Nordic noir comes in many forms, and the subtle, frequently understated style of Arne Dahl may not be to everyone’s tastes. Like many Scandinavian crime novels, this intelligent Swedish TV series is a blend of patient police procedural and seemingly mundane domesticity, which serve to give the stark moments of extreme violence all the more impact.
The AD investigations tend to be less frantic than those of The Killing or The Bridge and there’s no single central protagonist like Sarah Lund for the action to focus on. Instead Arne Dahl features an investigative team, an ensemble cast of characters who take turns in the spotlight. Part of the charm of this series is watching from the start as they are brought together to tackle a series of high profile murders.
The ‘A team’ take a while to mesh; each character has his or her own back story which is gradually revealed as the series progresses, and initially there’s a fair degree of conflict within the team. Some of the incidental moments are absolutely precious – look out for the surreal midnight cleaner and his weird interactions with the team… The dialogue between team members is beautifully scripted, too; even in translation it comes over as the kind of credible interplay and competitive needle which goes on between highly motivated, competitive types.
As the series develops over a timescale of many months, so friendships within the group gradually form. The ‘A team’ is a contradiction in itself: a group of individuals none of whom seem to be natural team-players. The interplay between them is as interesting as solving ‘crime of the week’, and some of the tension-relieving humour is laugh-out-loud funny.
Arne Dahl mixes quiet moments of domestic stress with cliff-hanger instances of extreme violence when it seems that the absolute worst could happen to any of the core characters. It shows the human inclination to take solace from abuse and appalling acts of brutality by returning to loved ones, home and family — yet it never beats you over the head with these themes, just lets them unfold in the backdrop to the mystery/thriller narrative.
The storylines are unusual, too. They are typically spread over two 90-minute episodes, which allows for greater exploration of the themes and some quite complicated plot development than in single-episode series. This format also feels somewhat less contrived than the 10-hour (or longer) investigations where early plot threads flat-out contradict later revelations. The investigations also tend to play fair – the viewer is given enough clues to have a stab at solving the mystery (unlike some series where rabbits appear out of hats in the last act…) You get the feeling that Arne Dahl isn’t intended to be a ‘thriller’ as such, but even so it contains some surprisingly grisly scenes and most episodes have moments of teeth-grinding tension.
The excellent soundtrack also bears mentioning. Arne Dahl uses incidental music to great effect – not just the title theme, but also in many of the episodes. The jazz background to ‘The Blinded Man’ even inspired us to buy the CD which forms part of the investigation!
The individual episodes were originally released on separate DVDs, but the box set makes more sense. It’s definitely worth watching the episodes in the correct order, because then you get to follow the character evolution and watch the team start to meld together.
No special features, sadly, but overall this is extremely high quality TV detective drama.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Season One available as a box set from Amazon.co.uk:
Arne Dahl Complete Series 1 DVD
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