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Series / Salamander

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There's something rotten in the state of Belgium

"Everyone has secrets. But these secrets can bring down a nation."

Salamander is a Belgian-set TV thriller series made in 2012 as a cross-European collaboration, primarily produced by VRT.

The first season 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 – 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.

The second season starts with a death of an asylum seeker named Léon Tchité. During Paul's investigation into his death, he finds out that his death was no coincidence and it's somehow linked to a blood diamonds network operating in Europe from Belgian soil.

Broadcast in Europe in late 2012, and on the BBC in January-March 2014, this was BBC4's first Belgian acquisition. In Flemish, with some French, this is a twisty and compelling tale. The second season aired from April 14th in 2018 on BBC4.

The show has been available via Netflix. Attempts to do a remake have been stalled for now.

Tropes which may not be all they seem and which have the power to bring down a Western democracy include:

  • The Atoner: 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.
  • 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 it's only at the Salamander "board meeting" we see anyone ever 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 at the meeting speaks Flemish is to interrogate their political pawn Noël, 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 jewelery, 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.
  • Conspiracy Thriller: The series is a good example, with two conspiracies running-one to blackmail members of Salamander, a secret society with deep power throughout Belgian society, plus their counter-conspiracy to cover up and stop it.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Gerardi just happens to meet the daughter of the man behind the revenge plot against Salamander as their daughters attend the same boarding school. This allows him to unravel the plot after he meets her father and realizes who he is. Without this, the plot would not have been solved at all.
  • 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.
  • Cowboy Cop: Gerardi.
  • Driven to Suicide: A number of people kill themselves due to blackmail.
  • Due to the Dead: Cruelly averted. The vicious Noël orders his hit-men to strip naked the corpses of the public prosecutor and his blameless secretary after his hitmen murder them (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, while also distracting from how they actually died.
  • Foreign Ruling Class: This motif is used to make a point about Belgian society and government. While the "good guys" fighting to get to the heart of the quasi-governmental conspiracy that threatens to rip Belgium apart are all Flemish, the highly placed people at the heart of the scandal are all French-speaking Belgians. When the conspirators are seen, they speak French together: the only time they use Flemish is to instruct employees and servants. The implication is clear (Salamander was made by Flemish TV, so this might not be an objective point). Flemish is the language of the serfs and peasants; French is that of a ruling class who do not have the best interests of the Belgian people at heart.
  • French Jerks: The Salamander conspirators. The higher-order French Jerks who represent a self-styled élite seeking to rule Belgium's honest Flemish people, for their own good, naturally.
  • 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.
  • The Plan: The blackmail of Salamander members which drives the series.
  • Scenery Porn: The locations for filming look like a travel documentary for holidaying in Belgium: Brussels landmarks, rolling countryside, historic buildings, etc.
  • Shadow Government: The villains are a shadowy elite seeking to capitalise on ethnic and linguistic division, and to take over Belgium.
  • Woman Scorned: Karin Rasenberg. Neglected by her husband and rejected when she offers herself to Gerardi, she sets about getting revenge on both.