The Bridge II: brilliant but depressing

Posted: February 5, 2014 in Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Scandinavia, Sweden

Scandinavia is not all crayfish parties, Abba, beautiful forests, Volvo, fjords, Carlsberg, efficiency and good design, extended paternity leave, and 09-22-321beautiful blondes. It is now a place of difficult relationships and a social model that is breaking down under the strain. Of course it was never the social democratic utopia repeatedly painted in the media, and as long ago as the 1960s and 1970s Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo were telling a very different tale.

The so called Welfare State abounds with sick, poor, lonely people living at best on dog food. The Locked Room: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo 1973

The Bridge II finished a gruelling ten episode run last weekend. The actual bridge featured in the TV series connects Copenhagen and Malmo, a city that in recent years has gained a somewhat unpleasant reputation. Especially sad in the light of the great deeds that were done across the Oresund Strait in October 1943. Sometimes well meaning liberal ideals clash with the harsh reality of our modern world. The Bridge II was a very dark series involving some very unhappy wealthy people and a group of environmental activists, who thought they could  save the world by killing people. The complexities of the plot and the way the crimes are apparently solved, closed and then reopened with yet another plot twist reminded me of the earlier novels of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo. He would have Harry Hole solve a case with about 200 pages to go and then produce plot twist after plot twist for the reader’s pleasure.

Only one western country Sweden has had two leading politicians assassinated in recent years, the Prime Minister Olof Palme in1986, and Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003. They have also had the targeted shootings of immigrants by John Ausonius [the Laserman] in 1991-1992, and a Malmo copycat “Laserman 2″in 2010. Norway had the tragedy on Utoya Island, a mass murder perpetrated by right wing fanatic Anders Brevik. Perhaps the days have gone when people said there were more murders in Henning Mankell or Karin Fossum novel than in real life Sweden or Norway.

The Bridge II featured two main protagonists Saga Noren, Malmo County Police…. the police designation almost became part of her name and 800px-The_Bridge_season_2_Kim_Bodnia_as_Martin_Sofia_Helin_as_Saga_Photo_Carolina_Romare_2012_(8724803961)Martin Rohde of Copenhagen Police. The part of the blunt frighteningly honest Asperger syndrome like Saga, was played brilliantly by Sofia Helin, and Martin by Kim Bodnia, an actor with the sort of lived in face that is very expressive when things go wrong. And in The Bridge things go wrong, very wrong. The series also gave viewers a helping of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, lesbianism, homosexuality, masturbation and incestuous love. Agatha Christie’s Poirot it wasn’t. And it also provided the viewer after the tragic ending of series one with yet another depressingly miserable finale worthy of the darkest moments in the works of Strindberg, Ingmar Bergman, and Arnaldur Indridason’s Jar City.

I wondered if the character of the socially inept Saga Noren, Malmo County Police is another version of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, Karin Alvtegen’s Sibylla Forsentrom, or Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander? Derivative or not, Saga was a marvellous creation and ironically her blunt behaviour sometimes introduced a rare touch of humour into a very dark and bleak story. It was her very lack of social graces that probably made her a good detective.

on suicide: Sweden lead the world by a margin that seemed to grow larger from one report to the next. Cop Killer: Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo 1974

But the misery filled finale reminded me of those books by Scandinavian crime fiction authors that are not content to leave the reader shattered by the characters going through hell; they are not satisfied until they pile on yet another final tragedy to rip the heart and soul out of the reader. A happy ending is out of the question. It must be the result of those long dark Nordic winters. 

The Bridge was superb dramatic television but I am not sure I could suffer like that every week. Some Scandinavian authors such as Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Leif G.W.Persson and Hakan Nesser balance their bleak analysis of the Swedish social democratic experiment with some humour and satire; but others take the dark melancholic path.  I prefer the lighter approach, but would readily watch a third instalment of Saga Noren, Malmo County Police.  


  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, Norman. As well as providing a thoughtful review, you’ve raised some really interesting questions about society, about how meet (or don’t) people’s needs and about the limits of idealism. So much food for thought! This series hasn’t gotten to where I live yet, but I am looking forward to it – provided I watch it when I can handle the pessimism.

  2. Barbara says:

    Love the Pippi Longstocking reference! One thing that strikes me about The Bridge is that people work awfully hard at staging elaborate crimes in constrast to more realistic crimes that are impusive and poorly planned (but sometimes hard to solve because they aren’t clearly motivated and the people involved are unremarkable.

    I love Saga, but I could do with less disastrous endings!

  3. booketta says:

    Great review. I loved both seasons of The Bridge and the acting calibre of Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia is a pleasure to watch. they really absorb their characters. I was surprised to hear their is a third series, particularly as there was strong rumour this was the last. I look forward to its return.

  4. Jose Ignacio says:

    Thank you Norman, I hpoe to have the opporunity to watch The Bridge II soon.

  5. Oh bother. I am trying to restrain myself from ordering this series on DVD (it may never air here, the first season hasn’t yet). But you’re making it very tempting even though it is depressing watching.

  6. Glenn says:

    Thanks for the very interesting review. Bridge 2 was as good or even better than Bridge 1, right up until the end. But I thought the ending betrayed some of the growth that Saga’s character seemed to be experiencing throughout the series–it was true to her character, but in my opinion it showed a reversion on her part to a state of mind that she seemed to have grown beyond. But as inconceivable as a Bridge 3 might seem, Saga’s situation (not to mention Martin’s) will surely make for fascinating storytelling.

  7. Norman Price says:

    Thanks for all your comments. One of the main reasons many people read crime fiction is that they want to see criminals brought to justice. Obviously some writers see things differently and want to shock the viewers.

    The BBC4 replacement translated crime fiction series for Saturday evenings is a Belgian/ Flemish production called Salamander. A detective Paul Gerardi is for a variation on the unhappy Scandinavian misfits is happily married with a charming wife and pretty daughter. But is surrounded by corrupt politicians, secret service men, bankers and cops familiar stuff but set in some beautiful Belgian scenery. I am worried if Belgium is really as corrupt as all our laws come from Brussels. 😉

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