• Sibel Kekilli as Madina in ‘Bullets’. (SBS)Source: SBS
When a terrorist everyone thought was dead turns up in Helsinki, an undercover cop is sent to get close to her. But how close is too close?
12 Jun 2019 - 11:11 AM  UPDATED 13 Jun 2019 - 9:53 AM

In Bullets, it’s all about the relationships.

Produced by the team behind The Bridge, The Killing and the hugely successful Millennium trilogy of films, it’s a hard-edged thriller where the focus is a game of cat and mouse between two women – both driven, both at the top of their game, both willing to put their life on the line to get the job done. For one of them, that job is all about protecting lives. For the other, murder is simply a means to an end.

Zamira Hoxha (Sachli Gholamaliza) arrives in Helsinki seeking political asylum, just one of a steady stream of people looking to start a new life in the West. So why are the security services suddenly extremely interested in this one woman? Because Zamira is actually Madina Taburova (Sibel Kekilli), previously one of the most wanted terrorists in the world. For years she’s been presumed dead. Is she trying to start her life over again, or is this just the beginning of another round of terror?

Undercover agent Mari Saari (Krista Kosonen) is assigned to the case. Her role: to infiltrate Madina’s inner circle and find out what she’s planning in Europe. Once, Madina was a “black widow”, a terrorist notorious for her ability to recruit young girls as suicide bombers. But the closer Mari gets to her, the closer a connection she feels to her. Will she still be able to do her job if that involves taking down someone who in another life could have been just like her?

If you’re getting Killing Eve vibes from this set-up, you’re not wrong. It’s a series that’s as much about the connection between the two women as it is about the plot twists and turns you’d expect from a spy drama. The difference is, here the women involved in the game of cat and mouse are sitting right across from each other – and while the bond between them is real, they’re both hiding behind lies that could get them killed.

For Mari, making a connection with someone is the first real thing she’s felt in years. For her, her job is her life; Mari isn’t even her real name, it’s just the one she was given for her latest assignment. For each job she’s given a new identity, a new life that she hopes will take her just that little bit further from the one she’s running from – the one where her parents died in a car crash when she was 12 years old.

Since then she’s known the world could fall apart around her at any moment. It’s better to stay on the edge, never settle down, because that way you can’t get hurt. But getting close to Madina helps her get in touch with a side of herself she’s long buried, and when she meets older narcotics cop Tommi (Tommi Korpela) she forms an unlikely connection with him. He thinks she’s a social worker; is it going to be a case of what he doesn’t know will get him killed?

Helsinki has long been a hot spot for espionage and this backdrop gives the spy drama here a gritty edge that it carries with it as the action moves to the underworlds of Belgium and Georgia.

What really makes this series stand out is the approach it takes with Madina. As a terrorist with a bloody past – and with the Russian president heading to Finland for energy talks – it’s more than possible she’ll soon have even more blood on her hands. It’d be easy to make her a simple bad guy, or even a charming psychopath.

Instead, Bullets works hard to give her an all-too-human backstory. During the second Chechen War her husband was shot dead and their farmhouse was burned to the ground. She escaped with their baby daughter, but the only way to keep the child safe was to send her away. After that, revenge was all she had to live for – until the point when she realised that revenge was no life at all.

The question now is, can she really escape from her past? Or will she return to the violence that’s been at the heart of her life for so long – and if so, will Mari be able to stop her?


The full season of Bullets is streaming at SBS On Demand:

Follow the author here: Twitter @morrbeat

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