Opinion: Is Annika all at sea?




Annika is either a TV crime drama, a crime drama spoof, or a comedy. I’m not sure exactly which. However you look at it, the BBC hit series is a contemporary take on the archetypal loner who tirelessly pursues justice, outwits the bad guys, no matter what the personal price. Nicola Walker plays the role of Detective Inspector Annika Strandhed, newly promoted and desperately trying to fit in and lead her team at the Marine Homicide Unit (MHU) based on the bonny, bonny banks of Scotland. Each episode conveniently races from corpse to conclusion in the space of 45 minutes. This is handy on a school night when you can’t afford to be awake at 3am trying to work out whodunnit.

The creator, Nick Walker (no relation to Nicola Walker), and the screenwriters have carefully woven together several multi-layered story threads into each self-contained episode. The complex characters gradually unfold their individual back stories, and we get to know them bit by tiny bit. The cultural sub-plot is very much of the moment, though the dialogue is sometimes choppy and the script does seem to follow a formula. The crime drama scenario centres around a marine-based murder, usually committed by the least nasty person on screen, which is then cleverly solved. Red herrings notwithstanding, DI Annika, has her final show down with the culprit and the cuffs are on. But, as with so many police procedurals, this insightful competence is starkly contrasted by the flawed protagonist’s messy personal life and a crippling inability to solve very much of anything at all in that regard.

Annika personifies that fashionable modern trend of always being switched ‘on’. Her head is all over the shop. She’s stressy, awkward, and never fully present in the moment. When she’s working, she over shares her personal troubles with her subordinates at every opportunity, they have no choice but to listen. When she’s with her 15-year-old daughter Morgan, who inevitably gets drawn into the saga, she seems mentally absent and still puzzling over the latest crime to be solved. When she’s enveloped by what has to be some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, Annika is stuck in her own head, mumbling musings from her mental archives.

For good or ill, the screenwriters have employed a gimmick known as breaking the fourth wall, in which a character talks directly to camera. Remember Shirley Valentine talking to the wall, and the viewer? In that movie, another male writer, Willy Russell, took a stab at unpacking the inner workings of the female mind. I’m still working out how I feel about the integrity of that arrangement. These ‘asides’ certainly hold the viewer’s attention. Between dealing with brutally murdered corpses, Annika casually unpacks stories about her Nordic ancestors and encrypted snippets of her personal history. The viewer becomes a kind of imaginary friend or therapist. Though we’re not actually physically present in Annika’s fictional world, we’re recruited to be involved in helping to process her issues. The audience is asked not so much whodunnit, but rather, who is she?

While the scenery, atmospheric music and production values are truly spectacular, the complex writing is thoroughly crafted and the characters are well developed, I was left feeling quite sad for Annika. She seems friendless, forlorn, desperately casting around to be liked and validated. And for all her career success she’s battling with that most modern ailment, a deep down loneliness and disconnection. I can’t figure out if Walker plays the socially awkward loner brilliantly, or if she’s just playing a parody of herself. Episode four suddenly shifts up into will-they-won’t-they gear, but before that there’s no evidence that Annika has any significant connections in her life. No Mum, sister, best friend, neighbour, romantic partner or community group. The effects of social isolation have been sort of normalised, perhaps even glamorised, on screen. Is this a brilliant work of art imitating life? Or an unhealthy invitation for life to imitate art?

In a troubling reflection of the digital age in which we live, Annika simply sends her inner most thoughts out into the ether, reaching out to everyone, and ultimately no one. It’s a dysfunctional one-way relationship in which she controls the narrative while attempting to befriend the viewer. She’s wrestling with some big stuff, trying to figure out the way forward alone, without any wise counsel from friends. She’s married to the job so there’s just work, a saintly round-the-clock devotion to it, and not very much else. A lifestyle choice of self-medicating with alcohol, and drinking alone, is hinted at. In spite of all her cleverness, corny quips and crime case closures, Annika’s life is out of balance. She does not seem to be a happy bunny, and if I were her friend in real life, I would be really quite worried about her.

Main Photo Credit: Val Fraser

Val Fraser

Val Fraser is a trained journalist with over 12 years’ experience working on staff in various demanding media environments. She has authored/edited thousands of articles including news, travel and features. Val has authored/contributed to nine non-fiction books. A regular columnist, she stepped up to the role of Digital Editor in September 2022 and is responsible for the Sorted Magazine website.

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