For fans of Scandinavian drama, this statement will make perfect sense – we’re uncontrollably happy that we have a new Nordic series to get stuck into. To those who aren’t it must seem weird. Why are all these dicks going on about bloody Sweden and Denmark all the time? It’s a fair enough question. As much as we love British and American crime drama, there’s just something special about a Scandinavian series. An extra something. Perhaps it’s the culture, perhaps it’s the moody landscapes, perhaps it’s the unrelenting darkness. Perhaps it’s even the language. No matter, it’s a time to rejoice when there’s a new Scandinavian series around and Mammon is the latest. From Arne Dahl to The Bridge, we haven’t had a bad one yet. Let’s hope Mammon can keep the torch burning.
No theme music. No fanfare. We were stratight into a hand-held camera shot of a conversation between a newspaper editor and one of his journalists. In a café. A Norwegian café. It’s no understatement to say that one of the reasons we love Scandinavian crime drama is because of the culture. And just being in a Norwegian café – as ridiculous as it seems – gave us a familiar, warm feeling. Oh for a cinnamon bun and cup of coffee in that café.
But we digress. The colour palette during the opening scenes was unremittingly grey, new characters appeared on television news reports, and talked to each other on park benches in short, sharp set-up dialogue scenes.
So far so Scandi.
(We’ve noticed that everything from The Killing to The Bridge uses multi-media really well in its stories – both to propel the narrative along but almost as a character itself.)
When the opening sequence came it was tense and stylish, and featured a young boy running through dense, lush woodland. Foreboding strings and disembodied heavy breathing permeated the soundtrack.
So far so Scandi.
Ten minutes in and it took a bit of a detour. The Killing and The Bridge used music sparingly, but there was a sequence in Mammon that featured young financial crime investigator Vibeke Haglund as she ran through the woods. She became aware of a shadowy figure pursuing her and suddenly the soundtrack burst into life with stabby, Herrmann-esque strings. Soon enough we went straight back to the grey palette and music-less soundtrack – the woodland chase scene was a bit of a jolt to say the least. But it’s safe to say we love the look of Haglund. She has the potential to follow in the footsteps of a Lisbeth Salander as a quirky, interesting female character. We only saw glimpses of her in this first episode but we’re hoping she has a part to play as Mammon continues.
But back to the action. This first episode followed what we would now call traditional Nordic Noir styles. There were natural-feeling conversations between characters framed in close-ups and there was also the added bonus of the key protagonist’s family being heavily involved. This is what gives Scandinavian thrillers real depth and an edge over its contemporaries – they’re brave enough to show what crime does to the people around the perpetrators. And the story itself – about an investigation into financial malpractice among the Oslo social elite – is something that echoes throughout the very best Scandinavian crime drama. With political and socio-economic overtones rippling over everything Mammon does, the message is clear: trust no one.
The fact that lead character Peter Verås is an investigative journalist will lead to many comparing Mammon to State Of Play (which in itself is a pretty high compliment), and in this case it’s not an altogether lazy one. There are definite overtones. By the end of the first episode we were gearing ourselves up, like State Of Play, for a specific kind of noir-style set-up – that of a man, in this case an investigative journalist, who had been forced to go off-road and investigate on his own, with help from his brother’s widow. (An interesting dynamic in itself – the widow blames Verås for the death of her husband, and they’re thrown together thanks to perverse posthumous wish from the deceased.) This obsessed, investigator-against-the-world creates an intimate, claustrophobic world, where only us and the investigator are party to his suspicions. It’s tried and tested, but it’s also makes for a hugely suspenseful journey.
There were a few major shocks in episode one – which is pretty good going for a first instalment. We had two suicides and, shockingly, a car falling from the sky. As first episodes go it was a cracker. We were swooning along to the language, the acting was good, the characters were intriguing and it was expertly plotted as to leave us wanting more. Much more.
Pretty much everything you want from a Scandinavian thriller, then.