Something rotten in the state of BelgiumSalamander
is a Belgian-set TV thriller series made in 2012 as a cross-European collaboration, primarily produced by VRT.
It centres on skullduggery at the Jonkhere Bank, a small private bank in Brussels. In what at first looks like a straighforward heist, 66 safe deposit boxes belonging to the most powerful people in Belgium are robbed. The owners want to keep the thefts under wraps, ostensibly to avoid bad publicity and depositors losing confidence in bank security. However, maverick cop Paul Gerardi (Filip Peeters) throws himself into the investigation, despite being warned off the case. Gerardi discovers that the victims are members of a secret organisation called Salamander, made up of the country's industrial, financial, judicial and political elite, and the safe-deposit boxes contained their most intimate secrets Ė secrets which go back to World War II, and could bring down the nation. Persuasion
soon follows theft of the boxes, and several compromised people choose suicide as the only option. As he becomes the target of both the criminals and the authorities, Gerardi - at great personal cost - must quickly find out what their agenda is and who is behind the thefts. Sub-plots involve Gerardi's home life and disintegrating marriage, and his own single lapse into corruption - falsifying a police operation that went wrong so as to save a colleague from disgrace. The colleague, who shot a man dead needlessly, was so shaken he became a monk. He has also, unknown to Gerardi, betrayed him by having had an affair with his wife. The same ex-colleague also betrays him to Salamander.
Broadcast in Europe in late 2012, and on the BBC in January-March 2014 - this was BBC 4
's first Belgian acquisition. In Flemish, with some French, this is a twisty and compelling tale, but not one containing strong female characters. An English-language remake is planned, possibly by the BBC, and and a second series of the original, again featuring Peeters as Gerardi, is currently being made.
Tropes which may not be all they seem and which have the power to bring down a Western democracy include:
- Bechdel Test: Pretty much failed - there are no female cops and most of the women are secretaries. The nearest to a female lead is a bored trophy wife, and Gerardi's wife and daughter only exist to provide plot-tension.
- Belgium: the setting. The viewer may want to read these notes to get useful background information, or aspects of the series might remain opaque.
- It is significant, in a Belgian context, that at their "board meeting", the Salamander baddies are all speaking French, while Gerardi and the good guys converse in good honest everyday Flemish. Seriously highly-placed people in the Brussels administration - admittedly not all of them are corrupt - also speak French.
- Just to lampshade this subtle point, the only time the Salamander boss speaks Flemish is to interrogate their political pawn NoŽl, who they are grooming as their puppet cabinet minister (in charge of the police, legal system and national security). The implication is clear: French is the language of the rulers, and Flemish that of the ruled, spoken only to instruct the serfs.
- Bilingual Bonus: Belgium has at least two official languages. Both Flemish and French are used in the show. See above for the subtle point being made.
- Blackmail: The action begins with a bank heist where safety deposit boxes are identified and broken into. Right away, one robber cautions another not to get greedy and steal jewellery, cash or other valuables. All they are after are photographs and incriminating documents to use for blackmail purposes - the rest is sent back to the owners.
- Cowboy Cop: Gerardi.
- The Convenient Store Next Door: the bank robbers use the cover of being street workmen setting up a tent over a manhole in the street. Right next door to the bank.
- Due to the Dead: the vicious NoŽl orders his hit-men to strip naked the corpses of a murdered public prosecutor and his blameless secretary (she was in the wrong place at the wrong time) and arrange them in bed in a sexual position, so as to degrade them further and give the press a salacious angle to seize on.
- The Exile: Carl Cassimon, whose guilt at killing a man (and at having had an affair with Gerardi's wife) leads him to quit the police and become a monk. He goes on to betray Gerardi a second time when, on the run and looking for cover, he asks for sanctuary at the monastery.
- Locked Away in a Monastery: Carl Cassimon. Although this is Belgium and the monastery brews seriously good beer, possibly by legal statute. It also has snooker tables, Internet access, and comfortable cells.
- No Party Given: We don't learn the affiliations of any of the politicians featured. In Senator Rasenberg's case, the only hint we get is that he isn't a socialist.
- Scenery Porn: the locations for filming look like a travel documentary for holidaying in Belgium: Brussels landmarks, rolling countryside, historic buildings, etc.
- Stuffed Intothe Fridge: Yolande, the judge's secretary, is sexually degraded after her death.
- Woman Scorned: Karin Rasenberg. Neglected by her husband and rejected when she offers herself to Gerardi, she sets about getting revenge on both.
- World War II: Salamander has its roots in a Second World resistance operation of that name.