If Iâm honest, I donât think I really associated Scandinavia with violent crime until a couple of years ago. Picturesque coastlines, flat-pack furniture and promiscuous sex, yes. But if the recent spate of crime series coming from across the North Sea is anything to go by, my late night, cinnamon roll-fuelled IKEA sessions look likely to be interrupted by the discovery of a mutilated corpse. And thatâs going to put any man off his stride.
The Bridge is the latest in this line of Nordic noir: a Swedish-Danish co-production from the producers of the critically acclaimed The Killing. As the series opens, a bisected corpse â top and bottom half from two different prostitutes â is discovered on the Oresund Bridge linking Denmark and Sweden. The body is positioned halfway across the border, so socially inept Swedish cop Saga NorÃ©n (Sofia Helin) and troubled Danish family man Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) find themselves teamed up to piece the case (and the bodies) together.
Its stacked high with clichÃ©s, but Saga and Martin make for likable leads and thatâll buy you a lot of good will. Itâs possible Saga is autistic or has Aspergerâs; she is awkward around her colleagues and cannot understand why a woman would ring her husband just to hear his voice. Itâs great to see a character with such a condition treated so normally on television, especially as her peculiar, half-formed relationship with the world is a source of in-on-the-joke humour more often than it is of worthiness.
And this being a detective series, Martin isnât without his share of troubles, either. His son is increasingly reclusive, the case is hitting him hard and heâs got a sore willy. Not sure if the last qualifies as a character trait, but I was vaguely disappointed when it was quickly explained as being the result of a recent vasectomy; I was hoping for a tad more intrigue. Still, itâs a neat way of getting at least half the audience on side. I feel I should be watching the show from atop a rubber ring out of masculine solidarity.
Itâs also a gorgeous looking piece; the washed out colour palette is so pale as to be almost black and white, lending everything an unsettlingly mortician appearance. Never has the label âNordic noirâ? been so aptly applied.
By the end of the opening two-parter, we know the killerâs on some sort of quest involving homelessness and social inequality. With the trial of Anders Breivik in the news, itâs a theme that may be uncomfortably topical for some, but simmering civil tensions have been the underlying thread of this genre. Just as the classic noir cycle grew out of a delayed reaction to the Great Depression and the psyche of post-war America, so the radicalisation of domestic politics, re-emergent racial tensions and anti-European sentiment have given birth to the Lisabeth Salanders, Sarah Lunds and Saga NorÃ©ns of this world.
In short; itâs grim oop North, but compelling viewing none the less.