The only part of The Bridge, the hit Scandinavian crime drama that returned this week, that isn’t subtitled is the title song. It’s a simple piano motif over which a haunting male voice intones something indiscernible in a mixture of what sounds like English, Danish and Swedish. Then, at the end, he sings, ‘Goes back to the bee-gin-ning,’ as if the whole thing was a language tutorial and you can turn the page after the beep.
I’ve been a big Bridge fan for both of its previous two series, which means that at a rough guess I’ve listened to the song more than 40 times. I still don’t have a clue what it’s on about. It’s become something of a fixation. ‘Echo star is he car sick, hmm?’ is as close as I‘ve got to the first line. ‘Trembling noises that come too soon’ is the next – alluding, we must assume, either to a mental breakdown or a dodgy kebab.
If we’ve learned one thing about Scandinavian crime drama over the last five years, however, it’s that these Danes and Swedes know exactly what they’re doing. So if The Bridge’s theme tune makes about as much sense as the lyrics to Gangnam Style, that’s deliberate. It’s a challenge – time to pay attention, folks.
And my, in the two-hour double bill that kicked off the new series, you needed to pay attention. It felt like the crime writer’s equivalent of a Jackson Pollock, ideas, characters and motives flung at the screen with rabid abandon. Body number one was a woman who’d had her heart removed, a clown’s face painted on her visage, and then been sat at a table surrounded by mannequins in a static tableau of a family dinner. Suspects included the clown woman’s son, freshly traumatised from a tour in Iraq, a right-wing vlogger who immediately went online saying she was glad the woman was dead; and a guy with a suspicious beard newly-released from prison who had a vendetta against the Swedish police chief… who’d shacked up with the Danish police chief but then got kidnapped himself. Perhaps that’s what the song meant by go back to the bee-gin-ning. It might be your only hope of finding any coherence whatsoever.
It did feel as if The Bridge was flailing to an extent, trying to fill the space left by the departure of its best character. At the end of the last series, in a particularly memorable scene, our heroine Saga (Sofia Helin) sent her detective partner Martin (Kim Bodnia) to prison for poisoning, quite understandably, the psychopath who’d killed his son. It very much looks as if Martin isn’t coming back. This leaves a hole. Saga-Martin were much more than just your chalk and cheese odd couple. Saga’s Asperger’s meant that she needed Martin to provide any sense of emotional and social awareness. This provided a rich seam for both humour and compassion, but it also meant that they were effectively one character, not two – a Bridge without Martin is more like a jetty.
Perhaps the writers sensed as much, because for Martin’s replacement they’ve rather overcompensated. Saga’s new partner Henrik Saboe (Thure Lindhardt), is a dead-eyed insomniac with wispy facial hair who appears to have some kind of Google Maps sixth sense. He tries to have sex with everyone he meets, and he subsists on a cocktail of uppers and downers that makes it remarkable that he can even stand up, let alone solve a murder. I already have a fantasy plotline forming, in which it turns out that Henrik is actually the plaintive crooner singing the theme tune: the echo star who is, in fact, car sick. After the first couple of episodes of this new series, in which no plotline or character appears to be too far-fetched, you couldn’t rule it out.
There is another type of crime drama that’s been popping up all over the schedules in the last year and that is the crime drama that’s real. Hunting the Paedophiles, on Monday, was the latest example, following on from The Detectives, The Met and 24 Hours in Police Custody.
Hunting the Paedophiles followed the work of the National Crime Agency, our own FBI, who are tasked with dealing with the really horrific stuff. In this case that meant online child abuse on a huge scale. The programme followed the NCA on the trail of a group based in Bahrain who had been ‘befriending’ British boys on social networks, getting them to post images and then using those images to blackmail them in to sending more, in a coercive spiral that was cruel and brazen.
The case itself, the way the NCA pulled on an (electronic) thread and would not let go until the whole thing unravelled, was grim but riveting. It reminded me of the excellent Cyberbully – a drama this time – starring Maisie Williams last year in the way that letters typed on a screen started to appear as charged and as violent as any explicit physical assault.
And there was a kicker, too – it transpired that at one point two separate criminal gangs posing under assumed identities had ended up ‘grooming’ each other. I wondered if we couldn’t just pack them all up in a reinforced steel cage in a mountain somewhere and let them groom each other indefinitely in a virtual netherworld – one which none of the rest of us have to have anything to do with.
If that was a story for our times, so was Capital, Peter Bowker’s three part drama based on John Lanchester’s novel about skyrocketing house prices on a single London street. The irony is that the novel was written during the 2007-8 crash. But it worked perfectly well set in 2015 – evidently no one has learnt a thing and merrily we roll along.
I did wonder what Capital, an urban tale of bankers, big basements and bitterness, would mean to anyone who didn’t live in the capital. But Bowker was way ahead of me, writing with a confidence born of his Bafta win last year for Marvellous. Within the first ten minutes he had assembled a wide spread of characters in to a believable, if fractured, community, one that almost anyone would recognise. It helped that he had an exceptional cast to breathe life in to the picture, with Gemma Jones in particular once again remarkable as the old woman who’d lived on the street all her life. Mainly, though, this was bravura storytelling: London as a melting pot in which anyone can get burned.