End of Summer review – a nightmarish thriller about a terrible therapist

It feels as if it has been quite some time since the Nordic noir powerhouse produced any real TV bangers, with the exception of bleak Danish drama Prisoner, which came to the UK earlier this year. End of Summer is adapted from the bestselling crime novel by the Swedish writer Anders de la Motte and it is another solidly OK psychological thriller. It hangs around the fringes of darkness, but rarely revs up enough to pull away from a collection of familiar thriller tropes.

In the mid-00s, a woman named Vera (Julia Ragnarsson) works as a grief counsellor in a psychiatric hospital, where a man with a clipboard conspicuously supervises her group, taking notes on what she is up to. Vera is under supervision, having slept with a patient at her old practice, where she lost her job and her licence. That hasn’t stopped her being allowed to run a group for grieving psychiatric patients in a hospital setting, but perhaps they are very short staffed.

As befits the lead in any show of this ilk, Vera is troubled. She claims to her old boss, from whom she is trying to get her old job back, that she is more than capable of acknowledging her lapse in professional judgment, that she has no contact with her former patient/lover, and that she is completely, totally fine. Then she goes and sits outside her ex’s house and watches him play guitar through his window at night. There are more issues in Vera’s life. She is prone to self-destructive behaviour. She acts impulsively and irrationally. She is a quite terrible therapist, having no sense of confidentiality, boundaries or patient welfare. If she were better at her job, the plot would be a lot less melodramatic, but “professional behaves in professional manner, calmly going about her business” tends not to be the stuff of meaty thrillers.

‘Troubled’ … grown-up Vera (Julia Ragnarsson) in End of Summer. Photograph: Dawid Olczak/BBC/Viaplay Group AB and Harmonica Films AB

Naturally, there is a past to excavate here, which explains the reasons behind some of Vera’s current problems. Twenty years ago, in 1984, her younger brother Billy disappeared from their home, never to be seen again. It was a famous case, and with the anniversary approaching, a journalist begins to circle, reopening old wounds. At the same time, a mysterious young man – and from those words alone, you might already have had a guess who this mysterious young man could be – turns up at one of Vera’s therapy sessions, claiming to have recently discovered that he is adopted, and reporting fractured childhood memories of a search for a missing person. He remembers a black cat weathervane, just like the one on Vera’s old family home. In fact, many of the details coincide perfectly with Billy’s disappearance. So who is he? And why does it take so long for Vera to ask the right questions about him?

End of Summer is gripping enough, in that it establishes a captivating, if by-the-book, central mystery and does a sufficient amount of work to make you want to stick around for the resolution. Much of it is told in flashback, in the days immediately preceding Billy’s disappearance. Vera’s memories of her mother, Magadalena, whose mental health problems are evident before her son disappears, are presented with a hazy eeriness, and they are where End of Summer is at its most chilling. Magadalena is overly protective of her youngest son and cruelly dismissive of her daughter. Some of those flashback scenes are beautifully dream-like, before they dissolve into nightmares.

There has always been one clear suspect in Billy’s disappearance: a man named Tommy Rooth, who was never convicted of a crime, but went into hiding and changed his identity. When Vera reluctantly returns to her home town, where her surviving family members still live, she uncovers the kind of secrets that only a return to one’s home town after many years away can reveal. There is more to Rooth’s involvement with her family than she knows, and plenty of local characters willing to provide her with those essential pieces of the puzzle.

One of the issues here is that it can be harder to adapt popular crime fiction to the screen than it might seem. What often glides by on the page, those bold coincidences and contrivances, are more jarring when you watch them than imagine them. This suffers from that and it is stodgy in places, with its lonely, troubled woman in the lead who is constantly making the wrong call. Still, the plot just about holds, and there are moments of mystery and intrigue – if you can accept its steady pace.

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End of Summer aired on BBC Four and is on BBC iPlayer now.

The Guardian

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