There’s an Agatha Christie novel, I forget which one, in which the killer is revealed to be the estranged husband of one of the other characters. He’s been there throughout the book, but she’s just failed to recognise him. It’s remembered as a rare swizz from the Queen of Crime and there was more than a hint of it in the two-part conclusion to The Bridge.
It’s a bit of a cheat to introduce so many key elements so late in the plot. Martin’s earlier infidelity might have been nicely teed up, but in a mystery thriller you need to feel as if you could have got there first, even if you never do. Thematically, the murderer being Martin’s cuckolded best friend makes perfect sense, drawing together as it does the A-plot, and the recurring theme of relationships and their cruelties. In modern detective drama, the investigation invariably gets personal, and Saga and Martin had done well to remain detached for so long.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of whodunnit during this week’s double-Bridging, I would first like to draw your attention to what can only be described as the finest scene of the series so far. Having shacked up with his partner since cheating on his wife, Martin is introduced to his colleague’s nightclub lover over the most surreal microwaveable dinner of his life and Saga’s complete lack of social awareness as she lists their sexual activities was nothing short of hilarious. As a colleague she can be a nightmare, but as a character she can put the comedy in hard drama.
“This is Martin. He’s staying with me because his wife has kicked him out.. This is Anton, we have sex now and then.” Golden.
Social ineptitude aside, these two episodes were a dalliance along the wrong track before a stomping breakthrough and at last we seem to have discovered the identity of our disgruntled, truth-telling psychopath – or at least his former identity – after he hijacked a school-bus. It seemed inevitable that the most innocent would be part of the killer’s masterplan at some stage, but thankfully his request was met and the young survived, much to the relief of a gaggle of extras that were drummed up to sit around one television as the clock counted down.
If the involvement of children as the next group of vulnerables was inevitable, then we saw the death of Murdochian hack Daniel Ferbe coming from the other side of the continent. We thought his ecstasy-induced epiphany might have saved him from the chop or that he would be the final lesson, but it seems that Daniel had already sealed his fate many years ago when he accepted a pay-off rather than divulging information invaluable to the killer. Oh Daniel – I shall miss you and your beloved floral man-scarf.
Thankfully we still have Saga, whose ability to find connections is far more developed than her ability to make them. She may still be talking about her menstrual cycle, but she’s definitely grown more self-aware as the series has progressed. At times her relationship with Martin is comparable to that of a curious child and an exasperated parent, yet she’s certainly picking things up during his frequent life lessons. Maybe nobody’s bothered to explain society’s unwritten rules to her before, but she seems interested in them.
Character progression aside, there was plenty for us to get our teeth into this week and tonight’s second episode was the finest of the series so far. We had an exciting red-herring in the form of Anderson and his well-named sidekick Kent Hammer, before the breakthrough came which sets us up a potentially cracking finale next week. The way that Martin pointedly told his wife that they were now hunting ‘Jens’ leads us to believe they had some history there. We know that he cheated Mette before “many years ago”, but who with? Saga noticed that Martin seemed upset by the prospect that the killer could be a policeman at the start of the seventh episode, could it be much more personal than that? Either way, we doubt August will be getting much action on his date with ‘Frida’..
We’re now past the halfway point and, for all his sleeping around and red trousers, Martin is making for an accessible viewpoint character. True, in his gruff manner he might too closely embody the stereotypical Dane (just as Saga could easily be Photoshopped onto the end of an ABBA line up), but the puzzled way he greets Saga’s revelations about her sister are recognisable in a way TV cops and their entourages often aren’t. Speaking of which, it’s nice to have, in Saga, a TV detective who does follow all the rules. Gene Hunt may be a man’s man and a bit of rough for Home Counties housewives, but you wouldn’t want him out looking for your cat. It’d come back stamped on and fitted up for a bank job.
“Thematic” killings are a cliché of the detective genre one can trace back through Whitechapel, Messiah, Se7en and beyond. They’ve become ever more ridiculous, tied to demented psychopaths with bizarre ideologies. The Truth Teller’s “theme” (if that word doesn’t cheapen it) hits a lot closer to home; the hypocrisies of society. Much is made of “victims” and “deserving” in these cash strapped times, but TT points out how we ignore “need”. The subtle cruelties people enact on each other every day are highlighted elsewhere in the programme – August’s arguments with Martin, Martin’s affair with Charlotte Stringer, Stringer giving away her husband’s fortune – but here they are writ large across society. TT’s goal is almost noble – which is what makes it all the more unsettling.
It’s still too early for there to be any big revelations as to the identity of TT, so the programme is busy telling us who it isn’t; it’s not the shopkeeper, the shopkeeper’s son or Stefan. The crime worker interviewed outside the court is a possibility, but I wouldn’t place money on anybody who so closely quotes the killer. More likely, “Frida” is TT – recruiting August to take out Saga as some comment on mental illness, perhaps? – but that only raises the question of who Frida is. Maybe it’s Saga’s other, on-off lover. He’s always turning up, and now she’s blown him out in favour of August, well… Still, I do feel a bit sorry for him. We’ve all slept with crazy girls, but none who showed us pictures of corpses afterwards. Though, I may be speaking for myself on that one.
So a million people tuned in to watch the first double-helping of The Bridge last weekend, which is over ten times the amount of viewers who’ve been enjoying the channel’s old favourite Mad Men since it resumed elsewhere last month. Of course, the irony is that Sky spent roughly a million times more money on their publicity drive. Then again, Nordic-noir ™ sells itself these days, which is more than can be said for the Scandinavian countries in question. The TV companies behind these shows must be making a killing (as it were..) but their colleagues in the tourism department are probably tearing their hair out. Sweden and Denmark look like a bleak, industrial version of a Thatcherite Winterfell.
The people aren’t much better either. Martin aside – who’s “sexy in his way” according to a colleague – there are weirdos everywhere. And I’m not talking about the homeless people or Saga, who despite what the writers say, might as well be wearing a t-shirt with the word ‘Asperger’s’ written on it. No folks, I’m talking about Stefan, a man who looks like a malevolent Starsky & Hutch villain, and one of this week’s many new characters, the strange samurai-sword wielding oddball who lives in an empty – and very secure – flat. Every time one of these fruit loops crosses our path, it’s impossible not to wonder whether they might be the killer. Thankfully it probably won’t be that simple.
TV critics are continually berating the BBC for wasting our hard-earned cash (although The Voice is looking like a better investment every week) but you have to say that whoever’s responsible for snapping up Scandinavian drama for BBC4 probably deserves a pay rise. Swedish crime series Wallander was the first show to cross the North Sea back in 2008, but its success was dwarfed by the arrival of Sarah Lund and her iconic jumper a couple of years later. The second season of The Killing proved even more popular, many of us enjoyed Borgen at the start of the year (expect that to return for a second series in 2013) and the latest Scandi-noir thriller will be arriving on our screens this Saturday, as is tradition.
Produced in tandem by Swedish and Danish TV networks, The Bridge marks a satisfying return to the murky world of murder investigation after the relatively upbeat environs of the Danish parliament in Borgen. “It makes The Killing seem cuddly” said Radio Times’ Alison Graham, which when you remember that Forbrydelsen is often darker and more downbeat than your average Radiohead B-side, that’s quite a statement. She might just be talking about the murders themselves (unlike The Killing, they are graphic and frequent) but from the first episodes, you sense a real malevolence at work here. Those Nordic writers know what we like and they don’t mind giving it to us..
Saturday’s first episode (of two that evening) opens with the discovery of a corpse in the centre of the ten-mile Oresund Bridge, which connects Sweden and Denmark. The act of dumping the victim exactly half-way between the two nations demonstrates the kind of calculating psychopath investigators are dealing with and as this two-hour introduction unfolds it becomes clear that a serial killer is at work. Read more