Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 9 & 10)

Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 1 & 2)
Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 3 & 4)
Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 5 & 6)
Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 7 & 8)
Guardian interview with Sofia Helin (Saga)
All 10 episodes still available on iPlayer at the moment of writing

The worse thing’s the anger. You need an outlet for your anger. I work on it every day. – Jens

That dinner you offered. I’m hungry, I’m up for it now. – Saga to Anton

The final episodes of The Bridge delivered a brilliant and tragic conclusion to a drama that had me counting the days to next Saturday. Jens turns out to be Sebastian, who worms his way into Mette’s affections, and impersonates Frida, August’s ex-girlfriend, when he thinks he’s chatting with her online. Because August tells her the police are looking for Anja, Jens is able to track her down first.

Martin is the catalyst for Jens’ grotesque and bizarre revenge. By falling for Jens’ wife, Mikaela, he sets in motion a sequence of events that culminates in the death of August, and Martin’s confrontation with Jens beneath the Oresund Bridge. Along the way, Jens kills numerous people in order to carry out his plan of killing the individuals he felt had injured him – Kristen Ekwall, Daniel, Henning, Emil, Bjorn, and finally August. You might think he would kill Martin, but no. Mikaela was already lost to him, fleeing with their son, Rasmus, to Malmo when the accident on the bridge claimed both lives. Jens lost his son, whose body was never recovered, and he sets out to inflict the same misery on Martin by depriving him of any knowledge of August’s death. All the concern for social justice, as expressed in the five problems he sets the police, is a twisted rationale for carrying out a complex, meticulously planned revenge. As August says, he’s a “fucking psychopath,” who poses as Frida to engineer a closer understanding between son and father, just so the pain will be all the more intense when he rips them apart.

And yet, Jens was a good cop and a good human being, someone with the capacity to be anything he wanted. The energy and brilliance of his revenge points to man who could legitimately have done whatever he set his mind to. The charm and empathy he so calculatingly deploys would have made him loved by all if it were genuine. You can see the emptiness of this moral vacuum of a man in his house – absolutely no personal effects, everything laid out as if for a prospective buyer, nothing even in the bookcase. That’s chilling. His whole life is in the basement, a war room with neatly pinned up plans and data pertaining only to the progress of his revenge. As he tells Mette, in a seemingly innocent context, “The worse thing’s the anger. You need an outlet for your anger. I work on it every day.”

At one point in an earlier episode, Saga tells Jens, “I understand you.” He replies, “It takes one to know one.” But while Saga and Jens share the ability to harness logic and rationality in pursuit of their goals, they’re moving in opposite directions. Jens has catapulted himself out of the orbit of human warmth and empathy, and he’s lost, driven only by cold revenge. Saga is travelling inward, drawn by the strange spectacle of human interaction. She has friends – Hans, Martin, August, Anton. Hans opens the door and provides a supportive environment, so she can be “a wonderful police officer.” But he’s resigning, moving to Gothenburg, so what will happen to Saga now? One of the two most touching moments was the tear running down her cheek after he told her the news. As Hans says to Martin, “She means a lot to me,” who replies, “You mean a lot to her.” The other moment is her clumsy gesture of putting her hand on Martin’s as he hyperventilates and shakes with stress at the thought of Jens hurting Mette and the children. Tellingly, this is the first ever physical contact between them.

Martin is easy-going – essential for the continuation of their professional relationship – but also caring enough to try to make her understand how other people react to her personality. Saga responds to some of his suggestions, learning to praise her team for their good work. “Well done. I mean it. Good job, everybody.” She also learns to sometimes lie in order to comfort people, as when Anja is dying. You can tell when Saga is lying. The “tell,” in the poker sense, is a slight hesitation before she comes out with the lie. Jens, on the other hand, lies through his teeth and you’d never know. But for her friends, she tells the truth when it’s important. So she tells August that Mette and the children are “probably” dead. But it’s the lies about Martin’s relationship with Mikaela and his meeting with Jens that really hurt. You can see the distress in her face, and of course Hans picks up on it right away.

Saga: I don’t know where he is.
Lillian: Saga, if something happens, it’s your fault.
Hans: You’ve never been much of a liar.
Saga: But I’m getting better, right?
Hans: Absolutely.

Saga saves Martin from destroying his life by killing Jens on a live broadcast, but only by disregarding all the rules she has internalized about police procedure. The old Saga would not have insisted on protecting her colleague, to the extent of forcing her way onto the bridge and shooting Martin so he could not kill Jens. She arrived at her understanding of Jens’ motivations through logic and rationality, something she shares with him to a high degree. And she cannot avoid telling Martin the truth that August is dead – a friend deserves no less, even if it means he will try to shoot Jens.

When Saga visits Martin in hospital, she blames herself for August’s death, despite the fact that he would never have been found if she had not noticed the clues in the kitchen – plaster in the sink and builder’s twine in a drawer.

Saga: I’m sorry, I was too late.
Martin: You did all you could.
Saga: It wasn’t enough, I let you down.
Martin: No.

In fact, that’s what human beings do all the time, Martin in particular, with August, Mette, and their children. The important thing is to do your best while recognizing that you’re not perfect – August says as much to Jens when describing Martin. Saga has started on a journey into the world, perfectly expressed in her reaction to Anton’s phone call. “That dinner you offered. I’m hungry, I’m up for it now.” And Martin has been shaken to the core, so he will now have to re-engage with a different world.

The Bridge has to be the best crime drama I’ve ever seen, and I’m really glad there’s going to be a sequel. Needless to say, Saga has to team up with Martin again for further adventures in crime and humanity.

Thanks to Steve Thomas for posting this clip of Hollow Talk in the comments for Episodes 1 & 2.

Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 7 & 8)

Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 1 & 2)
Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 3 & 4)
Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 5 & 6)
Guardian interview with Sofia Helin (Saga)

What was it like? – Saga on learning that Martin slept with Charlotte

I got my period this morning – Saga’s idea of conversation on a coffee break

The Bridge moved into high gear in these two episodes with the final social problem, a genuinely happy resolution, and a firm candidate for the real identity of TT. It was also stuffed full of Saga quirkiness, for which I’m very grateful, since her oddness seems to have been toned down a bit recently.

TT’s fifth and final social concern is the use of child labour by Swedish and Danish companies. He hijacks a school bus containing five children and threatens to kill them if the offices and stores of five companies producing chocolate, sports equipment, clothing, furniture, and toys are not torched. A fire at each company saves a child. TT helps them out a bit by leaving the school bus in a furniture factory and booby-trapping it to explode when the police investigate. He’s all heart, but it’s up ordinary people to torch the rest, which they do in time to save all the children. Even Daniel, fired for reporting the threat against his editor’s instructions, helps out by setting a fire in the chocolate company’s main office.

But wait, there’s more. TT gasses Daniel in a repeat of the set-up by which he recruited him – trapped in his SUV. This time it’s for real, to show his contempt for “journalists that can be bought. Cowards.” I’m sorry to see Daniel pop his clogs. He is such a morally ambiguous character that I can’t help being interested in him. After his near death experience with the drug overdose, he was starting to see things differently. He even apologized to Ake for demonizing the psychiatric patients. And you have to like him for printing the arson story, getting sacked, and setting fire to the main offices of the chocolate company in order to save a child.

The investigation closes in on Jesper Andersson, a Swedish police officer, based on Sonja’s hysterical response to his picture. Held for 72 hours to bolster a very circumstantial case, he escapes with the help of an accomplice who leaves a gun in the toilets for him. Kent’s credit card is tracked down to a ferry terminal, where Jesper is shot resisting arrest, and Kent is arrested. So Jesper must be TT, right? No, he’s been preying on underage girls and homeless women to make illicit porn films. Sonja was one of them, hence her extreme reaction on seeing his photo. But he was looking good for it, with personal connections to Emil, Henning, and Ekwall.

Stefan is definitely out of the picture, though he did kill Soren, whose body has just been discovered. So the blood discovered in his bedroom will prove his guilt. Stefan is arrested while trying to escape with Sonja. I feel a little sorry for him. Soren was a wife-beating scumbag who attacked Stefan first, and he does love his sister, having only just been re-united with her.

The odds-on best candidate is Jens, a Danish task force police officer. He’s an ex-colleague of Martin’s, and an excellent cop, until his wife and son were killed on the Oresund bridge by a drunk driver. Ekwall, then a prosecutor, dropped charges against the prime suspect – Sixten Rockstad, son of a wealthy industrialist. Daniel investigated the incident and, though he knew Sixten was drunk at the time, allowed himself to be bought off with a job and a free apartment. Sixten died of drink under his own steam. When Jens’ life began to fall apart, Henning wrote a bad report on him, and Emil gave him a bad psychiatric evaluation. Bjorn repeatedly beat him up when he tried to stop him stealing Sonja’s stuff.  Oh, and Jens blew his own head off 5 years previously. That sort of rules him out until you realize that he did it so thoroughly he couldn’t be identified, and the Danish police didn’t take DNA evidence or hold an autopsy out of respect for a brother officer. As Saga points out, he starting planning his revenge 5 years before.

Which brings us to Saga, in the full panoply of weirdness in these two episodes, with laugh out loud moments. Hans gently asks her to explain to Martin that she didn’t actually have sex with August when he stayed over at her apartment. Which she does – in front of the whole office. Martin is really pissed, particularly when she asks about him being unfaithful to Mette, pointing out quite logically that he hadn’t internalized the idea of marital fidelity. I loved her reaction to the news it was Charlotte. “What was it like?” Genuine, pure, innocent curiosity. Saga is also interested in how people react to her, whether and to what extent they’re annoyed with her.

Another high point is when Saga discovers her team taking a coffee break and the concept needs to be explained. So she decides to join them, thus killing the free and easy atmosphere stone dead. Her idea of appropriate kaffee klatsch conversation is to say, “I got my period this morning.”

Despite Martin’s annoyance with Saga, they do get along very well. Martin is clearly fascinated by her. When Hans finds him sleeping in the office, after being kicked out by Mette, he suggests to Saga that she put him up on a camp bed. As it turns out, August got to share the proper bed with her, even if they didn’t have sex. Then Anton knocks on her door. So of course Saga asks him if he wants to have sex now, right in front of Martin, reassuring him that Martin would be using the camp bed. Anton declines and leaves, after a meaningful look from Martin.

But Anton is persistent, presenting Saga with a bunch of flowers in the office. He wants to “rewind” and get to know her better, offering a no-sex dinner date. She is clearly gobsmacked by the whole idea and can’t get her head around it. She has already told Martin, “I’m no good as a girlfriend,” so he passes by with a grin at this development.

Martin is sailing pretty close to the wind in his relationship with Mette, though he doesn’t know it. She has eyes for a silver-tongued software salesman at work, who has effortlessly converted 5 minutes of strictly regulated presentation time into a 90 minute conversation, including coffee. They’re talking about one thing and meaning another. When she has cramps, he insists on taking her to hospital. It turns out to be two kidney stones and two babies – twins after all, as she and Martin joked. He is genuinely remorseful, as well as opening up to August about being an absent parent. So Mette and Martin stay together, recognizing that two more kids will be manageable if their relationship can “get by.”

Everybody except Saga now thinks TT/Jens is finished, and it’s just a matter of finding him. Saga knows differently. “It’s not enough. He’s not done.”

Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 5 & 6)

Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 1 & 2)
Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 3 & 4)
Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 7 & 8)

She drives me mad sometimes but there’s something about her. – Martin on Saga

I understand you. – Saga
It takes one to know one. – TT

As foreshadowed by Lars and his samurai sword in the last episode, the third problem turns out to be cuts to psychiatric programmes. Or, as TT puts it in a message to his pet tabloid journalist, “A pat on the shoulder and a pill is the help the mentally ill receive.” TT does load the dice in favour of his argument by substituting placebos in the medication of four paranoid schizophrenics, sending them off on missions to hack people up with sharp objects. He cuts through the metaphor of “cuts” in a very direct and lethal way. His assassins are supposed to commit suicide afterwards, but Lars is prevented from doing so. And it’s his concern for Anja that prompts him to give the police a description of TT. They later get a CCTV picture of his figure, but not his face.

The race is on to find Anja, also seen on CCTV, who saw him close up outside Lars’ apartment building. Now the different approaches of Martin and Saga begin to clash. Martin reassures Anja’s mother that they’ll bring her home, while Saga insists they can’t give any such guarantee. For Martin it’s one of the “unwritten rules” of police work that you give the friends and relatives of victims some hope. For Saga it’s all about logic. In this case the hope is misplaced. TT shoots Anja in a parking garage before they can get to her. I was actually shocked by this development, which would probably not have taken place in an American or British production, where the tender feelings of viewers are usually catered for.

Saga is affected by Anja’s shooting, and perhaps by Martin’s unwritten rule about giving comfort, because she says, “No” when Anja asks if she’s going to die in the hospital. But she does die, while Saga is urging her to draw a picture of TT. You have to assume some guilt behind the facade of logic, particularly since her sister committed suicide at the same age. Anja is only able to complete the eyes and part of a nose, which Martin interprets as representing Stefan.

Stefan is a killer, though not necessarily TT. When Soren attacks him at his apartment, Stefan deliberately beats him to death with an iron, despite Soren being incapacitated. Then he has the coolness to haul the body into the bedroom and answer questions from Martin in the living room. A later search by Martin and Saga finds no body, a small amount of unidentified blood on the floor, and a cupboard full of medical supplies. But there’s not enough evidence to hold Stefan.

The fourth problem is the unequal justice meted out to Muslim immigrants, highlighted by a trial against four Danish cops who are charged with beating and killing a man. Henning saw it all and refuses to testify against his colleagues, who are acquitted, causing widespread outrage and riots. TT’s game plan is to provoke a crackdown on immigrants by kidnapping Henning and chaining him up in the basement of the apartment where the victim’s brother and father live. The brother, Saif, is sent a key to the basement room. TT is clearly hoping that Saif will kill Henning, but it doesn’t work out that way. While Saif is angry, he’s unwilling to commit murder. In fact, it’s his father who wants to kill Henning when he finds out, and Saif restrains him. They set Henning free. TT is waiting outside, dressed a cop, and shoots him dead.

When his police car is found, not even stolen, Saga begins to suspect the worse. TT has already called her directly and told Saga that she knows how he knew they were looking for Anja. The police car triggers the realization. “What if he’s one of us? What if he’s a police officer?”

Saga and Martin’s relationship is now coming under stress. As well as telling the truth to Anja’s mother, there’s Saga’s casual bedding of August, who invites himself into her apartment. “He slept over” is ambiguous, but given the way he was looking at her when she stayed for supper at Martin’s house, you know exactly what was on his mind. That and “Is she single?” Martin is so angry with Saga that the only way he can deal with it is not to talk about what provoked it.

It doesn’t help that he’s allowed himself to be seduced by Charlotte, who whipped off her blonde wig in a very erotic way when he called to look at some of Goran’s old files. Bad decision. And bad luck that he dropped his wallet during the encounter. Even worse luck that Saga publicly returned it to him at the aforementioned supper, with full details of its provenance. Not surprisingly, Mette is suspicious and asks him directly if he’s sleeping with Charlotte. So Martin is kicked out of the house, and when he shows up with breakfast at Saga’s apartment, she asks him if he’s brought croissants for August as well. He has a right to be grumpy.

Daniel is still a tabloid scumbag hack – his article on the murders by four psychiatric patients includes a list of addresses for many more psychiatric patients, prompting a vigilante to throw a brick through the window of one of them. The headline probably had something to do with it – “A Killer May Be Living Near You.” On being confronted, he denies responsibility for the consequences. Ake, his colleague, also has some choice words. “TT is in charge. You’e just a useful fool.” Daniel’s response to criticism is to party harder, ending up with a drug overdose and a two minute clinical death. We’ll see if he learns anything from this.

Anton, Saga’s casual date, may be getting more involved in the plot. We now know his name, and in one scene he notices Saga across the street and looks meaningfully at her.

A fine cliffhanger ending to episode 6. It TT is a cop, then who can they trust? And there’s one more social problem to be explored by TT in his own inimitable way. I suspect this will be the one where Martin becomes a pawn in his plans, having been spared during TT’s near capture after Bjorn’s death.

Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 3 & 4)

Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 1 & 2)
Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 5 & 6)
Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 7 & 8)

I had not intended to review each episode of this Scandinavian crime drama but it’s too good for that. The scenes keep replaying in my head and review-shaped sentences appear unbidden. Since resistance is futile, I give in.

Our killer with a conscience has been ticking off the items on his to-do list of social problems. In the first two episodes it was unequal justice for the rich and poor, and the scandal of homelessness in a wealthy society. Truth Terrorist, aka TT on the internet, addressed the former by murdering a Danish prostitute and a Swedish politician, then joined their bodies together on the Oresund Bridge linking Malmo and Copenhagen. For the latter, he handed out poisoned wine in both cities, killing 10 people in the process. But, as Martin’s son pointed out, everyone is talking about them now.

TT’s third point is that the rich don’t care about the poor – specifically, how much is a man’s life worth? To that end, he kidnaps a homeless man, Bjorn, and bleeds him to death in front of an internet camera. If  four wealthy property investors from both countries stump up 20 million krona, he will stop the bleeding, probably not expecting them to pay. Unfortunately for Bjorn, one of the four is the newly-widowed Charlotte. If you thought she was a cold piece of work from the way she rode roughshod over medical ethics to get her husband a new heart, you won’t be disappointed. Charlotte talks her fellow plutocrats into refusing the offer “on principle.” Then, discovering that Goran was having an affair, and her step-daughter, Maja, knew about it, agrees to pay the whole amount herself. Just to reduce Maja’s inheritance. Lovely woman. But it’s too late for Bjorn, whose heart stops, though technically TT did stop the bleeding and carry out his part of the bargain.

Unfortunate for Saga and Martin as well, but more so for Martin. They encounter him leaving the abandoned factory and he beats them both up, kicking Martin in the balls when he continues the pursuit. Opening up his vasectomy stitches in the process. I wish they wouldn’t show stuff like that on television – it’s excruciating to watch and you can’t help feeling the pain.

The relationship between Saga and Martin is evolving. I’d been concerned that Saga would not develop as a character because of her autism. What the script very cleverly does is to allow Martin to get under her skin a bit, tweaking the areas of her dogmatic certainty and perhaps making her think. She gets quite upset trying to reconcile the imperative suggested by Martin to protect her colleagues – “Let’s be clear. I am a colleague” – with a strict application of police procedure. Hence her plaintive, “I’ve double-checked. They prioritize the same way.” Martin also demonstrates the importance of small gestures like buying a colleague flowers on their birthday. The other people she works with probably don’t make the attempt.

I find Saga fascinating. I love her honesty and that wide-eyed look she gets when people persist in being so totally incomprehensible. Explaining to the plutocrats why they should pay the 20 million krona, for example. “You stockpile your money and take no social responsibility.” Spot on, and exactly why she’s internalized “I’m not cut out for management,” when Martin gently probes her feelings about a possible promotion arising from the case. She doesn’t have a political bone in her body.

But she is an excellent detective, and disturbingly like the profiler’s picture of TT. When her boss, Hans, says what a great detective she is, Saga comes out with this. “Extremely focused. Single. Successful. Clearly defined targets. Good at planning.” “Exactly,” Hans replies, but Saga is in fact talking about TT.

Martin, meanwhile, is recovering back home in Copenhagen, only to find that Mette is pregnant again. Pre-vasectomy. Their delight is touching, even if they are still pretending there’s still a decision to be made. Then Saga calls in the middle of the night to point out that if TT didn’t kill him at the factory, then it probably means he needs Martin for something else. Quiet contentment at the thought of a new baby is instantaneously replaced by fear for his family and himself. Now it’s personal.

The subplots are bubbling away nicely. Stefan is still looking a bit suspicious, lurking about the hospital after visiting his sister, Sonja. And he gets a call from Soren, drug addict and wife-beater, whose wife, Veronika, he’s just found a safe house in the country for. The jury’s out on Stefan. He’s tall enough to be TT, and he worked at the Men’s Hostel where Bjorn used to live.

Daniel Ferbe, the scumbag tabloid reporter through whom TT’s messages are relayed, is developing as a man with a vestigial social conscience. One of his discarded headlines is “They’re Killing Bjorn,” over pictures of the four plutocrats.

August is looking to be someone TT can manipulate, given his geekery and sympathy with the killer’s social aims. Thus getting to Martin who, if Saga is correct, TT has a use for.

There are a three new characters who are obviously going to become more involved. Henning, a corrupt Danish cop who witnessed a racist beating, is about testify against his fellow conspirators. Anja is a teenage girl, running away from home and two of the most selfish, stupid, and immature parents any child could have the misfortune to be born to. She’s taken in by Lasse, or Samurai Guy, as I like to think of him. His apartment is practically bare of furniture, except for a bed. Even the computer is on the floor. He’s very odd, given to memory lapses when he can’t remember what Anja is doing there, and he’s obviously highly medicated. Quite likable in Anja’s eyes. But once you start putting things together…Coming back from a walk, Anja bumps into a tall man in black leaving the apartment building. He looks very much like TT. Then Lasse tells her that “No One” just left and did she see him? He’s the “Master.” Furthermore, Lasse has an important mission next day, and he tells her the apartment will be all hers after that. Then you see what was in the package he received earlier – a razor-sharp samurai sword.

So I think we have an inkling of what will happen next week, though I haven’t a clue as to what social problem the mayhem will illuminate.

Over a thousand words when I hadn’t intended to write any, and all of them enjoyable. I like The Bridge.

Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 1 & 2)

Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 3 & 4)
Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 5 & 6)
Television Review: The Bridge (Episodes 7 & 8)

I am hooked on the latest Scandinavian noir crime thriller from BBC FourThe Bridge features the most extreme pairing of “odd couple” detectives I’ve ever seen – Saga from Malmo in Sweden, and Martin from Copenhagen in Denmark. Connecting them is the Oresund Bridge, on which is found a composite female body – the top half of a Swedish politician and the bottom half of a Danish drug addict – neatly joining together the two national halves of the bridge.

Saga is single, fixated on her job, and can’t imagine any other condition. She probably lives somewhere on the autism spectrum, albeit high performance. When a potential witness is trapped inside a car booby trapped to explode, she calls him on the phone to answer questions. As you would. Bit of a pain in the arse is Saga, but she’s fascinating to watch. Her facial expressions remind me of Data from Star trek: The Next Generation when he’s confronted with a particularly odd human concept, the difference being that Data is at least prepared to consider the idea on its merits.

Martin, on the other hand is your average, slobby bloke – an overweight family man who just had a vasectomy and can’t afford to take time off work. He’s clever, though, and willing to cut corners where necessary, something that visibly shocks Saga. More importantly for their professional relationship, he doesn’t take offense, even when called upon to sit on his day-old vasectomy stitches, just because Saga is irritated by him standing up all the time.

There are also a couple of intriguing subplots. One involves Charlotte, who ruthlessly violates medical ethics to ensure a new heart for her husband, only for him to pop his clogs seconds after telling her the marriage is over. I’m not sure where it can go from there.

Then there’s Stefan the social worker, who at first I thought was the killer, since he looks like a 70s porn star and hangs out with prostitutes and drug addicts. The actual killer may be the dimly seen figure looking down on Malmo from a luxury high rise apartment. And I have high hopes of August, Martin’s asocial computer geek son, being involved in some way.

The Bridge is a slick, chilling, and intelligent drama, with a murderer who seems to be killing to highlight social and political problems, feeding a tabloid reporter links to statistics relating to the crimes. It’s also blackly funny in places, as when the bomb squad gives up on freeing the reporter from his booby trapped car and one of them shrugs, as if to say, “That’s life!” And Saga’s reactions to the weird things her colleagues do – like calling someone just to hear their voice – are very enjoyable. Can’t take my eyes off the lass.

Given that Denmark and Sweden have different cultures, I’m probably missing a whole subtext that Scandinavian viewers would pick up on quite naturally. But even without it, the intriguing plot, clean, spare production values, stunning photography, and the fascinating relationship between Saga and Martin, kept me watching.