For an absorbing drama with a mystery at the heart of the story, you won’t go wrong with the Finnish series Piece of My Heart, which recently debuted in the US and Canada.
Set in Helsinki, Piece of My Heart (Pala sydämestä) is a serious (but not oppressive) slice-of-life drama that follows individuals whose lives are affected in one way or another, by choice or by necessity, by the capital city’s Child Welfare Services system.
Two of them are child protection agents Rita Berg (Lotta Lehtikari, Easy Living) and Laura Laakso (Niina Koponen, Idiomatic). With her forceful attitude and abrasive nature, longtimer Rita tends to rub many clients and colleagues the wrong way. (Friends, not so much, as she has none, save for someone she’s been close with since childhood.) But Rita is nothing if not dedicated to her job; she’s like a force of nature when it comes to ensuring that children are protected. Newbie Laura is still on probation, having been in the job for just over a month, and still feeling her way around what she is and isn’t supposed to do. Soft-spoken and mild-mannered, Laura is earnest in her desire to help children in precarious situations. Unlike Rita, Laura has a family to go home to at the end of the day.
The two women become partners when Rita returns to work after a three-month absence. This break was a disciplinary action, as a young girl in her care, Elli Saarni, went missing and was presumed killed. The case made headlines and is now being used as evidence of a child welfare system in need of improvement by those with something to gain. For her part, Rita, who has recurring nightmares about the case as well as her own childhood trauma, thinks the child is still alive. If so, what happened to Elli and where is she? These are but two questions surrounding this mystery.
While Rita and Laura work to get endangered children to safety, the life of 16-year-old Jasmin Heino (Saimi Kahri, Justimus esittää: Duo) is in a downward spiral. She and her mother have been evicted, and their new home is outside the city, dozens of miles from Jasmin’s school. Her father has a nice home, but neither he nor his wife want her there. It’s a real kick in the gut for Jasmin, so she finds herself on her own and needing the social workers’ help — with more to her story than she’s willing to share with them.
As Laura discovers, being a child protection agent can be a 24/7 job with all-consuming work. But what can she do? The young people need her help, she wants to help, she has a duty to help, and so she does — often exhausting herself and putting her personal life on hold in the process. This is nothing new for Rita, who’s basically sacrificed her life for her work and often puts herself in harm’s way because of it. In showing Laura the ropes on cases that include removing abused children from their home, transitioning a troubled teen from youth prison back into school, and helping to fulfill the last wish of a dying mother, Laura learns a lot, not necessarily all of it good or even legal — and soon finds herself caught up in the swirl of Rita’s continued search for Elli.
Elsewhere in the Child Welfare Services unit, the new boss, Jyrki Viherkangas (Martin Bahne, Secret Enemies), finds himself caught between two camps — those working to enhance the publicly-managed child welfare system, and those forging ahead to forward a revamped system that includes large-scale private sector involvement. Had it not been for the scandal of Elli’s case, it would be Rita in Jyrki’s position. These two have history, and it looks like not much has changed in the rockiness of their relationship.
As one day rolls into the next, forces beyond these individuals’ control begin to make themselves known, in some instances revealing secrets that have a profound impact on their lives. The bombshell that explodes in Rita’s life is devastating on several levels, and even she, who has steeled herself against so much, cannot contain the emotions she has suppressed for months and years. Despite her current situation and the fate that awaits her, Rita doesn’t leave Laura in the lurch when the latter needs help. Nor does Laura dismiss her suspicions — which have far-reaching effects…
Piece of My Heart is a rock-solid drama. The acting is tremendous and the primary and sub-plots are absorbing. And what helped clinch my enthusiasm for the show is the characters and stories don’t feel contrived. What is shown on screen is what I imagine actual people in the characters’ positions go through in real life — whether it’s being devastated at being abandoned by a parent, or feeling compelled to bring one’s job home night after night. I became quite invested in the characters and their intersecting stories, and appreciated the ways in which the latter were closed at series’ end.
Written by Aino Lappalainen and Anna Lappalainen, directed by Hanna Maylett, and produced by Anita Kurvinen, the eight-episode drama won the Golden Nymph award for the Jury Special Prize at the 2021 Monte-Carlo TV Festival. Costars include Vilma Sippola (Roba), Manoel Pinto (Joulukalenteri: Tonttuakatemia), Kaija Pakarinen (Deadwind), Amira Khalifa (Replacements), Terhi Panula (The Sixth Time), and Tuomas Tulikorpi (Roba).
Piece of My Heart, a Topic Original, is now streaming in the US and Canada exclusively on Topic.
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