31 December 2011 | Yrmy
Flawed, scrambled and gripping
This eccentric thriller was director Hardwick's last major television drama project and far removed from the witty and warm comedies with which he first made his name. It was heavily inspired by the ecological themes of Edge of Darkness, the cynical political vision of Wipe Out and the narrative innovations of The Singing Detective. The series' decentralised narrative, which flicks back and forth in time, guided more by visual motives and emotional states than linear story-telling, drew the most attention and criticism at the time, and has not been attempted again in Finnish television twenty years later. In some ways it is an overplayed device, but it does transform the essentially rather simple story into a more kaleidoscopic narrative, by delaying key information and allowing multiple viewpoints to same events. Above all, it forces the audience to engage their frontal lobes and work for their entertainment.
It also serves as a metaphor for the main characters, who are realistically flawed and multifaceted human beings: the passionate and dangerously driven Helena is affected by Korsakoff's syndrome that scrambles her short-term memory, while the naively infatuated everyman Tapani grasps ineffectually for understanding of the web of machinations around him and is dragged along passively into the fatal of heart of knowledge. As television people, they both struggle for meaning and control in the same way as they direct and conduct the multi-camera studio environment, neither recognising soon enough that their vision is limited and that things are out of their control. Truth will not set anyone free and actions spiral out of hand.
Hence Pakanamaan kartta is not only a dark political thriller but an ultra-cynical commentary on the western industrial culture at the tail-end of the yuppie period and the comforting stories it produces for consumption. The series replays the standard narrative devices, like the dissolution and re-consolidation of the nuclear family, yet at the same time shows they cannot redeem the situation once all the actors have been locked into their trajectories. It is this loss of comforting conventions, moral clarity and easy identification that becomes just as upsetting as the violent and suspenseful surface action as the series progresses towards its climax. Violence itself is sparse, but surprisingly unpleasant when it does turn up. The series was shot on tape instead of film, which only serves to enhance the sleaziness and the narcissistic emptiness behind the gloss of the late-80s culture. Finland itself was at the grips of a punishing recession by the time the series aired, and its attitudes did resonate with the popular indignation over the excesses of the past decade. Still the ending could be seen as a cop-out, but then any conclusion would likely seem unsatisfactory (as was the case with Edge of Darkness).
While parts of it inevitably seem dated, particularly the deceptively superfluous-seeming subplot about a runaway Estonian rock band, the series still stands as a formidable achievement in Finnish television history. It is one of the still too few productions to challenge the uncomplicated black and white world-view and safe conventions typical of most television drama but very alien to reality.