Contains massive spoilers.
So that’s it, a second killing is over and done with – and all too quickly. Whatever are we going to do with ourselves for the 11 or 12 months ahead with no new episodes to live for?
The series certainly went out on a high. Episodes 9 and 10 proved to be an incredibly gripping and intense final two hours, a real roller-coaster ride with multiple moments of genuine jaw-dropping shock along the way.
I said in my review of the opening two episodes that this seemed from the start an altogether sharper, higher-quality production with better production design and classier direction. When I say that the acting all round was a match for the first series, that’s meant as further high praise. And it was also very different from series 1, more of a sharply-written albeit more conventional political thriller than a human drama based in one family’s unbearable grief caused by an unthinkable crime.
I also wrote before that with the appearance of the Prime Minister and Special Branch in episode 1, the second series was playing for “High stakes indeed – we’re almost in 24 territory from the get-go.” I’d assumed that this would prove to be background window-dressing, but no: it was integral. The series followed through and by the final episode, with the programme’s radio announcers declaring that this was the “worst-ever crisis for the Danish government” which may be on the brink of falling, and the investigating team seemingly abducted in the middle of a war zone in Afghanistan in the middle of the night, this really did deliver every bit as much high-stakes drama as we could have imagined.
I also wrote in my original review of the second series that “I have a worrying feeling that I already know exactly what the core mystery is, although I hope I’m wrong.” By this, I meant that I felt that the case was going to come down to a war crimes atrocity committed by Danish soldiers in Helmand province and covered up at the highest levels of government. It turned out that this was spot on; and yet despite guessing it right from the start, it’s amazing how much “getting it right” proved entirely irrelevant to the overall enjoyment of the series, which was always more about the investigation and the characters rather that about revealing the mystery as a big “shock/surprise”. The show simply allowed this solution to evolve as the series progressed, and emerge as part of the mise-en-scène rather than the ultimate destination.
Proof of how much more focussed, sharp and coherent the writing was in this second series was how everything came down to one central question: what happened in that house in Afghanistan (and moreover, who was present)? The personal, the political and the murder strands all came down to this, whereas in the original series there were a variety of strands and stories all with their own separate resolutions (or not – quite a few loose ends never got tidied up.) But here, the whole thing stemmed from that one incident and the consequences of the decisions taken by all concerned.
The show also did an excellent job in growing an entire new cast around Sofie Gråbøl’s Sarah Lund. Given such a compelling central character, it’s not easy for a brand new cast to get on equal footing, but several of the performances here managed just that: Ken Vedsegaard as Raben, Carsten Bjørnlund as Søgaard, Preben Kristensen as Plough and Lotte Andersen as Lund’s boss’s boss Ruth Hedeby all became genuine human presences during the ten episodes.
Perhaps most surprisingly was the growth of Lennart Brix, played by Morten Suurballe. In the original series he was a monolithic red herring, a cipher dropped in to impede Lund’s investigation. But here he grew before our eyes, and we gradually realised why he sent for Lund on this case: he knew something was amiss, but was stubborn, bloody-minded and determined enough to do whatever it took to overcome the cover-up he saw and get to the truth. In other words, he saw much of himself in Lund, which made their final glaring stand-off in Memorial Park such a quietly tragic moment.
Of the new boys, Nicolas Bro made a huge impression as new Justice Minister Thomas Buch. He was very likeable, shambling and endearing – his moment of drunkenness at a foreign delegation meeting was the comedy highlight of the entire series, but there was always something implicitly funny about the way he was played and shot within the show. Frankly I found the writing of the political scenes to be the show’s weakest element – he went from trusted rising star to complete naïve political bungler in seven days and everyone of his attempts to fight back was almost laughably bad. But then, it makes sense if you consider that the Prime Minister probably selected Buch as a fall guy from the start and therefore he really was terribly out of his depth for all his good intentions.
And then there was Mikael Birkkjær as Lund’s new partner Ulrik Strange. A very different character from series 1’s Meyer and with big shoes to fill, it was impressive just how well he did fit in and became accepted and well liked by the viewers. And of course by Lund herself. Perhaps the oddest aspect of Forbrydelsen II is that the series allowed one of the most clichéd of Hollywood tropes to creep in – possible romance growing between the two leads.
Of course, it was all in a good cause and leading to the final confrontation back where it all began, in Memorial Park. This ending really shouldn’t have been a surprise: this show doesn’t do “out of the blue big shocks” and was never going to pull a hitherto unsuspected killer out of the background. There was a possibility that one of the soldiers who had been on the perimeter of the investigation from the start – Said Bilal, played by Igor Radosavljevic – could prove to be the killer in an echo of the way that series 1 played the same trick with Vagn, but by the time he was ‘activated’ as a suspect he already seemed more like a final red herring than a credible possibility (and if I’m honest, I don’t really buy his final explosive exit simply because of a few deleted radio messages.) I did have a sudden thought that if the writers had wanted a shock reveal then it could have turned out to be Raben’s wife Louise (Stine Prætorius) doing it all to vindicate her husband’s story and have him released from the mental facility, but this sort of final twist just isn’t the sort of thing Forbrydelsen goes for.
Instead, the show invariably plays far fairer than that: by the time the reveal comes you should really have worked it out yourself. And this series certainly laid it out as clearly as it could, with Raben’s unshakable accusation that the Special Forces soldier responsible for the war crime was none other than Ulrik Strange. Why did we ever doubt him? It played on our tendency to believe that Raben was still mentally disturbed, even though everything else he’d said proved to be entirely correct. Why, then, not his identification of Strange? Just because the Army – with a chronic history of obfuscation and lying – said it wasn’t? We should have known better, right then and there. Lund certainly did: it’s why she kept picking at the possibility for the rest of the series, despite her growing feelings for her partner.
The real giveaway for viewers really should have been when Lund was knocked senseless by the mystery killer during a chase. The killer leans in, places a gun to her temple – and can’t do it. It’s an odd moment and makes no sense that a cold-blooded multiple murderer should waiver in taking the shot. No sense, that is, unless it was someone who had already developed strong, genuine feelings for Lund. Someone like Strange.
And that made the final confrontation between Lund and Strange back in Memorial Park so shocking: that this time, Strange didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger when confronted by Lund, who clearly knew the truth but desperately wanted to be proved wrong at the same time. The moment the shots rang out was the most shocking of either series of Forbrydelsen to date. Of course, the mind immediately went to “she must be wearing body armour” – and so it proved to be – but that confirmation was withheld from us for a cruelly long time. (We’ll allow the writers some dramatic license here: in reality, I very much doubt that any Kevlar vest would be able to take multiple point-blank hits from a gun and still do its job. At the very least, Lund would have a lot of internal bleeding from the force of the impacts.)
Even after this, the show had two final iconic moments for us in the final minutes: the stare-down between Lund and Brix being one, but the other that sent shivers down my spine was when Lund was descending a set of stairs … and all the other police officers walking up in the opposite direction suddenly started to part and move aside against the wall. Was it awe? Fear? (This was the second partner of hers that had ended up dead, after all.) One way or another, there was a sense that Lund was no longer merely just a police officer: a legend had been born in these final moments, although whether it’s a good legend or one of searing notoriety is yet to be seen.
There will be no return to anonymous border duty for Lund after this, that’s for sure. But it’s going to be a painfully long wait for Forbrydelsen III to find out just what does await her.
In the meantime, what rating to give this second series? If I’m honest, I don’t think it quite matched the first series which was something truly extraordinary. But at the same time, it’s hard not to consider this an emphatic five stars production. So where does that leave us? Forbrydelsen just broke our rating system, it seems – the way that the finest productions really can, do and always should.