Meet your new Nordic Noir crush.
What’s the story?
We’ve had hits from Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and to some extent Norway, but Finland has been the quietest Nordic neighbour when it has come to crime drama. Netflix, however, seems to be trying to redress that balance all on its own. Last year we saw the entertaining Bordertown, and now the global streaming giant returns to YLE, Finland’s national broadcaster, to snaffle Deadwind (Karppi in its native Suomi). And we may have another Nordic winner on our hands.
Sofia Karppi (the excellent Pihla Viitala) returns to her work as a homicide detective in the Helsinki Police Department while taking care of two children after the accidental death of her husband in Germany. She’s teamed with clean-cut, cocky rookie detective Sakari Nurmi (Lauri Tilkanen) – a reformed cokehead – and their first case together is investigating the murder of consultant Anna Bergdahl, who was found dead on a waterside construction site with only a calla lily upon her person. (As Karppi unzipped the tarpaulin and we cut to an overhead shot, Anna’s wan, moon-pale skin and blue lips reminded me of Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks.)
The construction site is owned by eco-conglomerate, Tempo, headed by a triumvirate of Hoikkala siblings – Alex (Tommi Korpela, who looks like a taller version of Jurgen Prochnow), Julia (Pirjo Lonka) and Roope (Riku Nieminen). As Karppi and Nurmi delve into Anna’s story, they uncover some shady goings-on at Tempo, and, throughout Karppi and Alex Hoikkala go at it – one minute he’s in the clear, the next he’s prime suspect.
In the background, Anna’s widowed husband, Usko, tries to come to terms with single parenthood and the death of his wife.
What’s good about it?
Pretty much everything. We’ve had to wait a while for a new Nordic Noir that’s both well-pitched in terms of tone and well-made in terms of tempo, as well as containing characters you really feel comfortable with. Rebecka Martinsson has perhaps come closest in recent months but was extremely flawed and at times infuriating, while Sharp Objects feels like Nordic Noir (albeit set in the stifling heat of Missouri) but that’s likely to be a one-and-done series (as it should be). Deadwind feels like it’s the real deal.
At the centre of it all is Sofia Karppi, a character that at once feels fresh and familiar at the same time. She’s a potent mix of Saga Norén and Sarah Lund – she dresses in a similar way to Norén and carries herself like the Swedish detective, and has an equally brusque manner (although she has no autism or Asberger’s); she also has an obsessive streak that matches Lund. (One line I loved was when her partner Nurmi, making small talk in an Italian restaurant, asks her what she likes to drink. She looks at him witheringly and snaps: “I don’t drink drinks”.) But within Karppi there are chinks of humour to be found, as well a likeability and vulnerability – she stomps around slapping suspects and is tough on Nurmi but beneath it all, she’s still grieving for her late husband, killed in an unsolved hit-and-run in Germany. Her stepkids blame her for their father’s death and hate being back in Helsinki, and this is why Karppi is especially lenient on Usko Bergdahl. As we all know, a high percentage of murders are committed by a spouse, but Karppi shares Bergdahl’s pain and more or less gives him a free pass.
There’s nothing flash about Deadwind – there’s no big, high concept behind it, there’s no hyper-realism and characters and dialogue are believable, full of the Finns’ famed stoicism. And there’s some really good, solid procedural action – Karppi and Nurmi go from place to place, piecing together Anna Bergdahl’s movements on the night she was murdered and her backstory. As you can imagine, this mum of two has quite a few skeletons in her closet.
There’s more, too. Deadwind has that ‘second story’, so beloved of Nordic Noir, and there are sub-plots and dramas within the main framework – there are mini storylines that feature kidnap, childhood sex abuse, drug busts and sex tapes. It packs a lot of Nordic Noir bang for your buck.
In the main, though, Deadwind is extremely atmospheric but not in a showy way. The streets of Helsinki and the surrounding villages are alternately snowbound, rain-soaked or windswept. It’s good to finally see Finland in all its glory.
What’s bad about it?
Not too much. There is an argument to be made that it could be tighter and some of the tangential diversions and red herrings could be trimmed, but really they do add to the plot and give us time to get to know Karppi better. You could also argue that showrunners Rike Jokela, Jari Olavi Rantala and Kirsi Porkka have cherry-picked the best of Nordic Noir and followed the template a little too closely, especially when it comes to the construction of Sofia Karppi. Everything occasionally seems a little bit too familiar.
Why it’s worth a binge
If you’re searching for something to fill a Bridge-size hole. Deadwind doesn’t quite have that same intangible stuff that The Bridge had, but it’s not a million miles behind. Sofia Karppi (and indeed the performance of Pihla Viitala) is a character worth watching and investing in, but there’re lots of other elements to enjoy – the ‘second story’, the human dimensions and emotional depth given to the victims of crime, the procedural thrills, a bit of redemption and those human traits (grief, parenthood) that Deadwind really explores.
You feel that this first series has laid the foundations and followed the Nordic Noir template solidly and well. Now I want to see more of Sofia Karppi and co to see how they develop.
Deadwind is now available to view on Netflix