The adulation given to ‘Nordic Noir’ in general, and The Bridge in particular, is rather like a less nerdy version of Doctor Who / Sherlock fandom – equally obsessive, equally insular (for all it’s ratings success on BBC4, the fact remains that most people in Britain are probably blissfully unaware that it even exists) but less overtly anal. And in this case, it’s hard to argue with the fanatics, because this is as good as TV is ever likely to get.
Now, I’d missed the first season of The Bridge when I first watched this second season, but I had seen the UK/French remake The Tunnel, and despite the protestations of Bridgians, that stood me in good stead for coming into this series. While there where minor differences between the two series, the fact remains that The Tunnel followed the story and the characters of The Bridge fairly closely, making it easy to pick up here – you just adjust your memories of the actors in the remake and you are pretty much up to speed. A flashback to the ending of series one helps solidify what has happened too. At no point in this series did I feel confused as to who was who or what they were referring to when discussing past events.
This series kicks off with a ship crashing into Øresund Bridge. Investigation reveals no crew, but five people chained up inside, who it soon turns out have been infected with pneumonic plague. Swedish detective Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) is assigned to the case, and as it soon turns out to also involve Denmark, she is reunited with her Danish counterpart Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia). It soon becomes clear that this is the first act in a terrorist campaign by eco-extremists, who post messages online while wearing animal masks. The next step is a series of poisoning that at first seem random but later are shown to be anything put, and the blowing up of a petrol tanker.
The identities of the four eco terrorists are revealed early on, but as anyone familiar with such shows will know, that only means that they are not the true villains of the piece. Indeed, they are quickly written out of events, as Saga and Martin’s investigations lead them to a gigolo, the dying head of a pharmaceutical business and several other leads who may or may not be red herrings. Along the way, there are also several subplots that initially seem unconnected to the main events but which gradually all come together.
Of course, in many ways, the crime and its investigation are secondary to the curious relationship and characters of Saga and Martin. Saga is socially awkward and unskilled, abrupt and (although it is never explicitly stated) most likely as Aspergers sufferer. In this series, she has just moved in with her boyfriend, but is utterly incapable of understanding how a relationship works. Martin, a serial adulterer who has now split with his wife, is in this series a tortured figure, haunted by the death of his son at the hands of former friend and colleague turned Truth Terrorist Jens Hansen (Lars Simonsen). He becomes obsessed with the idea that his torment will end if he can make Hansen feel guilt and shame for his crimes, and so – against the advice of everyone – begins to visit him in prison, determined to get under his skin. There’s an inevitability about the fact that this won’t help that underplays the whole series, as Martin fools himself into believing that he will be able to sort out his fractured life by doing this.
These two very different characters somehow have an understanding, respect and friendship (at one point, Saga admits that Martin is her only friend), and while this case reunites then and allows them to open up – in their own very different ways – about their lives, it also sets them onto a path where both will do things that have the potential to destroy that friendship – Martin out of curiosity, Saga because she is incapable of doing otherwise, even if that means betraying her only friend. It’ll be fascinating to see how this works out in Season 3.
The two leads are pretty perfect in their roles. Helin plays Saga with a humanity that makes her abrasive character someone who you can actually like – it’s actually understandable that she would have a boyfriend who really loves her, even though she is a nightmare to be in a relationship with, and the moments where she gets to show real emotion reveal a vulnerability that is rather touching. Bodnia, meanwhile, impresses as Martin, who tries to hide his shattered life behind a forced joviality, but who is only really fooling himself.
They are backed up by a note perfect supporting cast, who all bring a roundedness to their characters. No one here seems unconvincing and each suspect seems capable of being the main villain – there’s no sense that the viewer will be thinking “huh?” when the identity of the ultimate power behind the terrorist organisation – or its assorted members along the way – is revealed, even if it is inevitably not the person you might have expected.
Beautifully shot, sedate, haunting and gorgeous, it’s easy to see why The Bridge has acquired such a devoted following. It’s deserving of the hype. If you’ve missed it through obstinate refusal to follow the herd or lack of access, I would seriously suggest giving it a go. If you are not hooked by the end of episode one, fair enough – but I somehow doubt that will be the case.