I’m coming late to the party on BBC4’s latest TV trip to Scandinavia, the Norwegian series, Wisting, starring Sven Nordin as Senior Investigator Willian Wisting of the Police in the small town of Larvik. We haven’t had a Norwegian one before so I’m already looking forward to seeing what differences that may make.
The series, apparently the most expensive ever made by Norwegian TV, runs to ten episodes, but this is broken into two stories of five episodes each, based on two books in the series about Wisting written by former Senior Investigating Officer Jord Lier Horst, now running to thirteen novels.
The series begins in the run-up to Xmas, which means snow everywhere, turning the fantastic landscape into a palette of white and steel and pastel colours: absolutely gorgeous. A man on skies, pulling a small child on a sled, enters a forest of Xmas trees, seen from overhead in fantastic geometric patterns. He finds a frozen body under a tree. Wisting’s team, Hammer, Benjamin, Thorun, take pover the investigation.
Wisting’s a widower, living alone, his wife dead almost a year. From the way people speak of her, it wasn’t natural causes. It may be a matter of intrigue, it might be a case of the programme avoiding the ever-irritating ‘As you know’: we’ll have to see. For now, we see the quiet, almost-emotionless Wisting sleeping in one half of the bed and touching the empty pillow on the other side.
He alsio has two children who do not live with him. The younger, Thomas, is a volunteer in Africa, assisting famine relief, but coming home for Xmas. His older sister, Line (Thea Green Lundburg) is a reports with top newspaper/magazine VG in Oslo. Coincidentally, or so we think at first, another body has been found in Larvik, Viggo Hansen, died in his chair four months ago, and only just discovered. Line is assigned to do a feature on Viggo and loneliness in modern Norway, ‘the best country in the world’.
So that’s two investigations, of different weight and seriousness. Daughter trips around asking quesions, police permission to have keys to Viggo’s house, hunting down his childhood classmates. Wisting’s happy to let Line follow this ‘case’ because it’s keeping her distracted. His body is an American, and he might be an elusive serial killer, Richard Godwin, who’s been operating for over twenty years before disappearing. The FBI are sending two agents to observe and advise, Maggie Griffin (Carrie-Anne Moss) and John Bentham (Ritchie Campbell). The body turns out to be that of Peter Crabb, a former academic and amateur pursuer of Godwin. It is likely Godwin, who is of Norwegian ancestry, has killed him. The Press must not get their hands on any detail.
Meanwhile, we have the increasingly familiar sight, after Darkness: Those Who Kill, of a pretty young blonde, stripped down to her t-shirt and knickers, imprisoned in another unappointed cell, with a security camera observing her.
Stepping out of the story, I’d like to comment on the kind of series we’re watching. So far, this is a straight procedural, much like Trapped, although the characters don’t impress themselves on us as much as in that classic. Wisting is as straight a character as you can get, doing his job with intelligence and calm determination. No maverick he. You sense he’s never been maverick-oriented, and much of his near-absence of character can be laid at the door of a deliberate unemotionalism that’s accompanied his loss. I like him.
There is a maverick however on the team, this being Nils Hammer (Mads Ousdal, our third lead), ex-Narcotics Squad hero and a bit of a law unto himself. Hammer doesn’t like the idea of the FBI, he likes even less that the leader is a woman, and he reacts badly to Maggie describing the elusive Godwin as a ‘caveman’. What she means is tht Godwin constructs identities for himself by taking over the lives of legitimate people but Hammer takes it as an insult to Norway, insinuating its population are cavemen and neanderthals. his uncooperative attitude to Maggie thereafter, his refusal to concentrate on the job, taking diversions, stopping for free coffee, obsessing over his phone would tend to support that interpretation.
The two clash, as a result of which Hammer goes home earrly and refuses to answer his phone or door to Wisting. There’s a moment’s frisson when he’s collected, next day, by Benjamin, whose characteristic is her nervous inexperience (Thorun is the research expert, eager and positive): I had this sudden, horrific thought that he might be Godwin. But he physically can’t have been.
Meanwhile, the case has expanded to include a possible forty-six Norwegian victims, all young, pretty blondes, to add to the thirty-plus American victims. One of them may have been Ellen Robeck, missing many long years, whose uncle was Senior Investigating Officer Frank Robeck, broken by the experience and following this investigation at a safe distance.
And Line’s investigations have led her to the belief that Viggo may have been murdered as well. It’s a circumstantial point but a valid one: It’s a circumstantial but valid point. Viggo was found dead in an armchair in front of a switched-on TV. But evidence showed the other chair was the one he sat in. Wisting’s refusal to take this seriously further alienates the family.
Meanwhile, an old burnt-out farm with a covered well has been identified with Godwin’s M.O. for hiding bodies. Maggie angers Hammer by going down in on Wisting’s authority. Hammer’s obsessing over his missing phone. Wisting finds it in the car, passes it to him. Hammer stomps back to the car to look at it. He’s viewing security camera surveillance footage of the girl in the basement…
That’s the opening weekend. On this evdence, I’d welcome Wisting as good Skandi, with room to grow ino very good, though I don’t like the five part story idea. But good is good enough for me, when set against the standard of its British equivalents. I’ll be catching-up in midweek on episodes 3 & 4 so as to be on track next weekend, so keep your eyes open if you’re following this, and if you’re not, get cracking.