You should have watched the first two episodes before reading this. While spoilers aren’t intended, they’re nonetheless inherent. Sorry.
And so we’re back up and running with our latest slice of top notch Nordic Noir, with the return of the Queen of Scandinavian Crime Dramas, the Danish Forbrydelsen which is known in English as The Killing.
First signs are positive: we’re right back into the unsettling, claustrophobic world of chief inspector Sarah Lund (played superbly once again of course by the peerless Sofie Gråbøl.) Right from the opening ship-bound scenes that begin the new ten-part story you’ll be gripped and on the edge of your seat, as the information about plot, characters and context flies at you thick and fast. This show takes no prisoners and you’re going to have to concentrate to keep up.
The writing is as strong as ever thanks to series creator Søren Sveistrup once again leading the writing team, and the direction gets stronger with each passing series – there’s a real style to this latest outing which is a match to anything that UK or US broadcasters can accomplish.
The acting is also terrific: other than Gråbøl, the only returning cast member is Morten Suurballe as her boss Lennart Brix, meaning that the show has to once again start from scratch in assembling a whole new set of characters for Lund to work opposite. The show doesn’t so much meet this challenge as it flat-out relishes the opportunity, and by the end of the second hour it’s startling just how well rounded everyone is in this story, as if we’d known them for years: Sigurd Holmen le Dous plays Lund’s new partner Juncker as a scarily earnest and keen young detective (he looks about 12) who is refreshingly good in his job despite being new, but Lund’s real partner this time out is a Special Branch officer called Borch played by Nikolaj Lie Kaas. Lund and Borsh went to the police academy at the same time and have a history; he also seems to share some of Lund’s anti-social tunnel-vision focus when it comes to a case, although at the start of Forbrydelsen III these are not being displayed by Lund herself. She seems to have given up on her police career and is turning alarmingly ‘soft and fluffy’ after 25 years in the job.
The case initially involves body parts discovered in a dockyard, but this is soon overtaken by the kidnapping of the nine-year-old daughter Emilie of shipping magnate Robert Zeuthen (really well played by Anders W Berthelsen); both cases are also linked back to the Danish Prime Minister Kristian Kamper (Olaf Johannessen) who is currently fighting a re-election campaign against the background of the economic crisis in Europe. As semi-detached as Lund is at the start of the story, by the end of episode 2 she’s firmly in the thick of it as the battle with the perpetrator has already become a deeply personal one on both sides, especially after Lund screws up because of a moment of personal distraction relating to her estranged son Mark.
And there you have it, the set-up. I have no idea how it will go from here, unlike the second series which I felt right from the start had a very clearly defined arc relating to war crimes and and Denmark’s involvement with the UN mission in Afghanistan, so that it never surprised like the original 20-episode season did (although the whodunnit aspect was still wonderfully, deftly concealed until the final minutes.)
But at the same time, these initial episodes did seem rather familiar: there’s a lot of Nordic Noir DNA going through here. Perhaps a little too much than is altogether good for it.
It is, after all, back to series one’s roots with a search for a missing daughter. In the case of the original series, the search soon became a murder investigation whereas here we hope that it’s unlikely to be, but the feel of those early episodes is evoked as the search party once again scours the woods with flashlights. The political side is even more familiar to us now, with the triad of Kamper, his spin doctor Karen and his campaign manager (and brother) Stoffer being much too similar to the original series’ line-up of Troels, Rie and Morten. The political machinations are just a little too familiar from the show’s channel stablemate Borgen and also just a little forced in terms of trying to maintain high tension (would the revelation that Special Branch had recently checked into the security arrangements of the Zeuthen family really be a shocking cliffhanger moment in a televised political debate?)
Of course, there are also big differences: the parents this time around are already divorced and at each others throats; the father is immensely wealthy, whereas the happily married Birk Larsons of S1 were working class folks struggling to make ends meet. The political election campaign is centred on the incumbent rather than the upstart challenger, and is about the leadership of the country rather than a local town hall (which means to be honest you’d expect Kamper to be something more of a hardened pro rather than the rather naive, trusting figure he appears to cut here.)
It’s actually the national setting against a very real topical crisis that is the biggest difference from series one, which had a more non-specific, timeless, mythic feel to its stories and characters. By contrast, Forbrydelsen III’s in-your-face, of-the-moment feel is one of the best things about it, as you see politicians flailing helplessly to govern while being held hostage by big businesses who only care where the next profit is going to come from. Stand in their way and you will be crushed, appears to be the overriding message of series three – unless you fight back, as the perpetrator of the murder and kidnapping is apparently trying to do.
We have a crazed but clearly brilliant adversary in this story: the way he kidnaps Ellie, sends Lund on a runaround and is doing all of this to settle a years-old debt brings to mind the vendetta-driven psychopathic genius of The Bridge, meaning that the series had another inadvertent strand of Scandinavian familiarity being woven into it. That sort of adversary is also a touch mainstream – just a little bit too Hollywood – and I really hope that Nordic Noir isn’t being driven to lose its sublime distinctiveness because of its global success in the last five years.
But these worries over whether The Killing 3/Forbrydelsen III are at the very least premature this early in the series and might quickly disappear as the story develops; in any case they’re purely niggles to what is still a solid, engrossing and gripping final outing for Sarah Lund that leaves us on the edge of our seats waiting for episode three. Creeping familiarity or no, this is still television of the very highest order that we’re very lucky to be witnessing – enjoy it while it lasts!
The Killing 3 is being shown in double bills on BBC4 on Saturdays at 9pm, with the two episodes being repeated on Monday and Tuesday respectively at around 11pm. It will be released on DVD on December 17 2012, just in time to contribute to the Yuletide cheer. A boxset of all three seasons will be available in DVD and Blu-ray the same day.