No-one has looked forward to the second series of Bron/Broen/The Bridge, starting on BBC4 tonight, as much as us (well, apart from the audience of more than a million that tuned in for the first series. Hello to all you hardcore Bridgers and an encouraging wave to all you hardcore Bridgers-to-be waiting to see what the fuss is about).
As an hors d’oeuvres, we thought we’d pick over the pieces of an article by Andrew Billen in today’s Times entitled ‘Never mind the crime solving, The Bridge is really all about sex’. Following some interviews with the actors at the heart of the show, Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia, the newspaper tells us that the stars of the show believe that the secret of the show’s success is that ’50 years of sexual permissiveness is being called to account by television’.
No-one would deny that a driving theme in the first series was that of Martin Rohde’s insatiable sexual appetite and his propensity for infidelity. It’s clear that a ‘big revenge’, as Bodnia describes it in the article, was being exacted, especially when one thinks of the death meted out to Rodhe’s son by Rohde’s former colleague, Jens Hansen (alias Sebastian) as retribution after Rohde slept with Hansen’s wife.
However, as we have pointed out here already, it is not just morally flawed adults who are called to account in The Bridge. One particularly disturbing and distressing factor is that characters such as the young teenager Anna and the homeless, mentally unstable Sonja, the sister of well-meaning but ultimately self-destructive social worker Stefan, also meet a tragic end or are left socially isolated and without the protection they need in order to forge a relatively happy existence.
Neither of these characters can be described as great sinners, however (Anja’s shoplifting is pretty trivial when placed next to the toxic narcissism of journalist Daniel Ferbé) and surely the reason the first series struck a chord is that society as a whole appears to be called to account; Anja and Sonja may be naive loners, but one is left with the enduring feeling that that is not entirely their fault and that they have been estranged or cast to the fringes of society by a political system that is not catering for of its subjects as well as it might. Sexual permissiveness is an important theme in The Bridge, but we wouldn’t like to sell the show short ourselves by suggesting that it exclusively revolves around priapic urges.
In the same vein, we feel that the statement in the article that Saga Norén, the female detective played by Helin, ‘also slept with partners randomly in the first series’ boils down a complex and sophisticated narrative to a quick one-sentence precis that anyone not au fait with the series can (mis)understand. Saga only has one known sexual partner in the whole of the first series, Anton. She spends the night with Martin’s son, August, but is at pains to point out she didn’t have sex with him. Being a disturbingly honest person, it’s highly unlikely she’s telling whoppers on this occasion.
We are not surprised that Helin, in an interview featured in this article, bristled at the notion that Saga was promiscuous; not only is it made clear after Saga has had sex with Anton (however perfunctorily) that she is interested in seeing him again, but it is also made clear over the course of the series narrative that the pair are, in their own fumbling, clumsy, yet stoical (and very shrewdly observed) way, on the verge of forging a meaningful relationship in the face of Saga’s much-discussed emotional and social dyslexia and Anton’s initial hesitation and bemusement about trying to engage with someone like Saga, who, as the article puts it, is ‘on the autistic spectrum’. The article claims that in the new series, there are signs that Martin and Saga ‘are clear to clean up their acts’, but the truth is that, in terms of her intimate personal relationships, there were signs of this throughout the first series as far as Saga was concerned (that’s why her development as a human being was so endearing).
In fact, come the end of the article, where Billen claims that some of the viewers of the first series ‘may even have cared as much about the whodunit plot as the detectives’ sex lives’, one wonders how much intelligence he really credits the audience with. Anyone preoccupied with the incessant ‘discussing of Uganda’, as Private Eye magazine once put it, could easily go and watch cable or go down the dirty DVD shop where the base gratification and the prospect of intellectual starvation would be far greater than watching BBC4 (or indeed, the range of titles put out by Nordic Noir to date).
Martin and Saga – at the heart of something other than a crime-laden bonkbuster
One of the most arresting and poignant scenes of series one was that where Anton, seeing Saga apparently stride off towards a new dangerous situation in her role as full-time cop, gazed worriedly at her amid a crowd of people also enveloped in consternation. Bodnia and Helin are right to highlight sex as a key element of the series, but one wonders if Billen himself is dwelling on it too much when the subtleties of human relationships (Anton and Saga, Saga and her boss, Martin and August, and above all, of course, Martin and Saga), dealt with so painstakingly, seem to get rather short shrift in this article. We can only hope that the forthcoming series, just like the first one, is not just about crime and sex.