There are so many TV shows to choose from these days, and while I think that’s great, I also wouldn’t be the first to say that the ratio of stellar TV dramas to subpar white noise-fillers has been quite underwhelming in recent years. Thankfully, I’ve got just the thing to make you a believer again.
(If you haven’t seen The Bridge (Danish: Broen; Swedish: Bron) or have missed a season or two, then right after you finish reading this, head straight over to BBC iPlayer. All three previous series, each with 10 subtitled episodes, are available for just over a couple of weeks – some for longer, so check the ‘available until’ dates on the episodes for specifics. Of course you can catch up on the first two episodes from series four that aired over the last couple of weeks. I will explain in the next few paragraphs, and without any life-threatening spoilers, why.)
Created by Hans Rosenfeldt and bridging two countries together through crimes committed at or near the Swedish/Danish border, which is linked by a bridge (like England to Wales), it’s got literally everything: sex, violence, crime, foul language, mystery – twisted, TWISTED perpetrators; and best of all, the best detective in town, who probably wouldn’t understand how much we love her. Or why.
From the first couple of episodes, I’m already impressed by how fresh yet consistent it is for a fourth series. Usually by this point the show is dwindling and still being flogged because it’s a dead yet lucrative horse. Unlike the first three, which had their crime-busting base primarily in Malmö, Sweden, we have a new home at Copenhagen’s police department, as this time Henrik Sabroe (Thure Lindhardt) is the one who lands the curious case that took place on his Danish territory: the brutal stoning of the director general of the Immigration Service. There’s a potential link to a Swedish terrorist group called ‘Red October’, which is where our sharp and shrewd Swedish detective Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) would usually come in. Except…
She’s in prison – and not handling it very well at all. There’s no time or space for her to be alone, she struggles with the imposed and rigid structure, and (although we know she can more than hold her own) has her confrontational moments with your standard inmate bullies. Who hate cops. You’d think that’s the worst of it, but the reason she’s there probably is: she was falsely accused of murdering her mother.
While Saga awaits the outcome of her appeal, Henrik is now after eight years wondering whether or not to continue searching for his missing wife and children. There’s also a new guy, Jonas (Mikael Birkkjær) – a very obscene Danish police officer, who keeps spouting every kind of slur you can think of. He’s a shady character, and clearly a pain for Henrik to work with. And there’s an epic cliffhanger at the end of episode one. Really quite mean actually.
The cinematography in this show has been mad since day one. Obviously Sweden and Denmark are beautiful countries and they are responsible for arguably the best modern architecture and design in Europe, if not the world. But all of that is nothing if it is not framed with care and precision, which cinematographers Carl Sundberg and Lars Reinholdt, along with their fellow directors and producers, certainly know a thing or two about. The shots are simply breathtaking and, to me, the cinematography is honestly another main character and one of the main reasons I watch the show.
Speaking of characters, they are all fleshy (and by “all”, I don’t just mean the protagonists!) and most are heavily flawed in a lot of their personal decisions – Saga, for all her eccentricities, funnily the least “flawed” of them all. The theme song “Hollow Talk” by Choir of Young Believers is a resounding, haunting symphony, the fast-paced editing crafts effective suspense. And the violence is… crude and disturbing. But, in contrast to what you’ll see in the majority of Hollywood productions, it’s presented in a sterile manner. In The Bridge, every detail has a distinct purpose, and the acts of violence are always shown matter-of-factly. This fortunately makes them uncomfortable instead of gratifying, in that you empathise with the victim instead of being distracted and entertained by the guts and gore of what they are suffering.
From the beginning, every series of The Bridge has had a rich and sturdy mystery. There are always so many suspects introduced and pieces of information spread about – it’s a wonder Saga is able to keep up with it all. Then again, barely sleeping and being a workaholic might help. For its fourth and sadly final installment, production companies Nimbus Film and Filmlance International have successfully managed to continue tightly wrapping our main characters’ personal lives around the chaos of the current crime to be solved, and it’s a lesson to all TV show producers and writers about just how important all the small things are. If you have strong performances from your cast, a convoluted yet constantly moving storyline, excellent scoring, editing and cinematography, for the rest of the crew it’s a nightmare to string together, but it’s all worth it if the end result is anything like this.
Who knows how things end up for Saga and Henrik this time around, but what we have learned is that the Scandinavians continue to put out original, hard-hitting, seamlessly-constructed television shows, and the makers of this particular production have proved that it was no fluke. The Bridge transcends the simple television crime/drama; it’s a work of art.
Watch The Bridge Fridays at 9:00 PM on BBC Two, and catch up on BBC iPlayer.