Much to my surprise, the third Arne Dahl case of the series was a serious, complex and compelling story, a vast improvement over the turgid affairs of the past two weeks and one that, whilst not unflawed, deserved to be treated seriously, so there’s not going to be the usual amount of snark.
That’s because the subject of the story was child-pornography, and the kidnapping of fifteen year old virgin girls to be the subject of rape videos. It was an entirely serious subject and the programme measured up to it. Arne Dahl is never going to be a fast-paced affair, it just can’t do that, but this week the pace was deliberate, not funereal, which came from the not-inconsiderable advantage of having nearly two hours of story, instead of the standard forty minutes.
‘Hidden Numbers’ (and what is it with these titles that have absolutely no bearing on the story?) was kick-started by the death of a teenager in Belgium, the second missing Swedish girl to turn up there dead. Kerstin suspects the Dark Hearts motorcycle gang to be involved, and at the end of a long, tense investigation, she was right, only not in the way we were led to expect.
Another pretty blonde fifteen year old, of deeply religious parents, goes missing. We and her best friend know she was on her way to meet an older boy, one who’d groomed her over the internet, and we have to go through the rigmarole of the best friend keeping the secret so as not to get Lykke into trouble. But at least that cliche isn’t protracted and the kid spills the beans to Ida.
I should say at this stage that Ida is also the subject of cliche. She’s the junior on the team and it’s hardest for her to compartmentalise to face the case objectively. Sara, who partners with her for much of the episode, is emotionally neutral (this is her specialist area, she having been recruited to A-Group from Vice, in series 1) and she works out what the audience has long known is coming, that Ida was herself assaulted as a child, and not believed by her parents.
A-Group are tracking down not only Lykke but an increasing series of murders, all of whom have common factors: the victims are beaten brutally both before and after death, are murdered with a gunshot to the head, and are active consumers of child pornography.
There’s a side-plot that parallels the main story. At first, this looks like nothing more than a way to justify keeping Paul Hjelme in the show when he’s now with Internal Affairs (and to begin with the only reason to keep him in the show appears to be so he can act like a total dick towards Kerstin, over her taking up with Bengt). Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complex than that.
Paul’s received a complaint from Susanna, a prostitute, about a Vice cop, Hans Danielsson, beating up her flatmate and co-worker, Angelica. Hans denies it, his partner backs him up, Angelica denies anything happened and Bengt, who knows Hans, reassures Paul that it’s completely impossible.
That, unfortunately, is the audience’s cue to understand that Hans is guilty, and his murder at the start of part 2 – beaten brutally both before and after death, and murdered with a gunshot to the head – arouses suspicions that the third part of that trilogy of connections is also true. And it is: he had raped Angelica as a child.
Bengt is still disbelieving of this, but Paul gets the evidence via Angelica that proves her accusations to be true, and which identifies a fellow paedophile. Bengt insists on their heading to this guy’s apartment instead of handing the evidence over to A-Group.
Who have now discovered the crucial link between the Dark Hearts and this Child-sex trafficking operation. Freja Jeppson, fifteen year old daughter of Paul, leader of the Dark Hearts, is discovered to be another child-sex victim. The Dark Hearts are not facilitating the transportation of the girls, Paul is avenging his daughter by killing as many of the sick, evil bastards as he can.
There’s another problem. He’s killed the guy who was holding Lykke, and rescued her. His number two, Patrik, is holding her prisoner, but she’s seen their faces. So Patrik is sent to dispose of Lykke, whilst Paul Jeppson heads off to the home of the latest decrypted pervert – the one Paul Hjelme and Bengt have tracked down.
There’s been another subplot in this episode, one that has nothing to do with crime. Bengt’s so taken with Kerstin and her sons Anders that he wants them all to move in, buy a house. He’s got it all worked out, an answer for every argument except one: Kerstin doesn’t want to do it. She can’t just tell him that, so she goes to tell Paul, throwing herself at him in the process.
Paul’s started out as a dick over Bengt, but there’s a powerful moment where he reclaims his dignity. He won’t discuss it with Kerstin, she has to talk with Bengt, not him, and he will not fling himself into bed with her any more. He’s unhappy, unfulfilled, longing for the restrictions that come with relationships, but he’s set up barriers between them, and by God he’s not going to break them.
So what follows comes as little surprise. Bengt and Paul are just about to take their perp down to the station when Paul Jeppson arrives as the door and shoots the guy. Paul scatters, and we assume Bengt does too. A-Group, as in everyone but Ida and Sara, are hot on their heels and arrest Paul. Both Peter and Chavez try to keep Kerstin from going in, but she has to see and what she sees is Bengt, shot through the stomach.
Paul is there as her support, taking her to the hospital, but she turns on him, telling him Bengt doesn’t want him there, that he has to go. Sensibly, he doesn’t argue, he goes home. In time to take Chavez’s call that Bengt is dead.
In a sense, this subplot is unworthy of sharing this story. The events that lead Paul (unwillingly) and Bengt to be in the wrong place are woven carefully into the story, but it is the soap opera aspect that is unnecessarily melodramatic, and which a more careful programme would have excised.
But I’m not going to snark, because for its overall seriousness and substance, and for getting young Lykke out alive, the episode doesn’t deserve it. It sustained its story over two hours, near enough, without sag, with minimal drag, and its flaws were not too severe to topple the programme. So it deserves honest applause.
Whether it can maintain this uplift into next week remains to be seen, and we shall see next Saturday night.