• Tambet Tuisk as Detective Gabriel Vanem tries to figure out who pulled the trigger. (Viaplay)Source: Viaplay
This intriguing Estonian drama offers a brace of suspects – and differing stories – in the death of a tyrannical patriarch.
Dann Lennard

8 Nov 2022 - 4:24 PM  UPDATED YESTERDAY 2:18 PM

When viewers initially meet Otto Mueller – in a pre-opening credits scene in the first episode of Who Shot Otto Mueller? – he’s lying in a pool of his own blood in the dining room with a bullet in his head, his youngest son Oliver (Märt Avandi) kneeling beside him with his father’s pistol in his hand.

Of course, despite the damning evidence against Oliver, things aren’t as clear-cut as they appear.

Like any good Agatha Christie novel, he’s just one of a long list of guilty-looking family members with strong motives for murdering the man on the night of his 65th birthday celebrations in his luxury manor in Estonia.

Otto – played with brutal glee by Jaan Rekkor – is an arrogant businessman and former champion amateur wrestler for Soviet Russia. He’s also an abusive tyrant who terrifies everyone in his family. His favourite anecdote is how he once killed a wolf with his bare hands. The carcass is stuffed and mounted in his mansion as proof.

Emotionally fragile Oliver throws the blame for the murder on his brother Oskar (Mait Malmsten) who entered the room from the patio immediately after the shooting.

The ambitious older sibling works in the family business and wanted Otto to retire so he could take over the operation. But he is also treated with no respect.

It’s apparent both sons have disappointed their father in many ways, most notably their inability to give him grandchildren.

Another suspect is Otto’s long-suffering wife Merle (Liina Tennosaar), a family therapist who has steadfastly stood by her husband for decades despite his infidelities and physical abuse towards her and their sons.

However, Otto’s decision to publicly introduce his latest mistress Marleen (Karmel Naudre) at the dinner table that fateful evening may have been one humiliation too many. Marleen was set to receive a fortune if her ageing lover died, so she’s a suspect, too.

Other potential killers include Oskar’s seemingly mousy but scheming wife Anneken (Hilje Murel) and Oliver’s second wife Monika (Evelin Võigemast), who treats her husband with contempt.

Then there’s Robert (Theodor Tabor), a cocky 18-year-old who unexpectedly turned up at the manor that day. To everyone’s surprise, he announced that he was Otto’s grandson, courtesy of OIiver’s first wife Reeli (Tiina Tauraite), who was secretly pregnant when she left him 18 years ago.

Finally, there’s Reeli herself, who arrived during the dinner to take Robert away from a family she despises with a passion.

All of them hated Otto or stood to benefit in some way from his death.

Each episode in the eight-part Estonian-language series focuses on the interrogation of a different suspect as experienced homicide detective Gabriel Vanem (Tambet Tuisk) and his new partner, ex-narcotics cop Detective Agnes Maramaa (Doris Tislar), attempt to cut through their lies and half-truths to find out which one actually committed the crime.

It’s a clever device as the viewer gets to see the events of that fateful day and evening through each family member’s eyes, providing a different – at times, conflicting – perspective on the same interactions between everyone.

This was a family held together by Otto’s sheer force of will, yet torn apart by his monstrous personality.

Tension fills every scene and conversations crackle with bitterness and anger, particularly in the flashbacks to the uncomfortable family gathering preceding Otto’s murder.

These scenes were shot in and around the spectacular Kau Manor on the outskirts of Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn.

There’s also another mystery in the relationship between Vanem and Maramaa. The detectives are hiding dark secrets from each other, which threaten to derail the high-profile investigation.

Who Shot Otto Mueller? scriptwriter Birk Rohelend tells Drama Quarterly the idea for the series came to her in 2020, after the #MeToo movement focused more attention on the sexual abuse and harassment of women in Estonia.

“At the same time, we had a couple of cases that really brought up this ‘macho man’ idea from the previous generation,” she says. “Men who had all the rights and no responsibilities. I started thinking that no-one has done anything around this topic. Why do we still put up with these guys?”

Rohelend reveals there are some similarities between her own father and Otto.

“He was super-hard to even be around because he always said there were men and other people, and I was the other. You get downplayed every day with every sentence when you’re a girl.”

By the end of episode one of Who Shot Otto Mueller?, viewers will be wondering not so much who killed the awful patriarch, but why did it take so long for someone to finally pull the trigger?

They’ll have to watch through to the explosive ending to learn the answers to that and the many other questions raised in this intriguing murder mystery.

All eight episodes of Who Shot Otto Mueller? are available at SBS On Demand.


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