Before Bron /Broen, there was The Killing. After The Bridge there have been too many Scandi crime dramas to even mention the most memorable ones. But there’s something special about this Nordic noir; it set the standard for what follows. The combination of achingly beautiful visuals; compellingly complicated characters, brutally uncompromising violence and off-kilter, laugh-out-loud humour is made all the more intriguing for the worldwide audience because it’s set in that tricky territory between two Scandinavian nations.
We feel comfortably familiar with Denmark and Sweden through the popularity of TV and written fiction, and The Bridge explores the differences in these Scandi cultures. It’s beguiling and at times a little bewildering. And, of course, there’s a teeth-grinding, eye-popping, mind-bending, multi-layered mystery to be solved – typically one with a hard-edge of political / societal commentary and some truly inventive ways to die. Few episodes come to a close without the viewer shouting ‘ohmyGOD!’ at the screen. So when first watched, this series was outright astonishing. How does it stand up to the test of time?
Introducing Saga & Martin
Third time of watching, and as gripping as ever. Great – if completely improbable – plot, great acting all round, and much Nordic darkness. A body is found on the famous Øresund bridge (which we’ve driven over in real life and which is a remarkable thing) and as it’s half in one country and half in another so detectives from the two countries, Denmark and Sweden, join forces to solve the murder.
And then it gets complicated, and tense, and more complicated… lots of personal relationship tangles too, as well as failed good intentions and a careful consideration of something which resembles Asperger’s Syndrome, allegedly. Most people prolly think Bron /Broen is entirely Saga’s story. This first season definitely feels like it’s all about Martin…
A Sequel As Good As The Original
It’s brilliant – of course it is! – but it is also monstrous depressing. There’s a remarkable and impressive array of imaginative murders, involving ships, plagues, poisons… life in Scandinavia is plainly terrifying. And as the whole clever notion of The Bridge revolves around a real bridge, we can be thrilled by the pairing of the same two brilliant leads from the first season. They are of course entirely and exceptionally brilliant. And they solve all the variously unlikely / impossible crimes and live happily ever after. Except…
They don’t … happily ever after. As a study in professional and personal relationships, this is probably the best TV ever. It brings new depth to the definition of ‘gritty’, as Martin’s past transgressions come back to haunt him in the most traumatic way imaginable. And this leads to a cataclysmic moment in his relationship with Saga. Suddenly, all the in-jokes about the Porsche, the leather pants and her ‘special’ nature seem impossibly sad. If you aren’t left feeling hollowed out and faintly horrified at the end of this season then you need to check yourself for a pulse.
The Tricky Third Season
After the events of S2, it was hard to see where the writers could possibly take our favourite Scandi detective next. The result is our least-favourite season in this Scandi-crime series. We wouldn’t have watched it again apart from the need to get back into the narrative to make the most of the final series.
But it wasn’t as awful as we recalled, despite being significantly less brilliant than the earlier episodes. Saga’s new partner, Henrik, certainly can’t fill Martin Rohde’s shoes, but he’s an interesting character. Her new boss, Linn, was less irritating this time around, and fat Freddie was actually very engaging. The main mystery involving his surrogate child is actually very well constructed.
But the other theme – the calculated destruction of Saga’s psyche and her identity as a competent detective – was still pretty grim, and we winced all the way through at the number of times the writers pushed her away from the persona they’d developed in the first two series. Rumour has it that the actor who plays Martin simply refused to return to his role when he saw what the writers had planned for our favourite pair of police investigator.
Criticisms aside, it’s still striking how powerful Scandi crime drama can be – even when it’s compromised like this – compared to the vast majority of TV shows.
A Fitting Finale
When some long-running series come to a definite end, they’re often accompanied by a melancholic sense of loss. I will admit to snivelling miserably during ST:TNG’s All Good Things, for instance. But with the final season of The Bridge, my overwhelming sensation was one of relief – particularly that the writers veered away from destroying Saga Norén and instead gave her a swansong worthy of this unique, captivating character.
The series plot is really rather clever, too. If Saga is the keystone of The Bridge, then Martin Rohde’s story propels the first two seasons. Seasons three and four are all about Henrik, and the mystery surrounding his lost wife and children. Without giving the game away entirely, The Bridge IV delivers a masterclass of ‘show don’t tell’ in revealing exactly what happened to Henrik’s family…
It also allows Saga to take control of herself and her destiny. The series lost a lot of its intimate humour when Martin was written out, and Saga’s story turned traumatic. But the eventual ending lived up to the character’s potential and Sofia Helin’s superb acting skills.
And, yup, I was kinda misty when she answered her phone in the show’s final moments, and didn’t say ‘Länskrim Malmö.’
What might happen if The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo came up against someone like Jack Reacher?
That’s just the tip of the icepick in the Killing Sisters trilogy…