This quirky three-episode police procedural on Masterpiece Theater follows a sullen, street-smart Dutch detective, Piet Van der Valk (Marc Warner), who navigates the seedier side of lively Amsterdam. Each two-hour episode of Van der Valk involves a distinct crime that can be watched on its own.
Solving convoluted crimes using astute human observation and inspired detection, Van der Valk is successful, in part, due to the support of Inspector Lucienne Hassell (Maimie McCoy) and rookie Officer Job Cloovers (Elliot Barnes Worrell). Cloovers is a brilliant, nerdy intern who is barely tolerated by the sometimes overbearing Van der Valk.
Since Van Der Valk investigates with little regard for police ethics or policies, his exasperated boss, Chief Inspector Dahlman (Emma Fielding), is often on the verge of firing him. His partner, Lucienne, as second-in-command, tolerates his antics and supports him, and suspects he is possibly deeply damaged, sometimes revealing touching moments.
The first episode, “Love in Amsterdam”, deals with a political campaign pitting an alt-right wing politician against a progressive, popular candidate for mayor. With two murders involving his campaign workers and a surprise romantic connection, the progressive candidate’s pending scandal may cause the end of his career.
In the second episode, “Only in Amsterdam,” a Muslim worker at an addiction clinic is found dead. Evidence from a religious book of erotic rituals connects her murder to a Catholic nun and two academics who specialize in this arcane religious cult.
In episode three, “Death in Amsterdam”, a fashion vlogger with a number of enemies is found dead. Cloovers takes a particular interest in the case since he follows that vlogger’s posts. In this finale, we see why
Inspector Van Der Valk is irritating and unlikable, a guarded cipher no more. His proclivity towards wrong-headed romantic hook-ups also gets some closure, although maybe a bit later than the mini-series warrants.
Having Van der Valk’s second lieutenant, Lucienne, be a lesbian police officer, not his romantic interest (as in the majority of male-female detective teams on screen and in mysteries) makes for a more original and idiosyncratic relationship between the two. And in spite of–perhaps because — they see each other’s flaws, the two detectives feel even more respect and affection for each other.
The red herrings are often subtle with clues that do not reveal the perpetrator, taking the reviewer on a tangent to another purported murderer. While Van der Walk has wonderful twisted plots, sometimes it is difficult to follow the path of clues, with many characters’ names to remember and clues stacked more heavily in the second half of each episode than the first. As a consequence of clue-stacking during the last half-hour, the middle of each episode sometimes sags as the pacing slows.
An entertaining, challenging set of mysteries to solve, the second and third episodes of Van der Valk are more cleverly constructed than the first.
Availability: On pbs.org