Review of ‘Heartless’ (2014-)

As part of their ‘Walter Presents’ season which celebrates the best of international television drama, Channel 4 are offering the chance to watch the Danish series ‘Heartless’ (2014-). Introduced to viewers as ‘[a]n 18 certificate Twilight‘, ‘Heartless’ is Scandi noir with a supernatural element. (And should not be confused with the British film of the same name). Comparing it to the Twilight series is misleading. Aside from a love affair between a supernatural vampire-like creature and a human, I can think of few similarities. Indeed, the word vampire is not used within the series. The viewer is introduced to an orphaned brother and sister, Sebastian and Sofie, who suck the soul from their victims. If they are unable to stop in time their victim bursts into flames. They must eat souls regularly or they become ‘hungry’ and are called ‘black-eyes’. This name comes from the fact that once their hunger is aroused, their eyes turn entirely black. Their peculiar appetite arises at the age of 12 or 13 suggesting a connection to sexual maturity and puberty. Throughout the series both sexual and romantic desire cause them to become hungry and to kiss means to feed.

Season One, and there is meant to be a second series coming soon, is only eight episodes and follows Sofie and Sebastian as they try to discover how they came to be. This search leads them to Ottman Manor a prestigious private school with a dark past. It is this history, rooted in the witch trials of the 1600s, that is the key to the two siblinds understanding how they can manage their condition. The narrative entwines the past and the present in a particularly Gothic manner. Sofie has a pathological fear of water which is never entirely explained but appears to be a genetic memory related to her ancestor’s unhappy past. The setting also recalls a number of YA Gothic texts with the repressive regime of Ottman Manor presided over by the headmaster, Just, and a trio of prefects being particularly nightmarish. The Gothic trope of the absent mother is also present. Sofie and Sebastian are given up by their mother and Just’s wife is dead leaving his three daughters, Ida, Emilie and Clara (who, it turns out, might be witches). Echoing his control over the school, Just attempts to keep his daughters separate from the rest of the students – although unsuccessfully.

In the opening scenes, Sebastian and Sofie sit in a car discussing how long it has been since Sebastian has fed. Unlike Sofie he is racked with guilt about his actions and wants to discover the reason for their affliction. However, any sympathy we may feel for Sebastian is lost when we release that he is in many ways the more volatile of the two. Having convinced his sister to go hunting, which she does in a club scene redolent of those in the Blade films, he pulls her victim to his own mouth failing to release in time so that they burst into flames. This theme continues throughout the series with Sebastian’s moral consciousness – Sofie tells him it is sick that he falls in love with his food – leading him to become warped: forced into actions he detests and increasingly unable to tell the difference between right and wrong. Sofie though more at ease with her identity is ultimately more sympathetic because in acknowledging her affliction she has more control over it.

Indeed the series concentrates less on physical containment than emotional repression. Though Ottman Manor is the typical Gothic haunted house, the students seem surprisingly free to come and go as they like. They are continually leaving the campus to wander about in the woods. There are repeated shots of individuals and couples moving through huge spaces of wilderness drawing the viewer’s attention to their isolation. It is the emotional undercurrents that make viewing this series uncomfortably. The prefects’ sadistic pleasure in following orders and Just’s increasingly unhinged search for the ‘black eyes’ drives much of the violence. Sofie and Sebastian’s feeding habits hint at both sexual violence and addiction. They are unable to have a healthy relationship. Sebastian starts to regularly feed from Sofie’s room-mate Nadja who is enthralled by him. He does not care for her but relies on her for a food source. Nadja returns to him time and time again apparently addicted to his ‘kisses’ but continually fighting her desire for him. Unlike many YA Gothic texts, she is very conscious that the mysterious and aloof creature she loves is treating her cruelly.

The relationship between Sofie and Sebastian also veers into abusive and incestuous. It is possible to pass energy between them but only through kissing one another. Episodes repeatedly show scenes of the two of them apparently making out. Sebastian also forces himself onto his sister in order to suck from her. Meanwhile, in the Just household, Ida has taken the role of her mother and is submissive to her father’s wishes. Her younger sister Emilie accuses Ida of sleeping with Just though this is never verified. These darker elements make the series far more explicit than other YA Gothic texts. Not only is sex portrayed relatively openly on screen but the metaphors and tropes of Gothic and vampiric texts – sex, violence, death, desire, incest, repression – are far more overt. There is a lack of coyness about what the supernatural represents.

However these elements can also make the series problematic. They are not explored enough to give a clear message regarding sexual violence. There are times when characters and their actions are portrayed too simplistically without a nuanced exploration of their behaviour. In part this is because the script is sparse and much of the story is told without speech. Instead the series relies on beautiful shots of the Danish countryside to create a moody atmosphere. The lighting throughout the episodes is striking: chiaroscuro is used effectively and is supported by the monochrome palate of the costumes. Sofie and Sebastian both wear black whilst Just’s daughters are usually dressed in white – think Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999). Just’s bright house is juxtaposed by the dark interiors of the manor. Visually ‘Heartless’ is understated Gothic which undercuts the more melodramatic elements of this teen supernatural drama. The soundtrack is equally striking – immediately after finishing the series I started listening to everything ‘Roxy Jules’ has produced.

In some ways ‘Heartless’ is a welcome antidote to the saturated colour of fairytale Gothic whilst in others it falls back on teenage cliché a little too often. Would I recommend it? Yes. Do I think everyone will like it? Not at all. But if anyone does decide to watch, please comment below and let me know what you thought.

 

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65 Responses to Review of ‘Heartless’ (2014-)

  1. 10liltoes says:

    Love this series, and just found out about it. Just started season 2, but it
    still doesn’t explain a lot of things. And I don’t even want to tell you how
    old I am. I watch a lot of German and Danish TV.

    • Kaja Franck says:

      I’m so pleased you enjoyed it. Where is Season Two showing? I’d love be able to get hold of it. I thought it was a little different from some of the other programmes out there and its honesty about teenage life was refreshing; I especially enjoyed the slow release of information. I very rarely watch anything other than American or British television to my shame – so let me know if there is anything else Gothic, horror or supernatural that you recommend.

      • Sharon says:

        If Gothic/Horror/Supernatural is what you’re looking for then Penny Dreadful is the show to watch. Genuinely one of my favourite shows and it stars the fantastic Eva Green.

        • firekrank says:

          Ooooh, I know. Penny Dreadful is fabulous. I have been enjoying it so much. It’s very dense and well researched.

          • Yasmine says:

            Like an extended mash up of various English Victorian gothic, folk, horror tales with a little bit of dark history. So Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein meets Brahm Stoker’s Dracula meets Dr Jeckal, Dorian Grey, American Warewolf in England all happening against the backdrop of a Victorian London so can sprinkle in true events, people, places such as Jack the ripper and Bedlams.

        • Yasmine says:

          I know right? Penny Dreadful is amazing and so is Eva Green…love her!!!

      • Yasmine says:

        It has been said a few times now but there is no series 2. Well at least not in the way you’re thinking. There were originally four episodes released as series 1 and that was it. Another 8 episodes were commissioned as series 2 the following year so series 1 and 2. All episodes were later all released together as 1 series for viewing on 40D and Netflix. There are no more episodes coming…that’s it.

        I wish there were more being made as I felt the ending left so many unanswered questions but alas no.

        • Yasmine says:

          Sorry I meant Netflix split the first four that were released as series one and split the last eight into season 2 so that is where some people are getting season 2 from where others viewed all episodes together as season 1 like on 40D. It all depends on what platform you watched it on if that makes sense?

      • Busy says:

        Hi! Can you please tell me where can I watch second season ?

        • firekrank says:

          As far as I am aware, there isn’t one. We just have to enjoy this one multiple times.

        • 10liltoes says:

          There is only season one. If you have Netflix, you can watch all 8 episodes. Walter Presents is showing it on British Channel 4 and depending on where you live, you might need a vpn to watch it. I did as I live in the USA. Walter Presents not only the noir Danish tv series, but Deutschland 83 from Germany, shows from France, Turkey, Poland, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium and Afghanistan.

      • B.Lodermeier says:

        I made a mistake, there is no season one and season two of Heartless. It was eight episodes season one, and I watched it on this wonderful Australian thing called Walter Presents. Walter Presents is on British Channel 4, and depending on where you live you might need a vpn to unblock it. I live in the USA, and BBC, ITV, Channel 4 are all blocked here, so I watched the entire 8 episodes on Channel 4, through Walter Presents. Walter has other foreign tv shows from Turkey, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Poland and a few others. I recently downloaded “Heartless” from ThePirateBay.org

    • Mimi says:

      How r u watching season 2 I’m on Netflix and it had season 1 but not season 2 please let me know how ur w watching s season 2

      • firekrank says:

        Sorry. There’s been some confusion. There’s only one season so far and that is what has aired on Netflix. There is no season two yet.

        • Yasmine says:

          It has been said a few times now but there are no more episodes/seriesbeing made at all. There isn’t really a series 2. Well at least not in the way you’re thinking. There were originally four episodes released as series 1 and that was it. Another 8 episodes were commissioned to finish the drama the following year and depending on what platform you are watching this on depends on how it has been seperated. All episodes were later released together as 1 series for viewing on 40D and Netflix. TIt has been said a few times now but there is no series 2. Well at least not in the way you’re thinking. There were originally four episodes released as series 1 and that was it. Another 8 episodes were commissioned as series 2 the following year so series 1 and 2. All episodes were later all released together as 1 series for viewing on 40D whereas Netflix splits it into 2 series. There are no more episodes coming…that’s it (so unfair)!!

          I wish there were more being made as I felt the ending left so many unanswered questions but alas no.

    • Sam says:

      I understood the season 2 was terminated without reason, was it true?

    • Shanley Wellington says:

      How are you watching season 2? I can’t find it anywhere

      • 10liltoes says:

        Actually, there were only 8 episodes and that was season 1. They never renewed the series. I wish they would. The ending kind of sucked. But what they did in some countries was show the first 5 episodes and billed them as season 1 and then they showed the last 3 episodes as season 2. There was no season 2. That is where I got confused. I bought an all region/no region dvd player so I could buy dvds from other countries and they would play in my dvd player. But all of the dvds of Heartless for sale only have 5 episodes. Not the whole series. I downloaded the whole 8 episodes off thepiratebay.org

  2. Mel says:

    We just finished series 1 and really enjoyed it! (And we’re long past our teenage years!) Would like to see the second series…where can we get hold of it?

  3. Autumn says:

    There are currently 8 episodes on netflix. And I’ve been reading and most sites seem to think the additional 3 episodes to the first 5 episodes is actually season 2. While other sites say there won’t be anymore episodes because of the ratings. Not entirely sure. I hope they continue the series because I loved it and have to know what happens next!

    • firekrank says:

      Oooh, thank you for letting me know. I will check it out. Hopefully ‘Heartless’ is available on all regions for Netflix viewers.

  4. Faeriecraft says:

    Just finished watching the 8 episodes available on Netflix and I’m hungry for more. Hopefully, the popularity of online streaming sites will help to convince the creators to make more episodes. Here’s my review:
    In a sea of overwrought, banal, supposedly dark teenage centric shows Heartless really stands out. Much like Hemlock Grove (another short lived Gothic drama) it delves into deeper moors and really leads the viewer on a dark voyage complete with smartly drawn characters, and a twining story line that grips you hard from the first episode and doesn’t let go. Realistic teenage conflicts and symbolism are woven into the supernatural ones seamlessly.

    • firekrank says:

      Agreed. I thought it reflected the behaviour of teenagers very realistically without shying away from the adult content.

  5. Trevor Stewart says:

    In all honesty I like the show. I’m from the states but reading the subtitles work fine for me in some ways I find my self more interested it the because of it. The show is dark but like nothing else it’s hard to compare it to other shows because of how different it is. Because it’s different and dark is why I like it the fact that it will go places other show will not. One of the better show with supernatural beings. Hope season 2 will be made.

    • firekrank says:

      It’s so dark – which just makes it work excellently. I think too many YA Gothic texts shy away from really exploring the lows of being a teenager.

  6. Yasmine Darwish says:

    Yeah the last 3 episodes are season 2 and they are pretty definate about not making anymore which is why they tied up the ending so neatly. What do people think about the ending?

    Spoilers ahead…please don’t continue if you haven’t finished!!

    When Sebastian and Nadja are brought back to life why do their eyes change like that? Sort of a bright light almost the oppostite of how dark they go before they ‘feed’. What do you think that meant??

    • firekrank says:

      I suspect eye colour change has become the go to for showing supernatural qualities. The difference is colour is probably indicative of their new nature – whatever that might be.

      • Yasmine says:

        Ohhhhh ok…that’s a very interesting idea and does make sense. So you think he doesn’t get to become normal? That makes me feel so sad for him 🙁 all he wanted was to be normal and was basically the whole reason they were at the school. If they could find out what they were and why then maybe theres a chance that there is some sort of cure. As this ends up being the case he grasps the feeling of being ‘normal’ only to have it cruelly taken away. I mean maybe he didn’t deserve getting what he so desperately wanted…His sister always had much more control over it, never killing or stealing it from him and happy to share whereas even when he stole the energy from her at times leaving her sick he didn’t seem to care. She also battled it with true love and we know she loves her as she doesn’t try to steal the pendant, even going as far to tell her she doesn’t want the cure if it means her gf dies. Maybe her brother needs to show he deserves the cure and he has been given a second chance to see if he can prove it. Ideas for another series (I know none are coming but it’s fun to play with). What do you think??

        • Kapoth102 says:

          but why show us the change in eye color for those two if they knew they weren’t coming back? that is just teasing us and making us want more which we do but not allowing us to do so is just plain mean. I really enjoyed the story and for some reason they extended 3 more episodes so that from what i understand as to not leave us viewers in a cliffhanger but then went and did that all over again.

  7. Steph says:

    It was a surprisingly good show! You can watch all the episodes free on channel 4 or 4oD if you’re in the UK 🙂 There were parts i wished had been added to a little more or characters that were fleshed out a little more but as a first series it was great (it annoyed me that at this ‘super strict’ school, 3 prefects caught near drowning a girl and one of them is stripped of his title as punishment but not expelled and one of the other two just gets promoted – what lol!? And he had also heard of the same girl being pushed in the lake by them… I also don’t know how it wasn’t obvious to Emily when the janitor died that her dad has just sacrificed him on purpose (his friend) to make a point…how did she still not see how evil he was?)
    Anyway…
    I thought they left the ending really open which is why i’d hoped for a second series (counting the 8 episodes as the first). There was so much left unfinished/that could be added to – Peter having killed two students (though they come back to life that’s still going to make him a very dark character and a threat), the sisters’ different powers (which were hinted at just enough but obviously have a lot more to them that is yet unexplained), if the school will keep going and there will be a new headmaster/ how they will cover up the other deaths and of course if sebastian and that girl (i literally watched the last episode yesterday and have already forgotten her name :S) are a new species/ type of paranormal – which would be a perfect twist to extend the storyline 🙂
    And thank you for writing a review that not only doesn’t describe them as vampires or compare them to twilight but points out the inaccuracy of both! I always thought of them as succubus/incubus from the first episode 🙂

    • firekrank says:

      Glad you liked my review. I think comparing things to ‘Twilight’ when they are almost no parallels is pretty lazy.

      As for why characters fail to see the evil motives of other characters, I think this is because people see what they want to believe. To accept the most cruel aspects of those you love must be incredibly difficult.

      • Texan says:

        Ok, I’ve just started watching the show on Netflix. I think I get everything including the soft reference to vampires. However, other than needing to feed off other’s energy what are the benefits of being who they are? Maybe I’m not far enough along. But no one’s reviews have mentioned this either.

        • Yasine says:

          There are no benefits of what they are really at all other then they can easily kill people (but they don’t don’t like that, esp Sebastian as he finds control hard).

          It’s like what firekrank, the review writer mentioned, that it’s why it’s a little lazy that people are comparing they to vampires as they don’t get any other special abililites. I think it’s also why it is so important for them to find out where they came from and the reason they are the way the are as they don’t see it as a positive.

  8. Andrea says:

    Wow! Just finished the 8 episodes on Netflix and I am floored.

    SPOILERS AHEAD

    What a great ending. Literally the last few seconds and we see Sebastian and Nadja open their eyes and they’re what? Zombies? Vampires? Probably not. They have become some sort of undead being though (I can imagine the dynamic between them already: Nadja quite pleased with her new condition and Sebastian resigned to be different forever). We also hear a gunshot in the distance and I think it must have been the older sister finishing off their father.

    I agree with what Steph said about the prefects. It was outrageous for the headmaster not to expel all the prefects in one go for brutally torturing another student. Of course as the show progresses it becomes clear that the headmaster has a very high bar for what he deems punishable.

    I definitely got an incestuous vibe from him and his oldest daughter. Something about the way he touched her and the look on her face. And at the end when she shoots him I think she realized that if it weren’t for him, first her mother and then she could have broken the curse long ago. So tragic!

    Forgive me for gushing but just one more thing… Was anyone else confused about Ditlev’s final moments? He is beating Sofie, has her tied up and stripped down to her underwear and then he gets unusually tender, caressing her face and crying. And what’s weirder is that he and she seem to come to an understanding. It’s a very tender moment before she kills him.

    • firekrank says:

      Agree with all your comments. I think Dietlev’s behaviour is meant to show that his sadistic streak comes from a lack of emotional engagement. He has clearly not been given enough love and care.

      The relationship between the headmaster and his eldest daughter is definitely incestuous to greater or lesser extent. Very gothic.

    • G says:

      Actually I think Sophie was manipulating him. I think she knew he was angry/obsessed with her since she rejected him, and she knew she was going to suck out his soul, so the only way to do that would be to get him to kiss her, you know? Hence the softness and the fake apologies. After she shows no remorse or sadness at all, which , if she did have any sort of soft feeling towards him, I think we wouldve seen something there. But no. She did what she needed to escape and get free of him.
      On his end, I think he was so rageful because he probably never heard no before, so he took being rejected to an unbelievable extreme. He became obsessed with her, and was so sadistic, and so when she finally “came around” (seemingly), those original feelings towards her are where the tenderness comes from.

  9. Lynn says:

    Enjoyed the series. Is there a season 3?

    • firekrank says:

      Not sure I’m afraid. There seems to be some conclusion about what is Season 3 and what is Season 1 or 2. So far I haven’t seen anything online about this.

  10. Solvig says:

    To be blunt, while I agree that parts of the script are slightly “teenage cliche” and borderline banal, the majority of the show is riveting. The entire mise-en-scene is stunning and creates both mood and atmosphere that tells the story in itself.
    The way it ties the past and present in sweeping fluid movements is a nice change from the typical American gothic series, and while I do wish they would further explore some of the “just touched upon topics” (ie, the incestuousness of both the siblings and the elder Just daughter) I would not want then to expand upon this in favour of preaching against it. The subtleties here are part of what separates it from the trite “lifetime” dramas of the Americas; that said, each time the father daughter issue is brought up, it should further develop/provide additional insight into these relationships. While much of the gothic themes are focused on sexuality, the subtile parallels between the Prefects and Nazi occupied Scandinavia were a welcome touch.

    I really hope they continue to produce this show (in Denmark, in Danish – not a bastardized American version). It really is quite delightful.

    • firekrank says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. And, yes, I agree: I could do without another American re-make. America has a long history of excellent Gothic/ monsters media so there should be more original content and fewer remakes.

  11. William the Bloody says:

    This sounds such a good series–I wish I’d seen it. And it must have some power for the amount of discussion it’s generated, though that must be in part owing to Kaja’s review–thanks, Kaja!

  12. Nuadin says:

    I was so impressed with this series. I’ve currently only seen season one and I wish it got more ratings then it did because it deserved it. According to the information I found on it, it seems like it was unique to the cancel it was showing on and didn’t match up with their channels normal shows, so perhaps that’s why.

    I also felt like the characters were more succubi/incubi rather than vampires. The life force sucking, it being triggered by puberty (theoretically), and it being influenced by sexual desire all makes sense.

  13. Leslie says:

    Season 1 is 5 episodes, season 2 is only 3. It’s there 9n Netflix the whole thing.

  14. erichsen says:

    is it canceled?

  15. Starr Hendricks says:

    I just binge watched it and thought it was great. I liked the dark enough to put up with the teenage angst stuff. What I did not care for and it is so pervasive in television and movies, is women and girls being at the mercy of boys and men. I hate that us women are repeatedly seen or portrayed as victims. The breath of fresh air was with the young witches, they did kiss some ass so that made me smile. a little. I enjoyed the review.

    • Nat says:

      I agree I feel like sofie was always being beaten while Sebastian was never harmed in any way lol and why was the behavior given a slap on the wrist. But I still think it was good

  16. Nat says:

    I thought season 1 was entertaining as hell. But overlooking some things are necessary to enjoy this show. For example, how is it that none of the other students or parents for that matter really care about all the death happening around them lol but I loved it and I hope that they make a second season soon.
    Watched it on Netflix

  17. Josh krick says:

    I absolutely loved it!!!! It was incredible and dark, and so thrilling, yet sad. I’m dying to see more! Lol how can I find a way to watch the second season? Is there more?

    • firekrank says:

      Unfortunately I think that might be it for the time being. If you liked this though you might want to try ‘iZombie’ and ‘Penny Dreadful’ – I think they are both on Netflix now. They are equally Gothic though slightly different in tone.

  18. Mel says:

    Just finished watching the 8 episodes on SBS on demand. Absolutely loved the series and really hope for more! I think the gun shot at the end was Ida finishing herself off, as she can no longer live in a loveless world, racked with her own guilt and complicity. Don’t question the reality of it – how politically correct to expel the badly-behaved prefects! And the other students and their parents are just white noise…I don’t want to see or hear from them.

  19. Naomi Beres says:

    This is a fantastic and dark thriller tv show. It’s a shame I think that it didn’t get very far through the story line for people to hear about it and grow a large fanbase. I only just found out about the series and thought it was wonderfully twisty and dark, with lots of secrets and well thought out plot twists and timeline stories and how they all connect. It is a shame that it wasnt popular when it was initially released. But I think now would be a perfect time to continue the series as more people are starting to find out about it all over the world, and not just in the country it was initially introduced to. I found out about it and I live in Australia and I think it’s a wonderful series. I hope more people find out about it and they give it serious thought to continue the series!

  20. Fangedbookworm says:

    This show was rather enticing, dark and goth but risqué unlike us Americans would have made it. I really really want more! I’m an avid reader of paranormal romance in all genres and have already reached the end of penny dreadful (kinda left me unfulfilled as well), I am not bothered by the subtitles and would welcome some suggestions. Also I think in the fist couple episodes it was mentioned that the eldest was in her late twenties and emillie was in her early twenties, I assumed they were in a finishing school similar to collage?

  21. Elizabeth says:

    Just finished a 2 night binge of this and really enjoyed it. I would love to see a second season. Searched for one and found your page.

  22. B.Lodermeier says:

    I am also watching Penny Dreadful, which is now over, Outlander season two, part one, Salem, waiting for the Halloween premiere, The Frankenstein Chronicles, I was really pissed when they cancelled ITV’s Jekyll and Hyde for getting hundreds of complaints of it being too violent and gory. Finished watching BBC’s The Living and The Dead, which was really creepy and unpredictable. I was hoping some other station would pick up Hannibal for a fourth season. Orphan Black is really good and been renewed for season five.

  23. aavidrose says:

    Loved the series (caught it on Netflix). Here’s my problem; I’ve Googled until my fingers bled (not really, but ya know…) and I’ve not been able to find ANY information about a song that plays throughout the series. Of course it’s been awhile since I’ve seen it, so I don’t remember the words, but it was sung by a man (and it’s NOT the opening theme…been down that road) and there isn’t any information on the show’s credits, or on Danish websites, or YouTube…it’s like it doesn’t exist…but it does.

    Has ANYONE found any information about the soundtrack (not the score)?

  24. Adrianna says:

    Someone keeps saying that on Netflix there is one series. And Season 1 was the first 4 ep and season 2 was the next 8. BUT.. There is only 8 episodes all together, not 12!

  25. Alexandra dovolis says:

    Anyone know the name and artist of the song playing in the first episode when they are in the car?? Idk why I can’t find it anywhere

  26. jon says:

    Just watched this over christmas, really enjoyed it but hated the ending as we now know what has happened as there is no season 2 to follow on the story. I hate it when there is no conclusive ending and no next series. Such a shame for what could be a great second series. Too many loose ends now!

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