The late Keith Waterhouse, a writer of distinction, used to love the word ‘Serendipity’, which means the art of making happy discoveries by chance. I can’t say it’s happened to me too often, but there was a flutter of it earlier this week.
After reading the two Jodi Taylor books sprung on me by Stockport Library, I decided to take advantage of an appointment at my Bank to return them, well ahead of their due date. Having registered them in the self-service machine, I happened to glance up, at the New Books shelving, and see the word ‘Modus’ and the faces of the two Ings.
Yes, here was the English translation of Anne Holt’s novel, Fear Not, which was the basis of the recent Saturday SkandiKrime series to be featured here (not that either writer or actual title got more than a fraction of the cover when set against the TV link-up). As I currently have a week off, to rest and recharge, I decided to borrow it, to compare the two versions.
The first and most obvious difference is the change from Norway, where the books are set, to Sweden, which also necessitated the almost total complete of names throughout. Marcus and Rolf, the gay couple, stay the same, as do their professions, and similarly Niclas the artist. The murdered Bishop is Eva not Elizabeth, but her family retained their book names. Richard Forrester, the killer, also kept his name, but everyone else has different names.
Most interesting of all was that Inger Johanne Vik of Modus is only Johanne Wik in the books, wherein she’s married to senior NCIS Detective Adam Stubo, so this thing with the infinitely wet Ingvar and the similarity of names was a deliberate choice by the producers. Oi vey!
The bigger surprise is that the presentation of Modus as a whydunnit is a complete invention. Fear Not is a far more conventional detective story. I shrink from calling it a whodunnit because it is far more a character piece that a story of detection: for much of the story, there are only two overt murder cases under investigation, and one of those in the deep background, by a supporting character unconnected with Adam.
In fact, it’s a very strange sort of detective story overall and one that, the longer the book went on, I found to be increasingly tedious, because there was no real detection of any kind going on.
Knowing the ultimate story from Modus helped make things a lot more comprehensible, as I recognised certain story strands for what they were where, in the book, they are completely detached from everything else. It’s a viable, indeed long-standing technique, which the series adopted in its first half, bringing in characters without connecting them to the drama. Given the overall slowness of things, and especially the way Johanne plays no overt role until very late on, I suspect it would have been boring had I not had the answers in advance.
And it was interesting to see how the series built up the sub-plot concerning Johanne’s daughter being stalked by Forrester from actual incidents in the book that turned out to be a string of coincidences and nothing but complete paranoia of Johanne’s part.
Some of the worst idiocy of Modus, such as the ending in which Inger Johanne half-kills Forrester, was also made up out of whole cloth, like the indefinite Ingvar, but then it would have had to be. Anything like a faithful adaptation of Fear Not would simply not have worked on TV because there isn’t enough of a story in the book. A lot of what was done was akin to Peter Jackson’s approach to The Lord of the Rings films: putting onscreen things reserved to the background in the book.
Though Jackson never hammed anything up the way Modus did.
An interesting little experiment, but if any other of Anne Holt’s novels sneak into the library – and the book jacket advertises three others, without the prominence of the ‘M’ word – I can’t see me being tempted. I have enough books of my own to read.
Still, let’s be generous and admit the word ‘serendipity’. Friends say, well, you know, got a blog out of it.
What began promisingly enough three weeks ago came to a horrendously confused and unlamented end last night, full of loose ends, lost ideas and ridiculously disconnected, disjointed events. For most of its run, Modus has been decently put together modern crime story, but its final episode was a classic example of the writers losing control and having no idea how to contrive a fitting climax.
But lets first address ourselves to episode 7, which did at least have some strong elements to it, though these did not include Cliche One. Yes, we all knew they wouldn’t let it lie, the Ings had it off, starting with Inger Johanne all wet and naked in the shower, and Ingvar, all lumped and naked joining her.
Actually, the wetness of the surroundings was inadvertently appropriate, given that Ingvar’s passion couldn’t ignite a match soaked in kerosene, but that’s hardly the point. The Ings got to this completely unwanted consummation via a genuinely creepy moment, as Ingvar delivers Inger Johanne home, starts to drive off after a scene of truly stunning awkwardness in the car and is stopped by panicky shrieks from behind: as we have already seen, Forrester has just been in Inger Johanne’s home, reading her case files, and has chosen to send her a message by leaving behind Stina’s ‘cat’, the toy police car he took from her in episode 1.
There’s a confused feel about the continuity, early on, with Inger Johanne getting a friendly, fit, blonde uniformed cop to take her down to the subway lair where Fanny lived with the late Harwe, and where Forrester has just spray-painted over his graffitti face, and then she and Ingvar summoning shipowner Marcus back from wherever Marianne the collaborator was not taking him, since he ended up not actually going anywhere, so the National Bureau could offer him security. And Inger Johnanne spots his odd, self-contained reaction to mention of a ‘contract-killing’.
Oh, and there’s a left-field scene of a very attractive Swedish secretary telling her boss that Nicolas Rosen won’t be able to pay for the appointment he missed, because he’s dead. Don’t worry, this won’t be a mystery for long.
Meanwhile, back at the plot, we get a couple of brief scenes with the two kids, Stina and Linnea, not allowed to come home from Daddy Isak and his Mum’s country place and being put under surveillance. It has been a serious error on the programme’s part to remove these two from the story: not only is the plot supposed to be partially about how Stina saw Forrester, but the two girls have been the unalloyed, unequivocal gems in this show and it’s rank stupidity not to make more use of them.
But, wait, soulful and pouting Marcus is about to spill the plot to us, or at least besotted husband Rolf. It’s time for it all to come out, and it has the merit of being unforeseen, at least in this quarter. We’ve been expecting Marcus, heir to a homo-hating father, to be the 1 of 1+5, but in reality he’s not even on the board. Marcus revealed that Nicolas was not a possible affair but Marcus’s brother. Half-brother, that is, completely unknown to either until Nicolas’s mother recently died, having spilled the beans as to his true parentage on her death bed. And there’s a Will. Leaving everything to Nicolas. Everything that Marcus and Rolf own,that is.
Oh no, mother, but oh yes. Marcus isn’t the 1+, he’s the guy who took out the contract, whilst in New York, with Nicolas as the 1, who is now troubled by the fact that he didn’t realise there was a + anything to it and now all their friends are dead and he’s responsible for it.
Rolf insists they go straight to the Police, to which Marcus agrees suspiciously quickly (mind you, we’ve seen him start swallowing pills like they were Smarties only to hawk them back up sharpish when little Noah needed a bedtime story). Marcus goes to get his coat. This is the cue for a cutback to Tobias the lawyer (a-hah!) and his shit hot secretary. He’s confirming that the Will is valid so he’d better take it to the Police, and she’s pointing out that as he’s sat on it for three years without even bothering to look at it, it’s going to make him look stupid to produce it now and, given that Nicolas is dead and can’t suffer for it, it’s better for all concerned, here meaning her and Tobias, if some unwitting secretary shredded the document years ago. Bzzzzzzzzz.
All of which diversion is meant to set up the tragic irony of Marcus sticking a gun in his mouth and blowing his brains out.
Is his death enough to end the sequence? With one episode left? I should coco.
So we move into the final episode and all coherence drains away, like the greasy water after washing the pots.
Take the collaborator, Marianne Larsson, who’s busy preparing a get away for Forrester: plane tickets, new passport as Mike Grossman (that couldn’t be a meta-commentary, could it? Perish forfend!), Dallas needs him urgently and Forrester loses his rag,throttles her and disposes of her body in a conveniently unmanned trash compactor. Incidentally, just how and why does a former Swedish cop come to be working with and for the very contract killing organisation her own boss unknowingly hires? You want explanations? Jeez!
Then, in the middle of the night, Stina and her sober little sister, fed up of not even being able to phone Mum (loving parent Inger Johanne cuts off calls rather than speak to the daughters who mean everything to her, and not just because she’s shagging Ingvar again) run away into the forest in the middle of the night, past a police surveillance unit snoring its gobs off, to walk back to Stockholm. Forrester takes off in his car in the night through a forest, a car stops by Stina and Linnea in the forest and they get in, oh lawks!
Don’t worry though, it’s a cheat on the audience, a bit of fake tension set up to try and make the girls relevant to the story but no, they’ve really been picked up by an angel of mercy, a middle-aged woman who plays car games with them, and ferries them round Stockholm until they’re safely lodged with Inger Johanne’s mum.
As for the Ings, they’ve had a lover’s quarrel, and in keeping with the grand passion that Cliche One is, it’s about the case. The Commissioner has called off the Press Conference that was going to make the case public: Fanny’s been picked up, been willfully and pointlessly eccentric whilst having her nails swabbed and scraped and the DNA sent to America has identified Forrester down to the type of underpants he wears, his plane ticket as Grossman has been identified and they’ll take him secretly at the airport. Got all that?
But Inger Johanne is horrified that they’re letting Forrester get away with the last +5 killing. And Ingvar, that personality void, stands convicted of not having the remotest DNA trace of maverick in him; the Commissioner says, and it will be done as the Commissioner says.
I know I took the piss unmercifully about Maverick Mess in Follow the Money but this is bloody ridiculous, and it further undermines the idea of a relationship between the Ings if they can only argue about a professional difference (which is immediately forgotten) and one of them (guess which?) can’t actually manage the energy to argue.
Next comes the revelation that Stina and Linnea are missing. Inger Johanne flies into a passion of fear, runs off in that ridiculously beaten up car that she can only start by hot-wiring. That car has been a waste of space, its only value to the plot being the excuse for Ingvar to give Inger a lift home, and it promptly conks out in the middle of nowhere, for no bloody reason.
Incidentally, Inger Johanne is so frantically grateful that her girls are safe that she can’t be arsed to go and see them. You see, there’s a slam-bang ending coming up, for which our lady star has to be alone, so the show has got to ignore everything about her actual character to force it. This is seriously bad writing, making your characters do alien things, just to force a dramatic climax.
But Forrester’s still got to do his final killing, which is going to be the hot, fit, blonde pregnant actress who’s carrying Rolf’s DNA donation. Forrester practices forcing a car to swerve out of his way on a bridge in the afternoon, and intends to kill Patricia the same way. Except that Inger Johanne phones him up to thank him for his moment of goodness in saving Stina, and to empathise about having an autistic child. At the last moment, in the dark, on the bridge, he swerves.
And then he turns up at Inger Johanne’s pad, intent on killing her instead.
It’s a melodramatic twist, but what can you do? If it’s not Cliche Two, it’s in the top five, and who cares if it’s completely incompatible with the series thus far. But, do you know what? On the one hand, we have a serial killer, an ex-Marine, and outdoorsman, about six foot, powerfully built, solid, good with weapons. And facing him, we have a slim, fragile woman of about 5′ 6″, taken unawares, smashed in the face with two punches, each of which should have incapacitated her, knocked her out, and guess what? She whups him. Of course she does. I mean, he’s a killer, he’s got his hands round her neck, throttling her, like he did Isabella and Marianne, and not only does she get away, but she gets the carving knife off him and stabs him four times in the stomach with it.
And would you believe it, the bastard’s still alive after the Police are called, and Inger Johanne’s not even bruised or dazed or suffered anything but a fetching smear of blood from her nose across her top lip that no-one’s thought to at least clean off, and there’s Ingvar hiding in the shadows, and not even disappearing into them, until his fellow Ing looks up and her face lights up with a look that probably is love but which really ought to be indigestion, because that’s what I got, trying to swallow this. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a half-decent storyline crash and burn as badly as this one did. It’s on a par with Salamander, except that that was crap throughout.
Modus was based on the fourth of five novels featuring Inger Johanne Vik and a different character completely, by Anne Holt. That gives the producers four more options for a second series. If they are wont to do so, I have three pieces of advice. 1. Drop Ingvar. 2. Do a fucking sight better job of it. and 3. Don’t.
Right at the start of episode 5, Modus toyed with Cliche One. Remember that our two Ings spent the night – during which an improbable thaw of epic proportions took place, not only causing every last bit of snow to vanish, but also the considerable meltwater, without so much as a scrape of slush – under the same roof.
Now Inger Johanne, sleepless in the early light, wanders downstairs to the lounge where Ingvar is dead and gone on the couch, long, lean, handsome, oh so tempting as the nascent sun tickles his immaculately manicured beard, and she sits beside him on the coach, and reaches for… the blanket, which she considerately pulls down to cover his poor, bare, undoubtedly cold feet.
The idea that Inger and Ingvar might sleep together is really the weakest part of this story, and I was all set to switch off in disgust if they’d followed through. It’s not just that Ingvar would come third in a three-dimensionality contest with a cardboard cut-out, but that he and Inger have all the sexual chemistry of peas and custard.
Having avoided a disastrous kick-off to the second half of the story, the producers try to keep the flame alight by having Inger’s next door neighbour prowl round with censorious frowns at all this disgusting hanky panky, then in episode 6 having her take Ingvar home again, hurl herself onto his lap in the cloakroom with a couple of passionate kisses, then just as abruptly hurl herself off said lap with the convoluted explanation that once they start they can’t stop later and she can’t handle that. Sheesh.
Anyway, I’ve mentioned that bit out of order just to get the whole topic out of the way so that we can concentrate on the important things, like the story.
Actually, episode 5 started with Richard Forrester in his snow-free caravan, being interrupted by a blood-streaked Robin rapping on the window, finding himself chained to his bed and writhing in impossible fright and fury as Robin starts to… touch him. However, it’s but a dream, a psychologically revealing, albeit unnecessary dream, since Marek Oravec’s intense, mostly-silent performance has already made it abundantly clear that Forrester is driven by paradoxical latent homosexuality.
As for the real Robin, after his beating by Forrester, he sleeps overnight on a bench, limps home, collapses on his bed and promptly dies, which does at least mean that I get to see where he fits in: his mother, Gunilla, is maid to our uneasily married couple, Marcus and Rolf. Oh, I see, I get it.
Though the pace never accelerates beyond the slow and deliberate, there’s a real sense of momentum as answers start clicking into place. Inger, on learning of Robin’s death via the TV, doesn’t even need the young man’s name to identify Robin and link him to this case. She’s seen this before, and her FBI buddy agrees: this is all the work of 1 + 5, a virulently anti-homosexual religious sect in America (hey, that weird, bald preacher guy!).
Apparently, 1 + 5 accept contracts to kill homosexuals (especially Scandinavian ones, Scandinavia being the sinkhole of the world), but throw in five extra gays for free, as a bonus offer, all five being connected to the One. Robin makes four, and a homeless Afghan refugee, selling his body for food, becomes the fifth, in episode 5.
Only there’s a twist. Harwe, the Afghan lad, is killed on a boat but his body is laid out in a deserted street, right under the windows of Marcus’ offices. He sees the body, nobly goes out to check and is about to call the police when a car arrives. He’s suspected of being not only the killer, but also the John.
Which takes us over to episode 6. There’s a lunkhead detective who’s just as anti-faggot as Forrester, ensuring that Marcus’ experience is as degrading and horrible as possible, until Marcus’ security chief, a former female Swedish police officer, produces the security tapes that exonerate him.
There’s just one problem. Marcus’ trusted security chief (whose name I didn’t catch but who’s either Fanny or Marianne) is working with Forrester. And when Marcus drives away at the end to be alone with his thoughts, guess who’s behind the wheel?
1 + 5 are taken out by the FBI quite efficiently, though creepy preacher guy passes away, grabbing a sawn-off shotgun stored behind the crosspiece of his little church’s, uh, Cross, and committing suicide by police. This leaves Forrester on his own but continuing to carry out his mission, whilst Inger gets closer and closer to a complete understanding of who and what he is.
Interestingly, I note that the user assessments on imdb get progressively lower episode by episode and I’m inclined to agree. For instance: in killing Harwe, Forresyer is seen by another young girl witness, living underground in a subway station, and producing great graffitti art. She scratches his eye, getting his DNA under her fingernails, but he does nothingabout it until Fanny/Marianne tells him to. So off he goes down the escalator and who is it, by sheer coincidence, follows him into the subway station, and stands about twenty feet behind him on the escalator? Inger Johanne, of course.
Except the scene leads nowhere. Forrester hides from her, Inger gets a phonecall from Stine (the brilliant young actresses playing her daughters do not appear in either of this week’s episodes) followed by a text about the miraculous discovery of the boat, and she leaves. Very classy, very spooky. But to no purpose.
We are also given the unastounding news that Bishop Elizabeth was indeed gay, and had been since the age of 16, which her lifelong lover, the woman Erik had tea with, drops easily into conversation with Ingvar. And, in a twist that I should have seen coming but didn’t, lets slip that Erik, Elizabeth’s husband, is also homosexual. Where that leaves weedy Lukas, I don’t know, but he has an heroic part to play in stopping his Poppa from putting a shotgun bullet through his brain.
The problem is that, although the pieces are individually well-made, and they’re clearly linked in the plot, slowly the story is sliding apart. I don’t feel an emotional connection to any of this, or any of the players, except for Stine, who isn’t even onscreen. And possibly Melinda Kinniman, who is far too good to waste on the mouth-breathing Henrik Norlen.
Let’s see in next Saturday’s finale can pull it all together. Stine Vik has got to be brought back into the centre of things if there’s to be the remotest chance of it working.
Incidentally, Modus is based on a novel by crime novellist Anne Holt, a Norwegian writer and former Government Minister. She’s written eighteen novels, including two series, one of which Wikipedia titles ‘the Vik/Stubo series’, of which there are five books, Modus being based on book 4, ‘Fear Not’. It’s clearly something of a loose adaptation (the books are set in Norway, for one thing) but they don’t seem to have an Ingvar Nyman in them. So, if there is a series 2, we can but hope…
At the halfway point, already, my conclusion is that whilst Modus is excellent on many fronts, and it is keeping me absorbed, it’s missing that essential element that puts it in the first rank of Skandinavian drama. I won’t miss a second of it, but I w won’t be placing the DVD box set on my ‘must-have’ list at any times.
Why this is so isn’t easy to define, but let’s try to approach it via the events of the latest two episodes.
First, I hold up my hands on a plain error. Richard Forrester (whose name was obliquely revealed in episode 3) was not being assisted to track down young Stina Vik by her father Isak, but by one Lennart Carlsson, an all-round woman-hating bastard, later pulled in by the National Bureau when our profiling heroine Inger Johanna identifies him as a classic internet troll (you mean you can get arrested and convicted for being a foul-mouthed, vicious, stupid, hating bastard on-line in Sweden? We have much to learn from Europe). I make no excuses for my mistaking the two characters, especially as, in daylight, the resemblance is far from obvious, but I put it forward as an example of the series throwing in a hundredweight of characters, with no ostensible connection, and leaving us to sort thrpugh them.
I’m not questioning the technique, but with so many characters (more of whom were added this week) and only eight 45 minute episodes, there’s a paucity of time in which to wait and see how the connections form.
Episode 3 started with the public announcement of the discovery of Isabellas body, which immediately led Inger Johanna to connect it to her autistic daughter Stina’s weird behaviour since that night, and ended with Forrester half-completing Mission 3, killing long-haired artist Niclas – whose art consisted of a naked old man sitting in a glass cage and constantly shifting his position through 360 degrees, with minimal exposure of his aged genitals – by faking a heroin overdose.
Niclas, we are unsurprised to learn in episode 4, was gay, as are our slightly rocky husband and husband couple, Rolf and Marcus (Rolf suspects Marcus of having an affair with Niclas, which Marcus denies convincingly, until he starts snuffling over Niclas’s death). So too are newcomers actress Patricia and her wife (Rolf has provided the sperm for Patricia’s baby), plus Robin, son of Gunilla, who appears to be ‘working’ as a rent boy and who gets attacked at the end of episode 4, but not killed by Forrester. Robin does not appear to be a Mission victim, but rather impulsive disgust on the part of Forrester who, we learn this eek, has a dead wife and son and a pair of angel’s wings tattooed on his back.
Like I say, all these people are being thrown in, without introduction which, whilst it’s faithful to life, is not really meshing.
So, two of the victims are gay, and Bishop Elizabeth was gay-friendly, but might she have also been that way inclined? Widower Erik is certainly hiding something. The first thing he does is take the Bishop’s laptop to an invitingly snowy field near Uppsala and slip it into a dark and cold looking water-hole, which no doubt invalidates the manufacturer’s warranty. He’s destroying evidence as fast as he can, until Investigator Ingvar orders him not to, though we don’t really believe he’s going to stop then (and apparently the manufacturers can backdoor into the thing and rescue all the information whenever they want, which is rather worrying: do you think I want anyone to see the draft versions of this stuff?)
Then there’s the mysterious Girl in the Photo. Utterly wet and weedy Lukas, Erik and Elizabeth’s son (though maybe not biologically, in the same way Lukas’ two African kids aren’t his by birth). Lukas has always wondered if he has a sister but been too wet to ask. Once prompted by his rather more back-boned wife, Astrid, he brings it up with Dad, whose answer is the one he gave to Investigator Ingvar: it’s none of your business.
But he does visit the mysterious house again and this time we follow him inside, for thick red soup and cryptic conversation with an elderly lady, whose is not Lukas’ sister but could be his mother, but in any event must never tell Lukas whatever it is she’s keeping concealed.
That’s as much as we get this week, so let us concentrate upon the central players in this little drama, Inger and Ingvar. Here, we immediately run up against a problem in that one half of this team isn’t pulling his weight. The Guardian blog eagerly described Henrik Norlen’s Ingvar as ‘moody’ (with a silent sexy attached) but frankly he’s not moody but mopey (and I am incorrectly equipped to comment on the silent adjective).
Ingvar isn’t a presence, he’s an absence. I didn’t comment last week on the cemetery scene where he went to the grave of his six year old daughter, deliberately avoiding the attractive woman already there, who was thus silently signaled as being his ex-wife, the girl’s death having destroyed their relationship. This week, he admits his girl’s death to Inger. He’s also shown to be a bit of a player, by having one of his work colleagues step out of his shower, in bra and knickers, requesting a taxi to take her home to cook for her husband and kids, and the pathologist drops a hint that he’s clearly after Inger’s fair white body, that Inger, affronted, pretends not to understand.
The problem is that that’s about the only clue that Ingvar fancies having his own genitals profiled. Inger’s ex-husband, Isak, clearly suspects hanky panky is going on, but the amount of sexual chemistry being generated would disgrace a home Chemistry Set, and the whole thing feels like some obligatory nonsense, required because the two leading players are of opposite genders.
Besides, amongst this predominantly gay world, who gives a toss about a ‘straight’ relationship? (Lennart Carlsson, for one, being a total anti-feminist twat of the kind Dave Sim really should take a long, hard look at before aligning himself so firmly with such a stance, and the trio of lads on the street who, when their attempts to get off with two young lesbians are rebuffed, respond with brutal punches and kicks that threaten very serious injury.)
The idea of a relationship is doomed to derision because its other half, Inger Johanne, has all the attention. She is a hundred times the personality of Ingvar, with her professional skills, her complicated family life, her concerns about her autistic child, Stina, and the very different ones for the buoyant eight year old, Linnea, already accepting responsibility to look after Stina all her life, her frustrations about the lightweight Isak, who clearly didn’t pull his weight in the relationship. Inger clearly has too much of everything to ever accept a nothing like Ingvar, though she’s obviously an attractive woman, with no apparent sexual outlet – and, more importantly, no apparent concern about this.
It’s a lop-sided pairing as the two are in no way equals yet are set up to be, and the notion of any sexual relationship between them has no basis in their personalities, and would be an entirely artificial insertion.
And it would be remiss of me not to again mention just how superb Esmerelda Struwe is, once again, as Stina, a performance almost solely composed of facial non-expression and body language. There is never a moment when she is onscreen that your eyes are not drawn to her. And I should also praise Lily Wahlsteen as her younger sister, who, along with Esmerelda, gives us evidence that Swedish drama is going to be secure for decades to come. These two just tip the balance even further toward Inger.
I don’t usually comment on such things but I really must record how gorgeous the filming is, and the brilliant sharpness of the HD photography. The shots of the snowy fields where Erik dumped the laptop, and the forest where Forrester has his caravan, are incredible, and there are aerial shots sweeping across Stockholm at frequent intervals that demonstrate the clarity of the detail. The city becomes a field of three-dimensional geometry, its interstices lit by streams of light. The effect is awesome and I could sit and look at rooftops, squares, courtyards all night.
I’m late coming to this newest example of SkandiSaturday night entertainment because this happens to have been one of my working Sundays. Indeed, I’ve done a full day’s shift between the first and second episodes, so excuse me if my thinking is a little disjointed.
Modus differs from our usual run of SkandiCrimes by being Swedish rather than Danish. Considering that the Swedes have brought us both Arne Dahl and Crimes of Passion, that’s not exactly the highest recommendation, but on the evidence of the first episode, those were comparisons I didn’t see myself as having to make anytime soon. It’s also an eight part series, not ten, so taking us snugly up to Xmas (when the series happens to be set), and the episodes run to 45 minutes, not an hour.
It’s also a ‘whydunnit’, not a ‘whodunnit’, of which much has been made. That’s certainly unusual in SkandiCrime of the kind we’ve received since The Killing first made its mark, though not necessarily an original notion, given that that was the basis of practically every episode of Columbo. We see the killer and the killing in the opening ten minutes of episode 1 (and another in the last five minutes), but we don’t know the name of the killer nor what links the two murders (though it’s hinted at heavily in the trailer for episode 2). All we know is that they guy’s a professional, and he’s acting on instructions.
Appropriately enough, what we get in episode 1 is a series of introductions to characters of different ages, few of whom we get to know in any depth, nor do we know about the relationship between them, if there is any. The three central characters, who get the most screen-time, are Inger Johanne Vik (Melinda Kinnaman), Ingvar Nyman (Henrik Norlen) and Stina Vik (Esmerelda Struwe).Inger is a criminal psychologist and former profiler, now turned academic, Ingvar is an investigator for the National Bureau – the Swedish FBI – who has worked with Inger when she was a profiler for them, and Stina is Inger’s fourteen year old autistic daughter. Who witnesses the first murder.
Thus a fruitful situation is set up.
The first two murder victims are Isabella Levin and Elisabeth Lindgren. The first is an attractive blonde in her late thirties, who presents a cookery series on TV (which information is smoothly passed on in conversation with a businessman trying to chat her up in the bar). She’s leaving her partner behind on Xmas Eve to travel to Finland to visit her ex, not out of any residual feelings for him but because he got custody of the kids. On her way to a massage, she is strangled in the lift by Mr Assassin: Stina sees his face when he’s attempting to dispose of the body (which, incidentally, he has done so, offscreen, so successfully that by trailer time, nobody has yet discovered that she’s dead).
The other is a progressive Christian Bishop in her early Sixties. We successively see her and her husband Erik welcoming their grandchildren – who are black – on Xmas Eve morning (parents unseen, parking the car), conducting the service in Church and, in the evening, getting into a quarrel with Erik over some unspecified but deep-rooted issue, leaving the house to walk to the Church and being grabbed and stabbed very efficiently by Mr Assassin.
What is going on?
Answers to this start to be intimated in episode 2. Mr Killer watches an internet broadcast of a religious ceremony, in English, that looks to be a bit fundamentalist flavoured. Immediately it’s over, the cult leader, who has a really weird voice, Skypes our man about hoping he’s not getting sloppy over the girl. Given that Isabella’s partner turns out to be another woman (who spends most of the episode trying to find out where the lovely Isabella might have got too and taking far too long over getting suspicious of foul play), and that there’s a male gay couple also on the series’ radar, I have a big, shiny suspicion forming.
As for Bishop Elizabeth, first her husband tells Ingvar the Detective that it’s none of his business where the Bishop was going when she was murdered very professionally in public then he follows her steps and knocks on a door. We have yet to see who opens it, but given that he’s been burning her papers nonstop since daybreak, not to mention hiding a photo of a young woman, my big, shiny suspicion is working on overdrive.
And incidentally, I am beginning to find it a tiny bit of a cliché in SkandiCrime that, the moment a murder occurs, everyone close to the victim decides to keep back any information that might assist the Police identify, locate and arrest the killer. Hell’s bells, I would be volunteering every little scrap of gen I had if it were someone I cared about who got killed.
Not that Ingvar presses Erik the Bishop’s husband about it. Actually, he doesn’t press anyone much at all. Yes, he’s not your cliched maverick, but so far he’s not anything at all, but wet, flavourless and clueless, in both senses of the word. His only idea to date is to ask Inger to become the Bureau’s consultant on this case, and you half get the idea that it’s as much because he fancies her as he thinks she can help. Not that you’d blame him for that: Melinda Kanniman is refreshingly nice-looking, easy on the eye but not an outstanding beauty.
She’s quite clearly the star, but the best and most affecting acting is coming from Esmerelda Struwe as the autistic Stina. Without any histrionics, she is quietly and utterly convincing, and the part is superbly written (though I am slightly doubtful over her dream, just before episode 2’s end, which is heavily implied to be a vision of Ulrika finding Isabella’s body at last).
There’s a neat twist in the tail to give us thought for next week. Mr Assassin (who, according to the cast in imdb, is called Richard Forrester) is supposed to be taking out young Stina as the only witness who can identify him. Except that he saves her from being smashed flat by a truck, he spends all of episode 2 moodily trailing her around and taking none of his chances to do something about it, and at the end looks to be handing the job over to a colleague.
Who, unless I am mistaken, is Isak Vik. Former husband of Inger, and father to Stina. Hmmmm.