Tragedy inseparable from hope – the extraordinary conclusion of Bron/Broen/The Bridge, Series 1

This article does contain spoilers. Either get to iPlayer quick or look the other way

Sheesh. What a dreadful, heartbreaking, mournful end to Bron/Broen/The Bridge, the impossibly tense and brilliant Danish-Swedish TV detective drama that has been airing on BBC4 in the UK.

And yet what a symphony it was in fragile but ultimately defiant human hope, love and kinship.

Noren and Rohde - kinship amid tragedy

Noren and Rohde – will their kinship outstay tragedy?

The protagonists who survived to tell their tale were left bruised and battered. In the course of the dramatic narrative, they had been tormented to the point of mental collapse and total family breakdown, apparently at the mercy of a sadistic psychopath who symbolised nothing less than a human’s total descent from grace and goodness.

Each twist in the plot seemed impossible to follow – and was yet somehow plausibly followed up with a new twist of fate. It seemed impossible that Sebastian Sandstrod, the killer who indeed resembled some kind of human archangel, could succeed in his most centred act of vengeance – killing August, the son of Danish detective Martin Rohde.

And yet Sandstrod did kill August.

It seemed impossible thereafter that Sandstrod would not succeed in wreaking untold havoc by triggering off a suicide bomb on the Öresund Bridge and killing Rohde, his hostage, Rohde’s fellow detective Saga Norén, and (presumably) the passengers of the train upon which Rohde had been lured by Sandstrod. Even if he was thwarted, surely it would be a Pyrrhic victory for the detective duo, shattered by August’s tragedy and the emotional destruction and grief they had been subjected to?

And yet Sandstrod was thwarted.

Sandstrod - a terrible fall from grace

And, in the process, Rohde and Norén were given a ray of hope as they parted ways – surely to return in another narrative and another series, if series is the right word for a torrid, poignant epic that did its damnedest to transcend the simplistic concept of episodic structure and offer timeless moral and human considerations and truths in the process. It’s early days, but it feels as if The Bridge will resonate well beyond the realms of television drama. It deserves not just to influence TV drama, but, in some way, cast ripples in the whole field of drama in the early 21st century.

Two concepts were paramount in the realisation of The Bridge. The first was the idea of the human irreparably detached from civilisation and destined to do nothing but evil. The community in which Sandstrod operated was relatively small. Yet by the time he apparently had both Saga Norén and August at his mercy at Rohde’s house at the end of episode nine, it really did seem as if civilisation itself was hanging by a thread.

In this sense, The Bridge resembled the parable of the classic William Golding novel Lord of the Flies, where the reader, sucked into the unfolding drama, feels that the terrible descent into savagery of the schoolchildren on a deserted island and in a geographically small environment is perilously close to defining humankind itself.

Like The Bridge, like Lord of the Flies - civilisation on the ropes

Like The Bridge, like Lord of the Flies – civilisation on the ropes

Sandstrod was once, for all we can see, a perfectly good, kind and family-centred man. In the most terrible irony of The Bridge, it was Rohde, the man tasked alongside Norén with tracking the serial killer, who had probably triggered Sandstrod’s descent into madness and his change – both physically and spiritually – into a completely different being. The sense of betrayal and vengeance that ate Sandstrod up as a decent person stemmed from what should have been Rohde’s Shakespearean tragic flaw – adultery and an absence of a sexual moral compass.

And yet Rohde did survive to both tell his tale and perhaps overcome his bereavement whilst re-connecting with his current wife, Mette, and his young surviving family. That he did survive, and was offered redemption on one level, was a factor inextricably tied up within Rohde’s relationship with Saga Norén. For even if Rohde were to have died, he would havealready performed a vital service as a human being by helping the painfully obtuse, painfully honest, painfully impersonal, painfully shy and painfully, painfully socially inept Norén to start integrating with society and demonstrating civility, gentleness, tact and compassion in the process.

Therein lay the second vital concept of the series: that of flawed human beings re-attaching themselves to civilisation – and to one another in the process. There were so many important strands in the evolving current of the Norén-Rohde dynamic – but two were pretty crucial. First, Norén’s own bereavement over a number of years following the suicide of her sister. It is an issue she can only start to address once the unpushy, philosophical Rohde lends her an unobtrusive listening ear.

Secondly, the fact that Rohde, whose marriage to Mette was almost undone by his philandering elsewhere, simply refused to view Saga as a possible sexual conquest. If anything, Rohde was anxious to ensure Norén did start to view sometime bedfellow, the gentle and bemused Anton (one more marvellously-realised cameo in this series of The Bridge) as more than just a sex object. And indeed, it looks as if, thanks to the discreet intervention of Rohde, the equally patient Anton would at least see a more sociable side of Norén come the end.

The man behind the marvellous Anton cameo - actor Magnus Schmitz

The man behind the marvellous Anton cameo – actor Magnus Schmitz

By the same logic, Norén taught Rohde vital lessons about loyalty and family – and, in the most tender moment in the series, grasped Rohde’s hand on a car steering wheel when he realised the horrific scale of the events he had himself triggered. Artistically, that reminded me of God and the innocent Adam straining to touch hands in Michaelangelo’s electrifying Sistine Chapel creation – except that, on this occasion, it was innocent human connecting with fallen one. To all intents and purposes, Saga Norén and Martin Rohde were, on this occasion and numerous others, sister and brother.

But human reconnecting with human instead

But human reconnecting with human instead

Therein lies a key difference with the programme which most obviously bears modern cultural comparison with this, the fellow Scandinavian TV detective drama The Killing. In that programme, Sarah Lund, a character in many respects similar to Noren, is left interminably struggling to heal the damage caused not by the disintegration of her family life but by the death of her colleague, Jan Meyer. In The Bridge, Norén and Rohde may part ways and say goodbye at the end – but they have entered each other’s lives forever, and they may yet meet again. (Actually, let’s be honest – it’s impossible to imagine they won’t be reunited in the scheduled second series, our own impotence with regards to Danish-Swedish TV plot narratives notwithstanding).

Lund and Meyer - forbidden survival together

Lund and Meyer – denied survival together

So many great moments in this series. Some flawed ones and some narrative inconsistencies too. Is it me or did Saga not actively tell a lie and say that the man having an affair with Sebastian/Jens’s wife was not known (it was Rohde, of course)? Neither she nor Rohde addressed this matter afterwards – they talked as if a truth had been withheld, which is rather different. Correct me if I am wrong.

But let’s close by thinking about the beautiful little touches in the programme that made it so watchable and cherishable. In list format:

 1) The symbolism of Saga and her team breaking down a physical wall in a bid to rescue the encased August. We dwelt earlier on how the building of the Öresund Bridge resembles the destruction of the Iron Curtain in bringing Europeans closer together. This looked like the Berlin Wall crashing down – but for the fact that it was Saga’s own emotional barriers that were coming down in the process of her own desperate bid to rescue August and salvage a piece of Martin Rohde’s life in the process;

2) The fact that the plot comes full circle right at the very end. At the beginning of the series, Saga, in an act of what seems in retrospect petty bureaucracy, files a report against Martin for letting an ambulance through on the Öresund Bridge at the scene of the initial murder. By the end, she ignores police instructions to stay off the closed bridge because she is so desperate to help Martin and those trapped on the bridge and deny Sebastian his final unspeakable cruelty;

3)  The theme music. Not just the fact that apparently every little pre-titles musical score somehow gorgeously segued into the melancholy dot-dot-dot chords that perfectly corresponded to the fleeting images of illuminated lampposts on the bridge itself. Also the perfect choice of Hollow Talk by Choir of Young Believers as the theme tune – and especially the piercing, devastating lyric in which a lone male singer informs us that ’everything goes back to the beginning’. So apposite in a programme where the two chief protagonists are forced, every week, to both completely re-assess the identity and the motives of a born-again psychopath and also re-invent themselves as human beings if they are to both defeat criminal and prove themselves his moral and emotional superior.

Choir of Young Believers - taking us back to the beginning again

Choir of Young Believers – taking us back to the beginning again

4)  That image of the giant underside of the bridge at the final shoot-out. An empty bridge, a perfect bird’s-eye camera shot, beautiful sunlight streaming onto the few individuals at the heart of proceedings. We think that piece of production might have cost a few bucks – but, to return to an earlier theme, this was the most arresting piece of ’terrible beauty’ born over the ten episodes.

So here’s to Saga Norén and Martin Rohde – and indeed to Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia for bringing them to life. At least two people I have spoken to in the last 15 hours are anxious to see them re-united before the next series (according to Wiki, it’s due on our screens, but not necessarily UK ones, in autumn 2013). If you want to speed the process up, you could try the begging viewer’s letter of a lifetime – or, dare we suggest, try and invest some money in television production companies that side of the North Sea, assuming you have some to hand. We can’t actually comprehend how any recipient might turn it down.

Bring it back soon. Please. Please. Please

Bring it back soon. Please. Please. Please

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6 thoughts on “Tragedy inseparable from hope – the extraordinary conclusion of Bron/Broen/The Bridge, Series 1

    • I assume August was in the box but it made it all the more heartbreaking that we didn’t get to see – it meant the viewer was in doubt right until Saga cracked and realised she couldn’t lie to Martin. The ending was not obvious in any respect – not even with regards to the killer. One interesting point in this regard is that at the very moment Saga finds her own set of values completely messed up (ie whether to be lie or honest) and she is in a complete emotional maelstrom (perhaps for the first time in her life), she still decisively deals with Sandstrod. A bit reminiscent of a classic Doctor Who line about how courage is not about not being afraid but about being afraid and knowing there are things that have to be done anyway..

  1. What an amazing show and an utterly enthralling conclusion.

    I thought the acting of chap playing August during the kidnap scenes was amazing – it was almost too much to watch.

    Unexpectedly I found myself holding back the tears at the end (for a man who never cries!) – partly for the end of the show, but more than anything for the sudden clarity on the beauty of Saga’s character, and seeing her humanity in all it’s glory.

    • Agreed. The August scenes were terribly claustrophobic, underlining the fact that he suffers terrible torment in dying just as Martin suffers terrible torment in bereavement. It ties in neatly with the programme title that Sandstrod strives to create unbridgeable chasms among humans – but that Saga emerges from her cocoon to show that new bridges can be built..

    • If that’s a question, then no. There’s some cultural entities other people love and praise to the skies that we don’t get or simply think are OK (eg Radiohead, Russell Brand, Tarantino). But we accept that other people are entitled to venerate them. If we enjoy a particular cultural offering, we do our best to explain why we like it – and that’s what we feel we did on this occasion. We feel Danish/Swedish television in this genre has hit amazing heights in the last ten or so years – but that’s the same as to say that it might not have done so previously. So overall we feel that our remarks do have a good sense of perspective and and context..

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