During our short acquaintance with him we have divined that our veteran Detective Inspector Martin Beck (Peter Haber) is not exactly comfortable in his own skin (the Swede shares a lot in common with Morse). Both like to think of themselves as cerebral and neither can quite get a handle on the seamier side of life – something of a handicap for a detective in a capital city. So it is just as well that Beck works with colleagues who can get down and dirty in the fleshpots, particularly Gunvald Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt).
Teenager Denise Andersson is found strangled amid the detritus of a coke and booze binge in a Stockholm hotel room in Stureplan – the city’s equivalent of Mayfair. It appears that she is the victim of a double rape after a night’s clubbing with two ‘trustafarian’ types. But the room was paid for with a credit card belonging to wealthy mugging victim Peter Ahre (Niklas Hjulstrom), whose alibi sounds flimsy – he says he was being attacked elsewhere at the time. Beck and Larsson investigate under the supervision of their rather anguine, slick-haired new boss Klas Freden (Jonas Karlsson).
But Ahre’s tale stacks up; his stolen luxury car – taken at gunpoint by two Asian boys – is tracked to a ghetto in the suburbs. It wasn’t these boys who used his credit at the posh hotel, either. The sweaty hotel concierge identifies Ahre’s son Emil and his friend as the boys withDenise in room 302.
But they are not the only suspects, as Denise’s construction worker ex obviously could not accept that she’d chucked him in a tragic attempt to transcend her lower middle-class roots and run with the jet set.
Using the usual TV police series convention that the guilty party is an early witness the police quiz and swiftly pass over, we can divine that it is the hotel reception desk-jockey whodunit.
But the murder plot and its detection are not the compelling aspects of this episode; the glimpse we get into the psyche of class warrior Larsson is intriguing. His background is not as proletarian as he’d have everyone believe.
As he and his junior Oskar Bergman (Mans Nathanaelson) leave the Ahres’ swanky snow-covered Christmas-card mansion after questioning them, we find out that Larsson had once lived in the area in ”another era, another life”.
Larsson’s ability to confront sordid crimes using swagger and bully-boy tactics serves him well – there’s obviously nothing he enjoys more than emulating his favourite hard-bitten literary crime fighters.
But when Freden suggests a sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut plan to send a SWAT team to arrest the Asian mugging suspects, Larsson’s casual racism – that the van “even as Ali Baba” will be seen – makes a valid point. Larsson and Beck obviously disapprove of the idea, but let it slide – and the battle-bus sparks a riot on the block. The two later have a Cagney & Lacey moment in the loos when they decide Freden is insidiously trying to drive a wedge between them by ingratiating himself with them separately. It doesn’t wash – the two are solid. Beck: “What do you think of him?” “Nice shoes,” shrugs Larsson.
And he definitely didn’t get the memo about anti-sexism awareness training (Sweden is often said to be the equality capital of the world). His objectivisation of female colleagues, which he’d probably defend as banter – is also problematic. He causes Beck to double-take when he suggests that curt new pathologist Bergstrom (Asa Karlin) is ‘nicer-looking’ than her predecessor, and voices doubts about the abilities of businesslike young CSI Gunilla (Anu Sinisalo).
But in a scene with his teenage niece – whom he yanks out of a nightclub to protect her from rakes with an over-developed sense of entitlement – Larsson drops his blokey façade and reveals his non-judgmental, sensitive side. In a firm but gentle warning about the danger she’s putting herself in, he tells her the dead girl “did nothing wrong” either.
He also surprises us by explaining to Oskar who violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini was. Yes, Larsson is a whole heap of contradictions and certainly the most rounded character in Beck so far.
Martin Beck is proving more enigmatic. Is he a loner – or just lonely? It seems that even stilted chat on the balcony with a superannuated hippie neighbour is preferable to a bottle of whisky and his own company of a night.
Episode 2 – Room 302 – made in 2014, was actually episode 1 series 5 when it aired in Sweden – the show had been on hiatus from 2009 until 2015, so the odd chronology of BBC4’s screenings is going to make it tougher to keep up with Larsson’s haircuts as well cast line-ups.
For our episode one review go here