Burning the Bridge While Double-crossing It

The third season of the Swedish-Danish police procedural ‘The Bridge’ offers mystery and gore, plots and subplots, and intriguing characters aplenty.

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The cast of 'The Bridge.'
The cast of 'The Bridge.'Credit: Courtesy

Forgive me, my PM Netanyahu, my DFM Hotovely and all ye patriots yonder, for I have sinned. This is a time when those who are in sync with the loud public sentiments (and who knows the thoughts of the silent minority on the matter?) should bash anything Swedish. But I immersed myself last week in the murky, intriguing waters that flow under the long, long bridge connecting (or does it separate?) Sweden and Denmark. This meant bingeing on the 10 episodes, one hour each, of the third season of “The Bridge” (or “Bron\Broen”), the Swedish-Danish police procedural that won over the world these last five years (it was sold to 134 countries, and had an American remake for two seasons). In Israel the entire third season can be seen on HOT VOD.

For those of you who don’t remember, or just don’t care, the Swedish PM said that knife attacks perpetrated by Palestinian individuals should not be referred to as “terror,” for which the apt rejoinder is that the boxes of parts manufactured and sold by IKEA to unsuspecting customers should not be referred to as “furniture.” The Swedish FM, in the same vein, accused Israel of “extrajudicial killings,” which is the diplomatic and legal euphemism for “murders,” and this is what “The Bridge” is all about. And it certainly can and should be referred to as an excellent police procedural, since it offers mystery, atmosphere, plots and subplots, gore and intriguing characters aplenty.

For years we have been accustomed to TV crime series in English, as the pedigree was basically British (Sherlock, of course, but Inspector Morse and many others as well) and the mass-produced American (you name the sleuth, and we’ve had him or her on our screen). There were famous detectives speaking, for instance, French (Inspector Maigret), but they didn’t manage to make it worldwide. But from Scandinavia, the deluge began in print, with Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” starting with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and the Swedish film based on it. Then there was the American remake, and than “The Bridge.” Suddenly it seemed that the Israeli ear, long accustomed either to Hebrew or English with Hebrew subtitles, could also handle the sound of Swedish with Hebrew subtitles.

“The Bridge” started, in season one, with a female body cut in two (it turns out that the two parts didn’t belong to a single corpse) found in the middle of the bridge between Malmo and Copenhagen. Thus were brought together detectives from both countries, and the plot moved between them. That allowed for magnificent shots of the bridge from above – during the day, with a lone car traversing it (I’ll come to the car later), or at night, shining as a slightly curved line in the darkness of the sea. Whenever an episode needs a break in the plot, we are treated to a birdseye view of the cities joined by the bridge at night, lights flickering along intersecting roads. Many American series copied that editing trick, as it is both a pleasure to watch and always topical and to the point, implying a multitude of mysteries flickering down there.

Double meaning

The bridge, besides being a very particular place, highlights a major underlying theme of the series – the pervasive feeling of duality, in between, neither here nor there, or “being this, but at the same time that as well.” Each event has to be seen from more than one point of view, and it sort of follows that anything happening in the plot, or seen on the screen, potentially has a double meaning.

It is a dark series, since it is set in the northern latitudes. It is also basically a cold one, in the emotional and meteorological climate. And at the heart of it is the extraordinary figure of the detective, the figure who must bring order and law into the tangled world of human conflicts. Saga Noren of the Malmo police, who drives her Porsche over the bridge again and again. Sofia Helin, who plays Noren, admits that she doesn’t like the car at all – “It’s just not easy to drive, and it’s cold and uncomfortable.” This just goes to show how good an actress she is; viewers are riveted by the intriguing qualities of her persona.

Noren has blond, longish hair, left to hang loosely around her head, and blue eyes that flick from side to side, sometimes leaving the impression that she is striving, but not quite succeeding, in following what happens around her. Don’t let that fool you: She sees and perceives everything that happens, and usually is very quick and decisive, almost impulsive, in what she says and does. She wears leather pants and a light blue T-shirt under her coat, and her inscrutable but slightly hurt expression conveys a vague feeling of inner pain, the existence of which, when asked about it, she vehemently denies.

One thing is clear to her, her partners in sleuthing, her superior and her viewers: She has some personality disorder, either psychological or organic. The perceived (mostly by critics) notion – and the creators of the series are vague on the subject – is that she is somewhere on the autistic spectrum, and that accounts for her social awkwardness, seemingly total lack of empathy, and a glaring lack of any inkling of political correctness. In the third season, the viewer gets some information about her family and upbringing, leaving her suspended, pending an inquiry, which is sort of an insurance policy that a fourth season is in the offing.

The continuing saga of Saga Noren – with its multi-mutilated corpses, unusual suspects, and quasi-mad murderers – belongs to the sub-genre of “the flawed detective,” very much in the manner of Sherlock Holmes, who certainly displays marks of some sort of autism. And as in Tolstoy’s dictum about families, all “normal” sleuths are somewhat alike, but each “flawed” detective is special in his or her own way. Both of Noren’s male Danish investigating partners are examples: She put the one from the first and second seasons behind bars; and the one in season three managed somehow to get closer to her but has his own tortured past to come to terms with.

And I for one will wait for the fourth season, where the deep waters will keep running under the bridge, even if our politicians and diplomats insist that we burn the bridge of ties between Israel and Sweden, either before or after – or even in the midst – of crossing it.