Sunday, 6 December 2015

THE BRIDGE Series 3 review

An oddball female detective, labryinthine plotting and permanently leaden skies. The Bridge is back.

Saga Noren: as fascinating as ever. (Image copyright: BBC)

There’s something comforting about the Scandinavian crime drama The Bridge. There shouldn’t be: this time around, Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) is investigating murders where the victims are grotesquely posed with Joker-style smiles drawn on their faces, and have a body part missing. As the nights draw in, there’s great comfort in cuddling up on the sofa to watch the glacial blonde-haired detective, who suffers from a form of Asperger’s syndrome, commute across the flyover of the title on a new case between Sweden and Denmark.

Saga’s in a less comfortable position than ever. In the second series, she didn’t hesitate to turn in her only friend, her humane and jolly partner Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia), after she discovered that he’d killed the man who murdered his son. Now, her emotional buttons are being pushed by the sudden, unwelcome presence back in her life of her estranged mother. To make matters worse, Saga’s potential new partner is blown up and loses a foot, while her father-figure boss Hans (Dag Malmberg) is kidnapped and loses a hand. What a way to start the working week.

With all that for Saga to deal with, there’s plenty of scope for the excellent Helin to stretch the limits of her character. Attending a crime scene in a long coat, boots and leather trousers with the air of a vaguely confused rock chick, but with total focus on the case in hand, she’s a formidable crime fighter. Faced with emotional anxiety, though, Saga rushes into her flat and adjusts the position of books on a shelf, her OCD the outlet for her distress. With a complete lack of social skills, she can also be unintentionally funny: instinctively aware that she’s lonely, at a singles club Saga bluntly asks a potential one night stand if he’d like to have sex with her, leaving him lost for words. Having finally pulled, Saga unromantically sets out her rules for the sexual encounter, which include her preference for the missionary position and no kissing.

When you consider all this, you do wonder how she was ever accepted into the Swedish police in the first place, let alone made the rank of detective. Mind you, if there was a bar on dysfunctional loners in fictional law enforcement, everyone from Jack Regan to Jack Frost would be out of a job, and TV crime fiction would be a lot duller. The appeal of these characters is seeing how they cope on the job with their problems, something that we all have to do to a greater or lesser extent. And compared to what they discover about their apparently respectable suspects, detectives like Saga, despite their flaws, emerge with a humane, if battered, integrity.

Listen - do you want to know a secret?
(Image copyright: BBC)
In Bridgeland, everyone has a secret. That’s true of all crime fiction but, like the seminal The Killing before it, The Bridge has a generous run of episodes – in this case ten – to spin an intriguing web of inter-connections and revelations, as well as develop its characters fully. There’s the man who runs a community group but is a local gangster, who, in one terrifying sequence, forces a young gambler who owes him money to play Russian Roulette; the married CEO photographed having sex with her best friend’s teenage son; the motivational speaker who murders his father in hospital, but who has a sinister female stalker. They don’t all necessarily relate to the main murder case, but the detours and overlaps of these multiple plots are skilfully and rewardingly handled by writer Hans Rosenfeldt. Seeing which ones do or don’t connect with the ‘clown murders’ is all part of the fun.

I had wondered if replacing the jocular Rohde was a good move, but his replacement Henrik (Thura Lindhart, above) has put a tantalising new spin on things. Young and well-dressed, he’s initially seen relating his nocturnal sexual conquests to an unusually accepting beautiful wife. This week, in a shock twist worthy of the Sixth Sense, Henrik’s apparently caddish behaviour was put on a metaphysical level. It’ll be fascinating to see how this unexpected approach plays out.

It’s good that BBC4 are putting out two episodes on Saturday nights, as The Bridge is so absorbing you’ll easily want to spend another hour under a Swedish sky that, in this show, is perpetually and ominously overcast. On the other hand, this double banking means this series will be over in five weeks. Never mind: Saga’s a TV original and too good to retire any time soon.

A case in point is Saga’s answer to Hans’s ex-wife’s inquiry about how different he is with his new spouse: ‘He was sometimes late in the morning. He never was with you.’ Such an honest, blunt yet unknowingly suggestive and insightful remark shows just how much more mileage there is to be tapped in this enigmatic, oddball and fascinating detective.

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