looks a lot like Joe. It becomes clear that Bill and Anna also had an affair, resulting in a son that Anna never told Bill about and that her husband raised as his own. The newest person on the island the night of the party is Bill Warren’s wife, who came to the island to surprise him on their wedding anniversary. She seems anxious to get off the island, especially once the storm is over and the planes start flying again.

I’m not going to spoil who the murderer is, though you might guess. I was a little confused that only one of the two crimes was solved, though. Still, with “Blue Lightning” being set on DI Perez’s home island it added even more to the intimacy of the crime and I liked this story a lot. Jimmy knows everyone involved and is even related to a lot of the major players in the story, so it’s even more personal but he’s extremely professional in his approach to interviews and investigations.

Dead Water
Season 2 Episode 3 (of 3)

The final episode of Season 2 of Shetland begins with DI Perez talking to an old friend of his in the pub. The friend of his is now a reporter in London who has returned to the Shetland Islands for some reason. The friend, Jerry Markham, is a reporter and says he needs to head out so the two end up not having much time to talk and plan to meet up ‘later’. The next morning, the desk sergeant gently tells Perez his friend died the previous night in a car accident. Perez goes out to investigate and seems to find evidence of a suspicious death. His boss sends in an accident investigator and is concerned that Perez may be too personally involved. Meanwhile, there’s to be a wedding in the village that weekend. It’s an open wedding and the entire island is invited. The bride’s friends even put a straw bride and groom on the village sign, to let everyone know about the wedding.

Meanwhile, Sandy is studying for the CID exam. When Sandy goes to investigate Markham’s suspicious accident, he interviews a local salmon farmer, who he finds pulling dead fish out of the water. The salmon farmer has lived on the island his entire life and inherited the farm and land from his father. He blames a new gas company for the death of his fish, saying that the water is bad. Sandy also recovers Markham’s phone, though his laptop is missing. The laptop has pictures of the farm and the Save the Sound protest against the gas pipeline.

Perez, DS “Tosh” McIntosh, Sandy, and the new accident investigator continue to investigate – looking in to the new gas company, which needs the farmer’s land to complete their pipeline, the Save the Sound protest , which was run by the bride to be, Evie, her father, Cameron, and her husband to be, John, and other possibilities. The heavily damaged laptop is recovered and shows an affair between John and the wife of a guy who is in favor of the gas pipeline. But they also discover that someone from the gas company was leaking information about the company to Markham. He also happened to be Evie’s flatmate at university.

Seeing that everything leads back to John, the groom to be, Perez is ready to interview him. The wedding does occur, but there are some high tensions at the village hall party afterward. Tosh and Perez go to John’s house and find it trashed and a lot of blood. They call in the rest of the police and stop the accident investigator from leaving for Aberdeen. It’s the cliffhanger between part 1 and part 2.

In part 2, Perez focuses on Evie and her family. He discovers Evie was embezzling money from the Save the Sound fund so she could buy a house in Edinburgh and escape her smothering father. John found out about it and put the money back. Earlier there had been an attack on the salmon farmer’s house, with graffiti and destruction – including “get out” written in blue marine paint. The paint is common on the islands so it doesn’t seem to be much help. However, Evie had used the same type of paint to paint one of her father’s hand-made boats, and there were flecks of the paint inside the car. Perez discovers Cameron, Evie’s father had had a discussion with Markham. John also talked to Markham, even though he told Perez he didn’t. Bit by bit, Perez puts things together, discovering a lot of goings on – old affairs, Evie’s embezzlement, etc. However, when he finds out who murdered Markham and John and that it goes back to another murder years ago that no one even knew about it turns out to be quite a surprise.

Again, the last mystery in season 2 is set in the wild Shetland Island, specifically in Lerwick and the surrounding areas. The mystery ends-up to involve the lives of the people, and the secrets they keep, rather than big issues like whether or not a gas pipeline will be built. It’s a complicated case. I also found that for this particular one, part 1 and part 2 seemed almost like two completely different mysteries, and the resolution of the case seemed to almost come from nowhere. Still, it’s an enjoyable series and it is recommended.