So. Here we go.
Three years after series three of The Bridge won The Killing Times Best Crime Drama Of 2015 – and a further five-and-a-half months after it debuted across Europe – the crime drama against which all others should be judged is finally – finally – back on our screens. And, because of this excruciating period of waiting, it felt slightly surreal to be watching it again, let alone reviewing it.
But there we were. It was happening. Avsnitt I. THAT theme tune.
The Bridge was back.
So much has happened since we last saw Saga and co – and so many series have come and gone – the question on some people’s lips was: is The Bridge still relevant?
Thankfully, after this first episode, the answer was a resounding yes. So resounding a yes, in fact, that you could have heard it on Jupiter. This first episode had a bit of everything we know and love about The Bridge – a brutal and terrifyingly staged murder, top-notch procedural action, a raft of new characters, Hans Rosenfeldt’s ‘second story’ (ie the socio-political angle) and, of course, Saga.
After series three’s onslaught, you’d think that Rosenfeldt might have given Saga Norén a bit of respite. So much was thrown at her in series three there were times when you thought she might not come through it, but series four – if this first episode was anything to go by – looked likely to prolong her grim rites of passage. During series three we saw Saga forced to unpack her traumatic childhood, deal with the return of her incredibly passive-aggressive mother, revisit the death of her sister, and process the death of her birth father and the real father figure in her life, Hans. Add onto that little lot the idea and possibility of a relationship with a dashing, equally as messed-up, Danish detective called Henrik, and Saga’s carefully ordered world came crumbling down around her and challenged her like nothing before.
And series four started off – in writing terms – with a very clever way to strip everything away to the point that there was nothing left for her.
We joined Saga in prison. An unexpected twist, but one that was both clever and necessary for the character. (And also an idea that provided a strange symmetry to Martin’s current situation.) Saga literally had nothing and was nothing. For someone who had carefully built up her barriers and the world within in accordance with her unnamed autism-like condition – and the enormous effort it takes to interact with people with said condition – this was about as tough as it came. Essentially fired from her beloved job – her very reason for being – and dumped in gaol for the murder of her mother (pending appeal), the scenes with Saga in prison were fascinating and, because we’ve been so invested in her and in her journey, extremely involving and tense. How would she survive? How could she survive in a place where she could not construct and control her own world? She shuffled around, literally keeping her head down, that tussle of blonde hair now grey and limp. Fear permeated her every movement, every line on her face.
With only a handful of possessions, her only way to keep a sense of self, it was clear that prison was not good for Saga. I mean, she had had to take up pottery for a start.
But the idea of placing her in a prison was a very clever idea and one that worked. We saw yet more of her vulnerability (Sofia Helin in tremendous form), which made us want her to succeed even more. Something else happened, which has been developing over the series – because of her condition, and her subsequent terseness and proclivity for staccato social interaction, the people she meets often want her to be what they want them to be. They see her as a blank canvass, something to be moulded and controlled. Owned even. Little do they know.
And it happened again in prison in this episode, where two inmates took a shine to her – a stereotypical, psychopathic cop-killing murderess called Lucinda Ardic, and a needy woman who was desperate to communicate with her daughter on the outside and was almost begging Saga for friendship and recognition (she obviously received neither).
Things came to a head when Lucinda messed up Saga’s stuff in her room, which sent her into a violent fury. Why did you attack her, asked the prison warden. Because I wanted to hurt her, came the reply. This from a woman whose appeal was two days away. Her truth filters were as non-existent as ever. This got her 24 hours in solitary. Which Saga loved, obviously.
This little storyline was almost self-contained and extremely intriguing – not least for the ever-shifting dynamics, power politics and territory battles that happen inside a prison. Saga was having none of it and was just conscious of getting through it, somehow. In the end, there was a surprising end to this little story; a cliffhanger at the end of the chapter.
Elsewhere, on the outside, there had been a murder. Of course there had been a murder. A bloody great big murder.
In true Bridge style, it was a gruesome thing – carefully planned and staged (Rosenfeldt does like a tableau or three), and carried out with such brutality (something we’ve actually not seen before in The Bridge) that it made you wince. The victim – soon discovered to be Margrethe Thormod, General Director of the Migration Agency, who had recently been implicated in something called ‘the champagne scandal’, in which Thormod and some colleagues were secretly filmed celebrating the deportation of a migrant – had been buried up to her neck beneath the Øresund bridge and pelted with rocks. Although we never actually saw them, we saw her head snap back with every blow and heard the sickening sounds of rock on flesh and bone.
Henrik was on the case, as was his new partner Jonas Mandrup, a taciturn man who was given to racist, sexist and homophobic outbursts. And it was these two – not Henrik and Saga – who carried out the meat of the detective work. Of course Henrik, who was off the drugs and seemed to be doing better thanks to grief counselling, missed Saga – he visited her in prison (cue another bout of matter-of-fact sex), and gave her the case files so she could occupy her mind. She refused them.
But the investigation back in Denmark continued, and a whole new batch of characters were introduced – Taariq (a gay Muslim man at the centre of the Champagne Scandal), investigative journalist Richard (and his twin brother Patrik) who were getting into trouble prying into the affairs of militant left-wing group, Red October (who had threatened Thormod in the past), no-good cab driver Lars, his ex-wife Sofie and their son Christoffer, Sofie’s creepy teacher colleague Frank (cult leader?)… all intertwined and interconnected. In past series of The Bridge, these peripheral characters’ connections always took their time to emerge, but here the links felt more immediate. Perhaps this series – now eight instead of 10 episodes – will be tighter, especially with a possible serial killer on the loose, some sort of cult potentially at work and the plight of Henrik’s family to be tied up, there is a lot to get through.
As first episodes go, it was deeply engaging, familiar (hej Linn, Lillian et al) and yet surprising all at the same time. I mean who saw the inmate stabbing Saga at the end of the episode? At least we know that if Saga is to survive – she will, of course – she will be out of prison one way or another and will able to build her life back up again.
But really? It was just so great to have it back, and in one hour of television it proved why it sits at the top table of crime dramas, Scandinavian or otherwise.
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