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Shetland, series 8, finale review: Ashley Jensen can't compete with a plot stuffed with red herrings

Ashley Jensen in Shetland
Ashley Jensen has impressed in her first series of in Shetland - Jamie Simpson/BBC

It’s a truism that the settings for detective dramas feature more murders per square mile than Bogotá, but I’d think twice about visiting the fictional Shetland. In this series we’ve had a young woman strangled, an elderly woman shot in a petrol station, drug dealing, blackmail, and a load of sheep being mutilated in what looks like a satanic ritual. Honestly, we could have managed without the storyline about the sheep.

Shetland (BBC One) has survived the departure of Douglas Henshall and the arrival of Ashley Jensen as DI Ruth Calder. Nobody likes change and Jimmy Pérez was Shetland for many people, but Jensen has made an assured start in the role. Unfortunately, by the end she was let down by the plot, which started with simplicity – murder witness flees home with a bagful of cash, pursued by two hitmen – but soon became bogged down.

Too many characters, too many subplots, too many times I found myself thinking, “Hang on, how is that person related to that person?” and, “Is that the same man who was doing that thing last week, or just someone who looks like him?” And, periodically: “Is that woman playing the cleaner also the singer in Deacon Blue?” (Answer to the last question: yes.) My emergency resource in cases like this is the Radio Times website, which helpfully explains who is who in a programme’s cast, but I gave up on that because there were 30 names on the list.

Almost every plotline was a red herring, and listening to Tosh (Alison O’Donnell) methodically go through the details was wearing. The psychiatrist, the child’s death, the mysterious tattoo – none of it really counted, because – well, I won’t spoil it if you’re yet to see it, but the real story turned out to be an unpleasant surprise.

The series has been held together by its regular cast, such as the dependable Lewis Howden as Billy McCabe, and elevated by some of its dramatic moments: the relationship between Ruth and her old flame, Cal (Jamie Sives, always worth watching) was nicely done, and Kevan Mackenzie was great as Cal’s brother. There were good guest appearances too, such as Phyllis Logan as a fearsome matriarch. Let’s hope the next series has a plot worthy of the cast’s talents.

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