Getting immersed in Trapped – the five good reasons why

The protracted absence of any blogging activity here shouldn’t be seen as a dwindling of our interest in Scandinavian matters. Too much to blog about and too little time – same old fiendish equation. Somehow we seem to have had a window of opportunity presented (or framed?) our way so we are going to jump through it. Five reasons to get immersed in Trapped, the Icelandic detective series currently airing on BBC4 in the UK.

1. It’s not really a detective series. Chinese investors looking to bring a brand new spanking port to a remote Icelandic fjörd town. Brutal wife-beating mayors getting their comeuppance. Old, sage-like figures warning of disaster and then invoking it when they misguidedly attempt to stop an avalanche. Families cleaved apart by a distressing death and then brought together by the realisation that the chief suspect isn’t the perpetrator. It’s all a bit..well, it’s all a bit like a modern Icelandic saga. Especially because the fact everyone is trapped by the snow intensifies the feeling of what you might call communal remoteness (or remote communality?)

2. Protagonist Andri isn’t really a classic Nordic Noir detective. He doesn’t have any of the ‘superwoman with baggage’ characteristics of Saga Norén or Sarah Lund (admittedly because he’s not a woman in the first place, but you know what we mean). He doesn’t have any of the ‘lieutenant superman with baggage too’ characteristics of Henrik in Series Three of The Bridge. He isn’t an alcoholic like Wallander. He’s just very ursine and (a bit) cuddly, terse, weary and unobtrusive. He’s paralysingly normal by any Scandi sleuth standards. And that’s actually quite endearing. He’s the bloke next door in the town where everyone’s got something to hide behind their door (except maybe Andri).

An Everyman amid the skeleton-filled cupboards: police detective Andri Ólafsson, as played by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson

An Everyman amid the skeleton-filled cupboards: police detective Andri Ólafsson, as played by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson

3. The low-key stuff. A lot of the best scenes aren’t obviously about anything in the grander scheme of things yet they matter all the more. Hjörtur, the character suspected of the murder of Andri’s former sister-in-law, stands out as the awkward social hermit in the town, savagely burned by the fire which killed his partner seven years previously, and with no obvious allies to hand (and his former partner’s father clearly an enemy). The scene where Hjörtur goes to a pool party and summons up the confidence to shed some clothes and jump in the pool (and potentially rediscover love) is very understated, but it’s very poignant and rewarding as well.

Seeking a way back into society: Hjörtur, as played by Baltasar Breki Sampar

Seeking a way back into society: Hjörtur, as played by Baltasar Breki Samper

4. The fact so much of the action takes place in just once place. No buzzing back and forth over the Öresund Bridge. No jet-setting like the Arne Dahl crew to Italy or the Baltics. When so much detail rests less on the big geopolitical picture and more on which snowman might be outside which house (and serve to blow the cover of two hapless trafficked girls looking to escape their ruthless trafficker), you’re forced to concentrate on the detail.

5. It’s all about Total Trappedness. Trapped by the snow. Trapped in a house where you dare not expose your cover (see above). Trapped on a ferry until the police say otherwise. Trapped by the cold until the shady ferry captain turns the heat on. Trapped in unhappy marriages. Trapped by society’s perceived norms until you find a way to break free or accept society for what it is (see Hjörtur above). Trapped by the social conventions where you’re expected to make an effort with your ex-wife’s partner for the sake of the family (as Andri is, or appears to be). Trapped by the prospect of an avalanche. Trapped by the actual avalanche which probably didn’t have anything to do with the prospect of the avalanche. Trapped by remoteness which requires you to let foreign investors do their bidding in order to potentially secure the livelihood of the town. To coin another phrase, we’re all entrappened in this one.

The Bridge II: less perfect but more epic than what came before

The problem with trying to suggest that the legendary Australian cricketer Don Bradman was in any way bad at batting is that it just sounds churlish and lacks perspective. After all, Bradman did score more runs more heavily than anyone else in the history of the game. Saying that, for example, he played on the docile wickets of the 1930s and wouldn’t cut it in the same way today is rather like criticising Leonardo da Vinci for not being good at Cubism.

And yet some are prepared to try and locate that chink in the Bradman armour – the possibility, for example, that he wasn’t good at facing a certain kind of slow bowler or playing on a weather-affected ‘sticky wicket’. It’s as if those critics know Bradman was the best ever but still feel that any analysis of his sporting prowess will not be complete until they have adequately articulated any discernible weakness. Image

Discussing The Don as a way into The Bridge

We face a similar dilemma in that we want to mark up the second series of Bron/Broen/The Bridge as a perfect ten but cannot quite bring ourselves to do it. Thereafter the analogy differs. Bradman was, and is, comparable to no other batsman in the history of the game. The Bridge series two, is, at the very least, comparable to The Bridge Series One.

Even so, we believe that this sequel is more epic than the original ten-episode narrative from 2011, even it wasn’t quite as perfect in complete execution of plot and decisive tying up of ends. In his BBC-curated online question-and-answer session after the final episode of Series Two went out in the UK on February 1st 2014, chief series writer Hans Rosenfeldt hinted at the importance of marking the second series different in some way from what had come before. The Bridge 2 certainly did avoid the pitfall of falling back on a formulaic template.


The man at the helm of The Bridge – Hans Rosenfeldt

In particular, by introducing the idea of a chain of murderers, all in some way connected, yet all with subtly different motives, The Bridge 2 matched the tension generated by the quest to locate ‘Truth Terrorist’ Jens Hansen in the first series, but in many respects offered a far more ambitious denouement. As frightening as Jens is, he is a very palpable suspect from the moment he appears in the office of Mette Rohde (wife of Martin, one of the key figures in the police ‘double-act’ at the heart of the show) as a ‘software specialist’ looking to gain some business.

In comparison, the Bridge Series Two identifies a cell of homicidal eco-terrorists early on, and then, in a series of palpitating twists and emotional wrenches, reveals a murderer behind the murderers, and a murderer behind that murderer, and (in the final surprise), and unidentified murderer killing that third murderer for having failed in her task. In a series which forensically examined the operations of modern business, political and juridical organisations, and the hierarchy (and corruption) that defines such operations, there was an incisive parallel in the way that murder appeared to be a hierarchical and politically charged business in itself once, unlike the first series, it involved several perpetrators.

Just as in the first series, a wide range of problematic social issues lay at the heart of the series, and were also key to understanding the motives of the perpetrators. One of the most palpable themes in both series is as such how the murderers are evil and tragic in equal measure. Whereas the murderers in The Killing have some kind of structured agenda beyond mere bloodlust, their political motives are often less clear than their growing need to cover up truths (especially in Series Two where Sarah Lund’s new detective partner, Ulrik Strange, gets ensconced in a murderous spree in a bid to destroy any evidence of his incriminating military past).

ulrik strange

Ulrik Strange (Mikael Birkkjær) – unlike The Bridge murderers, seeking to cover up truths more than hide them

At its best, The Bridge takes the profundity of The Killing to a new level by depicting murderers as people who wish to expose sordid truths rather than gloss them over. The tragedy of these murderers is that whilst their practices are as devastating as they are inhuman, at some hypothetical level their social and political ideals are not much different from those harboured by people throughout society. This is made clear in vivid fashion at the very end of the second series in displaying a huge, angry, screaming, baying throng of environmental activists (and possibly anti-EU protestors) at the Copenhagen EU climate conference, the intended centre stage for a mass killing of politicians and delegates by Gertrud Kofoed and her colleagues.

By filming this scene from a series of spectacular angles and on a spectacular scale in terms of actors involved, the programme makers point to the sheer depth of resentment felt towards big business and big political institutions (a particularly topical consideration post-2008) and to growing concerns about the prospect of environmental disaster – the very theme which grips (at least some of) the eco-terrorists. Just like Jens in the first series and his pre-occupation that humans are not all equal before the law, Oliver, Gertrud and their colleagues conflate social justice with the wholesale elimination of perceived enemies. Just like Jens, however, the premise of their actions (though not the actions themselves) is made to look more valid and less crazed by being placed into some kind of context whereby the concerns of the eco-terrorists are replicated in macrocosm.

The use of the big set-piece does indeed seem even more marked in Series Two than before. Whereas Jens’ fanatical quest seemed to centre more on individuals who were guilty in their own way of tyranny (including Bjørn Rasmussen, who antagonises the homeless Sonja), the eco-terrorists appear to be targeting organisations considered guilty of environmental neglect and materials which hasten environmental damage as much as they target individuals. The spectacular blowing up of a petrol tanker and the damage wrought at the Romstock chemical plant via sabotage are indeed both vivid in scale and apocalyptic in nature.

However, as scenes they also do enough to dwell to some extent on the destructiveness of petrol and chemicals themselves and not just the destructiveness of the eco-terrorists, made particularly clear in a scene akin to the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust where workers in protective clothing clean up the mess at the Romstock plant. The paradox of the killers being environmentally irresponsible and yet hitting a raw nerve about the fragility of our ecosystem heightens the sense that, like Jens, they are problematic yet profound villains in the same way that Saga and Martin are problematic but profound heroes – but perhaps on an even more pronounced scale than in Series One.

The similarities that Saga and Martin share with some of the flawed characters around them were outlined in so uncertain detail in the first series. We have discussed them here previously on the blog, as have others in perceptive fashion. Whilst such comparisons are just as evident in the second series, they are more problematic given that it is extremely unclear in the final analysis whether Saga and Martin have completely upheld justice, or indeed whether they can salvage their friendship from the traumatic final chain of events (making this a completely different conclusion to the cautiously optimistic one of Series One).

Saga and Martin – often disconcertingly similar to the bad guys around them

As such, it is not always easy to discern what distinguishes Saga and Martin from the schemers and ruthless operators around them. One can see unfortunate comparisons between Saga and Alexander (completely misread the needs of their partner or are too interested in their own needs), Saga and Claudio (too pre-occupied with the sex act and offend the sensibilities of others in the process), Saga and Viktoria (ruthless, emotionally cold, lonely), Martin and Rasmus (take justice into their own hands and mess up in the process), Martin and Niklas (conflate violence with justice), and, most worryingly, Saga, Martin and Oliver (dysfunctional family life, self-defeating form of justice, obsessive, psychological damage in some way associable with a relationship with a blood family member).

The heroic status of Saga and Martin is marred in this respect, yet the series becomes all the more powerful and poignant because of the growing realisation that Saga and Martin, far from being an immutable detective duo destined to stay together interminably and solve every crime that comes there way, are vulnerable and not necessarily more formidable than those implicated in their crime-solving procedures. When Viktoria unmercifully trips Saga up in a piece of verbal pedantry about how her company Medisonus may or may not be implicated in the eco-terrorist crimes taking place, it has the unnerving dual effect of making Saga look more human and limited whilst helping to slowly build Viktoria’s credentials as someone possibly more focused and capable than the detectives who are meant to be the main characters. We have previously argued how The Bridge Series One dwelt on the importance of Saga and Martin re-attaching themselves to society if they were to succeed as human beings. Series Two dextrously turns this concept on its head to show Saga and Martin being very similar to other humans in society but probably not better off for it.

Even so, those who have suggested that Saga and Martin are an inept detective pairing appear to have missed a key tenet of the programme’s appeal: that Saga and Martin do not just forge an endearing ‘odd-couple’ relationship but also relentlessly pursue the perpetrators of crime. Perversely, it is the fact that Saga feels obliged to report Martin for murdering Jens (a Saga-esque piece of ruthless deduction in itself) that stops the pair from together identifying Gertrud’s killer, but the intense work in mapping the scale of the eco-terrorist plot, the successful identifying of Oliver and Gertrud as key murderers, and the averting of the laboriously-planned mass assassination at the EU summit surely pays testimony in no small part to the professional dedication and the moral righteousness of Saga and Martin, even if others, not least the unflagging yet unsung police IT specialist John, are also crucially involved in the case.

At their best, the perceived weaknesses of Saga and Martin also manifest themselves as strengths. Saga may be denigrated as a robot without feelings by the furious Rasmus, but it is her machine-like persistence that enables her to expose Gertrud at the end when both the Danish and Swedish police chief superiors have declared the eco-terrorist case closed. Martin’s anger nearly results in a terrible fight early one with some shady vigilante-type characters determined to make the police pair pay for the privilege of parking, but it is far more laudable at the end when he cross-examines an eco-terrorist cell member about a potentially lethal virus set to be unleashed on a passenger plane. Again catastrophe is averted, and again it is Martin who commands our sympathy as he yells at the frightened terrorist that there is nothing remotely ‘green’ about what he is doing.

Moreover, for each occasion when Saga and Martin may look relatively chastened and vulnerable, there is another when the show almost consciously plays up to the ‘super-hero’ credentials of the pair. For all the macabre grittiness of The Bridge, there are far more moments in the second series when it shimmers with action-based escapism without losing any sophistication in the process. It stands to the show’s credit that it operates on so many levels, not least when Saga takes down some admittedly clumsy assailants in her hotel room, Lisbeth Salander-style (but at a point when the audience still might have a chink of doubt as to whether Saga’s physical powers match her mental ones).

The valid point of comparison with Lisbeth Salander (or indeed Lara Croft) is of no small importance, as it hints at how the show incorporates some knowing and arch cultural reference points alongside the deadly serious drama. One of the most obvious examples is the classic 1977 Porsche 911 S driven by Saga, often in break-neck fashion with Martin as an unflinching passenger. The Porsche, like Saga, threatens to become iconic at a point when The Bridge is a relatively new television offering, but the car is also synonymous with Saga, and to a lesser extent Martin, just like the Batmobile. Briefly, the pair do indeed resemble a postmodern Batman and Robin in a Sagamobile, the humour of this neatly strengthening the feminist message within the show rather undermining it.


All iconic and cool and referential with it

This is, however, just one of numerous ways in which the second series, more than the first, shows Saga and Martin becoming entrenched in a relationship that often marks them out as a dependent duo rather than a dynamic one. The triumph of the first series in charting a purely platonic relationship between two otherwise sexually active characters is taken to new heights in the second series, most pertinently when the pair clumsily embrace by the Öresund/Øresund Bridge itself. It is a gesture more charged and climactic than scores of very non-platonic kisses and sex acts in modern television and cinema, yet it also contains a note of ominousness in suggesting that the pair increasingly rely on one another for an emotional outlet.


THAT moment  – more climactic than scores of screen kisses and sex acts

The dominating presence in this particular shot of the three key beings or things on which the whole premise of the show is built (Saga, Martin, the bridge) is symbolically overwhelming, yet also a little disconcerting, particularly as everything else seems relegated to insignificance. It seems to serve as a warning that Saga and Martin have built an emotional bridge to one another but have excluded those around them in the process. Whereas the first series established obvious complementary character traits for the duo (Saga blinkered, methodical, apparently emotionless, socially awkward; Martin emotional, gregarious, impulsive, sociable), the narrative went beyond this mere ‘odd couple’ dynamic and incorporated other characters with whom the pair had separate non-platonic relationships.

This in turn produced a carefully-realised interpersonal chain or web in which one could see how the positive characteristics of Martin’s wife Mette (calm, dignified, affectionate, resourceful) and Saga’s sometime bedfellow Anton (thoughtful, deliberate, humble, non-judgemental) might just productively rub off on Saga and Martin and help endear themselves to others in the process. In a new series where viruses and plagues are a key motif, it is telling that Saga and Martin ultimately seem to infect their nearest and dearest with bad will and do not learn much from others in the process. Saga’s reliance on Martin for advice about relationships irritates her new boyfriend, Jakob, and Martin is significantly seen discussing Saga’s traumatic childhood seconds before Mette tells him she doesn’t love him anymore (as if he has been ‘absent’ for too long). Even so, it is easy to say with hindsight that any platonic couple that rely on each other so much are heading for trouble. The success of the second series lies in charting the growing kinship between Saga and Martin by degrees whilst leaving enough leeway for the final sequence of events to be both a natural tragic culmination and yet still shocking.

For all this, Saga and Martin are but two people in a show where the full ensemble of characters is pivotal to the success of the story. What seems more striking about the second series is that, just as there are a cell or cluster of murderers (compared to just the one in the first series), and just as the plot hangs on what certain toxic medications can do to blood cells, so clusters or cells of characters are used to represent character traits, a particularly good example being the gaggle of teenagers who bully and ostracise Linus in the first half of the series. This is distinctly different from Series One, where it was easier to associate one specific character trait, or Shakespearean tragic flaw, with one particular supporting character (Daniel Ferbé’s vanity and Stefan Lindberg’s anger being obvious examples).

If Ferbé was the stand-out obnoxious person in the first series, then in Series Two, characters are obnoxious to varying degrees. Laura does her best to be a coquettish and spoilt teenager early on, but she gains sympathy as she becomes increasingly vulnerable, this reaching a climax as she is targeted by the psychopathic Oliver (and then vitally identifies him as part of the police investigation). Still confined to her hospital bed at the end, she is nonetheless offered a reconciliation with her previously unsympathetic father that seems the most straightforward example of humans re-connecting with one another in this series.

Less sympathy and more pity might go to Rasmus, determined to be a good policeman yet all too clumsy (and lest we forget, snide and hurtful to Saga) when it really matters. Even Rasmus, however, commands more sympathy and pity than Alexander, husband of EU conference organiser Caroline Brandstrup-Julin. Alexander is not a major recurring character like Ferbé in the first series, yet as a result of his callous offhand treatment of his wife, his mysterious assignations and his ham-fisted assault on Claudio, he oddly stands out in the broader narrative of both series as someone without any redeeming features.


Henrik Lundström – the actor behind well-meaning but clumsy Rasmus

This nuanced characterisation at least affords the series some positive moments not seen in Series One whilst retaining some of the dramatic devices. The scene in the final episode of Series One where Martin, confined to his hospital bed, is in tearful spasms of bereavement following the death of August, is more optimistically echoed in Series Two when Laura regains consciousness in hospital and her father is gripped with trauma and relief. On both occasions, the muting of the actors’ voices in favour of a music soundtrack heightens the emotional rush, being more life-affirming in the second instance for obvious reasons.

However, the sense that bad behaviour is endemic in the second series of The Bridge becomes generally disconcerting as the narrative progresses, especially as the characters appear to be deprived of a good deal of their humanity. It is difficult to tell who is the most vain out of Bodil (Caroline’s sister), Claudio and Alexander, all of them somehow commanding less sympathy than even Daniel Ferbé, the stand-out narcissist (but a far more tragic one) in Series One. Again the eco-terrorist virus and plague-based attacks seem to be a metaphor for social malaise or an infectious societal breakdown that is both odd in its resonance and impossible to contain, even afflicting more sympathetic characters. When Saga’s boss, Hans Petterson, unexpectedly announces he is getting divorced, it anticipates Saga’s break-up with Jakob (not to mention Martin’s break-up with Mette), and both Saga and Petterson seem resigned to spending more time in the office as a result.

Most dispiritingly, it is bloodlust, aggression and murder that seem to be infectious. The eco-terrorists spawn a group of masked imitators (admittedly far less savvy ones) and Oliver’s job of murdering Claudio is made far easier once Alexander has separately assaulted him. Whilst Martin and Saga succeed in containing the biggest scheme plotted by the eco-terrorists, the mass murder by virus at the EU summit, there is a sense, heightened not just by the emergence of an unidentified murderer at the end but also by the viewer’s awareness of the modern phenomenon of the lone terrorist or the remotely located terrorist cell, that Martin and Saga, and indeed their superiors, face an interminable task in trying to remedy society and make it more secure. This is a jump from one kind of profundity to another between Series One and Two, but it is also a jump from cautious optimism to a sense of looming tragedy in the process.

Most potent of all the supporting characters – so much so that she threatens to upstage Saga and Martin themselves – is the terminally ill pharmaceutical CEO Viktoria Nordgren. If Saga and Martin are problematic and contradictory characters whose usefulness to society is far more ambivalent in Series Two than in Series One, then Viktoria takes this to new levels: she seems to be the problematic or paradoxical personified (perhaps offering some continuity with the characterisations seen in Series One, or perhaps a paradox in itself).

Viktoria is like no other supporting character in either series, yet she stands out for no one particular reason. Given that she comes from the world of big business, it is perhaps appropriate to say that she has a conglomeration of various character traits. To some extent she is like Saga: ruthless, apparently emotionally cold, and relentlessly focused within her professional sphere. Like the murderers and Alexander, however, she has a desire to kill, albeit an odd one expressed through the shooting of a chicken as part of her ‘bucket list’ wish fulfilment. Even so, in the final analysis Viktoria can hardly be bracketed with the eco-terrorists, who if anything have usurped her and abused her company facilities as part of their fanatical scheme (prompting the fascinating consideration as to whether the employees, though not entirely successful in their ventures, have been more ruthless than the employer).


Viktoria and the oddly sinister ‘hen killing’ scene

Viktoria’s relationship with Oliver is no less paradoxical. She is openly contemptuous of his abilities and yet spends far too much time in the company of her brother whilst wondering aloud if he could stop pestering her. Oliver is indeed damagingly infatuated with his sister, but it is Viktoria who indulges his suggestion that she should publish her memoirs and Viktoria who leaves it to Oliver to cook the hen  she has shot. Emotionally and professionally, she could not be more distant from Oliver, and yet she lives over the road from him (admittedly his decision and one she has less control over once she is diagnosed as terminally ill). She is both an independent career woman and completely smothered by Oliver’s attentions, and almost literally smothered by him at the end.

Like Saga, Viktoria’s story becomes sadder when one dwells on how lonely she is (something she freely admits herself). As a businessperson, she is a go-getter rather than a schemer, and she is emphatically not sexually and emotionally damaged like Oliver, but this heightens the sense that she is somehow selling herself short by sleeping with the caveman-like Claudio and the manipulative, cuckolding Bodil (especially given that she uses her forensic logic and insight to humiliate Bodil at least twice whilst the pair work on Viktoria’s memoirs). There is a good case for saying Viktoria should not belong in the same bracket as these characters but is nonetheless dragged down by them. She arguably becomes more sympathetic than Saga, the only comparable strong female lead character, when she copes with the revelation of her brother’s madness, not to mention his attempt to murder her, and spontaneously embraces her bereaved sister-in-law. Yet like Saga’s myopic relationship with Jakob, Viktoria cannot tell when her relationships with Oliver and Gertrud have broken down (or indeed when she has become the very object of all their fanatical planning).

As such, the sheer detail put into creating the character of Viktoria on paper, and the amount of effort invested by actress Tova Magnusson into bringing her to life, make her fate all the more significant. One of the most marked successes of the second series is indeed the final episode and the way in which we are forced to reconcile the scenes featuring Viktoria with what we have seen of her before. Previously, the most intimate scenes involving Viktoria have been unfortunate ones – those seen through Oliver’s voyeuristic eyes as he spies on her via webcam – but as she prepares ahead of her speech at the Copenhagen conference, she is suddenly visually transformed in a completely different way; even the treacherous Gertrud is forced to admit how beautiful she looks. This lends her a strange yet compelling dignity as the final moments of her life tick away, evoking the ‘Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?’ line from a famous Alexander Pope poem in particularly mournful fashion.


Lent a strange dignity at the end of her life

This also means, however, that once the crunching and torrid final sequence of events in the series unfolds, there is a brief sense that the forces of evil unleashed are beyond the control of anyone, never mind Saga and Martin, never mind Viktoria. The traumatic scene in which Viktoria, having injected herself with lethal viral medication purposely provided by Gertrud, coughs up blood all over junior police detective Pernille is indeed like some piece of Old Testament narrative in which the idea of the plague assumes Biblical proportions and both women are instantly ‘marked’, ignominiously condemned not by a jealous God but by forces which they can still not profess to understand.

If Saga and Martin’s embrace, and perhaps Laura’s reconciliation with her father, are the most optimistic moments in Series Two, showing humans re-connecting with one another, this single moment is when pessimism takes hold of the second series, paving the way for the breakdown (though not decisive destruction) of Saga and Martin’s relationship even though the circumstances of both events are very different. For all Viktoria’s independence, assertiveness, and hugely successful career, she dies in lonely fashion.

All that connects Viktoria to the far more personable Pernille is that they have been the passive victims of someone else’s machinations. This in turn heightens the very different nature of the dilemmas facing Saga and Martin at the end of both series. In Series One, Saga has to decide whether lying to Martin about August’s fate will be the right option, but at least she has some element of choice over this. The dilemma in Series Two is a far more dejecting one whereby the detectives know that only keeping the incurable Viktoria and Pernilla quarantined will foil the main aim of the eco-terrorists. In other words, they can only contain death by acknowledging its inevitability.

As such, The Bridge Series Two ends with an overwhelming sense that factors we take for granted in modern Western society – independence, importance of professional career, being focused, fulfilling a ‘wish list’ – run the risk of dehumanising us of they are not accompanied by empathy and a concern for one’s fellow citizens. There is something brutally metaphysical in how Viktoria, having dedicated her life to pharmaceutical products and chemical agents, becomes the unwitting lethal chemical agent at the end. Even allowing for the fact that Viktoria does have redeeming features – being oblivious to Oliver and Gertrud’s scheming to the extent of comforting Gertrud – such considerations underline how heartlessly she has been manipulated, and raise an even more problematic consideration: that of how empathy is meant to take root if not enough people appear capable of responding with it in the first place.

It is the switch from cautious optimism in Series One to a sense of inherent evil or loneliness in Series Two that I think throws up the minor but felling factors which result in Series Two not quite tying up all the loose plot strands and aspects of characterisation in a way managed more emphatically in Series One. On one level, one feels that the relatively sympathetic minor characters could be fleshed out a little more. It is understandable that someone like the endearing Linus is written out once his eco-terrorist brother has been murdered. His pre-occupation with telling the truth admittedly works well in anticipating Saga’s (new) dilemma at the end. However, this simply underlines that the second series has very few straightforward sympathetic characters appearing throughout, especially once Petterson, one such character in the first series, has an unexplained failed marriage and a case of borderline assault against Rasmus on his file.

Therefore it is important that someone like the EU summit organiser Caroline Brandstrup-Julin, a conscientious character who resists physical surgery and false appearances when so many succumb to temptation in both series, has some consistency of character. For the most part, this is realised: she does resist the gigolo Claudio (admittedly after some temptation), and she also decisively rejects her morally wretched husband and sister (after some none-too- shabby detective work of her own). It is also significant that Caroline is discerning enough to realise that Saga and Martin are deadly serious (and right) about the need to quarantine Viktoria, and acts instantly.


Caroline – tempted by Claudio, but sets a better example than others

Given that such moral probity and good judgement is in short supply in The Bridge, however, it seems odd that Caroline does not really acknowledge the scale and vehemence of the protest outside the EU summit. In terms of plotting, one does not have to turn Caroline into an eco-activist overnight, but it would have been keeping in with her character if she had also been allowed to articulate some plans, or briefly make a few well-judged observations as to how the event might directly acknowledge the presence of the protestors and their concerns (not least given that she herself looks permanently worried). At the very least, it would have been interesting to hear what she has to say on the issue. One could argue that this is not central to the main plot, but then by that logic, neither is Caroline finding out about Alexander and Bodil’s affair. As the writers made the effort to imbue Caroline with a certain amount of wisdom and humanity, it would have been welcome if they had seen this through on every front – or at least given her failure to acknowledge the protestors some kind of context.

This is turn raises questions as to whether the psychological make-up of the two main characters has been seen through to a fault. In terms of emotional immediacy, no one line could be more devastating than Saga’s admission just prior to reporting Martin for murder that he is her only friend; it highlights both her utter isolation and Martin’s mental disintegration in the course of the second series. It is not easy, though, to reconcile this with the well-judged note of tentative hope in the first series, and this is where the timeframe for the two series narratives, and the stated thirteen-month interim (in dramatic terms) becomes an issue.

At the end of the first series, Martin’s relationship with Mette has been tested to the limits, but the two most telling scenes are firstly the one where they embrace, figuratively dissolving with emotion and relief, after Mette has nearly been killed by Jens, and secondly the subsequent look of horror and empathy on Mette’s face (pitch-perfect acting by Puk Schurbau) when Martin tells her that the abducted August (lest we forget, Martin’s son but not Mette’s) has been Jens’s target all along. They do not make a reconciliation between the two a dead certainty, but they are how we remember the dynamic between the two going into the second series, not least because these characteristics are consistent with what we have seen before.

Even allowing for Martin’s previous infidelity and the subsequent trauma of August’s death, Martin and Mette’s subsequent yo-yoing between reconciliation and ultimate separation does as such not feel circumstantially watertight in terms of exposition and character profiling. Mette’s announcement that she doesn’t love Martin any more, only days after recommencing sexual relations with him, is uneasily reminiscent of the same statement made by the far less sympathetic husband of Charlotte Söringer in the first series after he has had life-saving surgery only made possible by her persistent barracking of hospital officials. Mette’s rejection of Martin is understandable as the event which triggers his psychological disintegration and the re-emergence of Jens to haunt him, but it feels slightly expedient, as if we would have benefited from seeing the whole back story about Martin and Mette’s initial break-up (in the thirteen-month ‘interim’ period) in order to understand Mette’s line of reasoning better.

martin and mette

Martin and Mette – a break-up that raises some questions about the interim period

This is arguably even more applicable to Saga, whose relationship with Jakob looks like a break-up in the making very early on (begging the question of how they ended up living together in the first place). If Saga’s budding boyfriend from the first series, Anton, was written out of the plot because he was not central to it, this again begs the question of why Saga was receptive to him and no-one else, with the non-sexual exception of August, once Saga and Anton had slept together for the first time (as we have seen, belying the simplistic claim that Saga is promiscuous and picks up ‘men’ in the plural in bars, from what we see of her in the first series at least). In this sense, it is worth another detailed look at the Saga-Anton dynamic from Series One in order to see where continuity in Series Two might falter.

Anton, though a relatively minor character, can hardly be called peripheral once we see him taking Saga seriously in terms of a relationship, a trait which looks even more attractive with hindsight once we have been introduced to the blatant sex mercenary Claudio in Series Two. The only moment in either series involving Saga with a character other than Martin and comparable to Martin and Mette’s embrace is when Anton turns up with flowers at her workplace and says that he (and not Saga) has got it wrong as to what their relationship should be about, the energetic but impersonal sex clearly not being adequate for him. Anton doesn’t make unreasonable demands of Saga but simply says it would be nice if they could go out on a dinner date. (Note that in exactly the same episode Jens brings Mette flowers and, masquerading as August’s ex-girlfriend online, suggests that August should buy ‘her’ dinner as a token of gratitude for trying to help ‘reunite’ August and Martin. The contrast between Anton and Jens in terms of motives could not be starker.)

For all Saga’s perceived lack of social skills, this does register on her radar. Just as significant as Martin and Mette’s embrace, the final shot of the first series is that of Saga calling Anton and taking him up on an offer of going to dinner. Saga being Saga, she pragmatically says that she’s hungry, but again it seems unfair to sideline Anton in terms of the significance of this moment; if Saga was only interested in food, she could easily eat out or at home on her own. For this reason, it seems important not to dismiss the similarities between Saga and Anton, far more positive ones than the disconcerting similarities between Saga and less sympathetic characters. It is amusing but poignant that just as Saga, through Martin’s interventions, slowly starts to try and make sense of social norms and codes of etiquette that had crossed her radar, so Anton, in his own bemused but decent way, tries to make sense of Saga’s world.

This is important with regards to the second series as there are three other key scenes afforded to Anton which subtly contrast with what we see of Jakob. The first is Anton’s first night with Saga where she abruptly turns her back on him after sex and he lies in bed quietly trying to fathom what is going on. By way of contrast, in terms of what we see of him, Jakob apparently only gets flummoxed at Saga’s odd behaviour once he has moved in with her, one good example being that where she assumes his personal belongings are trash and as such takes them to the refuse room in the apartment block.

This kind of behaviour is tactless and ultimately destructive as far as Saga’s relationship with Jakob goes. However, it also makes one wonder if Jakob has hitherto been any better than Saga in terms of character observation in the previous seven months of their relationship, especially when we see him in turn placing Saga’s files where she doesn’t want them (this rather familiar domestic dispute offering the mildly depressing irony that Saga has arguably got the ‘conventional’ relationship she asked for).

Secondly, Anton is crucially privy to the idiosyncratic relationship between Saga and Martin early on, if not in a bizarre way part of it, once Saga makes the unforgettable introduction: ‘This is Martin Rohde from Copenhagen Police, his wife’s kicked him out so he’s staying with me. This is Anton, we have sex together sometimes.’ For all the humour and bathos, Anton, however nonplussed, doesn’t begrudge Martin’s presence, and actually feels on this occasion that he himself is the one who is in the way. Again, this contrasts subtly yet noticeably with Jakob, who never comes into contact with Martin in the same way and who by his own admission is ‘a little annoyed’ that Martin is a third party within his relationship with Saga.

saga anton

Anton – deals well with Sagaworld, so we need to know why he’s not Mr Right

Most importantly, there is a brief but telling vignette in the first series where Anton, awaiting entrance to a club, apparently gets queue-jumped by Daniel, the latter about to embark on the drugs trip that will nearly cost him his life. In the same moment, Anton sees Saga walking alone down the street and looks worriedly at her. It is a good example of The Bridge, for all its ‘epic’ qualities, doing a lot with very little and establishing some favourable credentials for Anton (unobtrusive, blessed with much better judgement than a lot of his fellow citizens, concerned for Saga’s welfare but respects her personal space). Again, this is rather different from a scene such as the one where Jakob rolls up in more casual fashion at Saga’s workplace with food and a desire to chat when Saga is obviously busy (and indeed gives him short shrift).

None of this is to say that Jakob is a bad person (being a relatively easy-going person, it is understandable that he gets exasperated with Saga’s more monomaniacal tendencies and leaves her), but it does in turn suggest that Jakob doesn’t really know what makes Saga tick and that Saga, in her own turn, has regressed in the thirteen-month period between the two series narratives and found herself in a less satisfactory situation than the one seen at the end of Series One, especially as she obviously is hurt once Jakob has left her.

It is frustrating, therefore, that were are simply told at the beginning of Series Two that Saga is not seeing Anton anymore and it is left at that. If, as some have suggested, Anton is too good to be true, and Saga has good reason for believing that Jakob is more suited to her, we ideally need to know why (in fairness to Jakob as well as Anton). The sense of regression in Saga is amplified by the fact that as Martin breaks down as the reunited detective pair drive across the Öresund Bridge, Saga chooses to turn the radio up instead of physically touching him as happened previously (to quote the once again all-too accurate lyric from Hollow Talk, the theme song from the series, a case of everything going back to the beginning again). This query over comprehensiveness of characterisation is not confined to Saga as far as the double act goes. Martin wonders aloud in the same episode why Saga didn’t come and visit him in the thirteen-month period, but one could just as easily ask why he didn’t visit Saga (even allowing for his bereavement).

If, in terms of their destinies, Saga and Martin are inextricably tied up, we ideally need some idea of exactly what they went through in those thirteen months apart other than Saga nonchalantly hinting she split up with Anton and Martin saying he split up with Mette because of August. We do get some indications, but in a series where so much comprehensive and exacting detail has been put into realising the plot and the characters who are central to it, it is difficult not to feel that an episode symbolically bridging the two series, but without the pair necessarily meeting, would have been the perfect way of tying up any loose strands, just as the sudden appearance of a new unidentified killer at the end of Series Two probably requires a detailed explanation in itself. Rosenfeldt has suggested that the identity of this killer will not be central to a third series; if so, it seems somewhat frustrating to have made such an issue of it so late in Series Two.

Even so, this brings us back to something we expressed in our last blog post about The Bridge, and something that appears to have been echoed elsewhere – that the relationship between Saga and Martin seems to take precedence over the whodunit. In this respect, Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia could have done little more to bring these two characters to life and chart all the shades of a relationship as dramatically absorbing as it is complex. Writing in the Radio Times, Alison Graham hits the nail on the head when she notes the originality of a ‘proper, multi-layered friendship between a man and a woman that doesn’t die a death in the bedroom’, and one that is thus made all the more fraught when the two characters must face up to terrible truths about one another.

It is not just the emotional authenticity of Saga and Martin’s relationship but the weight of intelligence, if not intellect, invested in the writing and acting that provides The Bridge with its claim to greatness. Saga’s piercing confession to Martin that comments such as Rasmus’s spiteful ‘over-analytical robots’ outburst do hurt her more than people think is so perspicaciously realised that it feels as if it could be an authentic case study in a psychology textbook. By the same logic, Martin’s entreaty to Saga to speak to Jakob about what he does for a living (‘it’s a third of one’s life’) feels like it could be a plausible philosophy quote, but for the fact it is presumably original scripting.

The Bridge does indeed feel classically and academically weighted as a television drama, modern and idiomatic in its making but with discernible roots in Greek tragedy (the fraternal take on Oedipus with Oliver and Viktoria), Shakespeare (Othello, Hamlet and Macbeth all spring to mind) and Jacobean revenge tragedy, perhaps more in terms of bloodshed and body count than actual revenge in Series Two, although humiliation as much as infatuation seems to define Oliver’s relationship with Viktoria and his final assault upon her.

Appropriately for a continental European show, one might also detect a certain strand of 19th century European psychological realism through the Strindberg-style dissection of Saga’s adolescent background and the strong echoes of Crime and Punishment in the Martin/Jens storyline. And on top of all of this is a modicum of comic book heroism as previously discussed, not to mention the obvious comedy of the Saga/Martin verbal interchanges in the Porsche and in the elevator. The more we get to know them, the more Saga’s periodical obsession with discussing private parts and Martin’s various suite of cutting responses feels like some deliberately provocative yet inspired cabaret routine, indicating that for all its classical drama connotations, this is a show that is knowing and cultured without being overly stuffy.


Saga: all Jesus and Judas at the same time

The Bridge Series Two falls just short of the resounding plot resolution offered by Series One, but it would be churlish to mark the series down too far, especially when it plausibly gives us the spectacle at the very end of Saga, lank-haired, wide-eyed, coat like a robe and arms loosely by her side, having just reported Martin for murder. She is convincing as Jesus and Judas at the same time: trying to kick lumps out of the series for plausibly getting to this point in the first place might be like trying to argue incessantly that Don Bradman wasn’t very good against a certain kind of slow bowler.

Copyright Aidan McGee 2014