Saluting Saga

By Vita Forest

Recently while sick, I binge-watched The Bridge, the intense Scandi-Noir TV series.  It starts with an intriguing set up: after a brief blackout, a body is found on the Øresund Bridge connecting Malmö and Copenhagen.  The body has been placed at exactly the half-way point, thereby ensuring that the resulting murder investigation will be a joint Danish and Swedish affair.

From the Danish police, comes homicide detective Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia), who teams up with his Swedish counterpart Saga Norén (Sofia Helin).  Martin, a bear of a man, is warm and gregarious, going home to a lively house with his third wife and a brood of children (including his taciturn teenage son August, from his first marriage).  Saga is his opposite – prickly, blunt, somewhere on the Asperger spectrum, and one of the most memorable characters you are likely to meet.  She is a workaholic, living alone and indulging in sex so casual, there is no small talk, let alone flirting.  And when it is over, she would much rather examine gruesome autopsy photos than stop for a cuddle.  Her long blonde hair is undermined by her “uniform” of leather pants, a long brown coat, boots and a series of bruise-coloured t-shirts, many of which she changes into in the middle of the office in front of her colleagues (after sniffing her armpits and discovering she is a bit whiffy).  These two make an excellent “odd couple” where Martin’s charm complements Saga’s intellect and focus, as they hunt for a calculating serial killer.

The story builds slowly with seemingly unrelated characters steadily introduced.  We become fascinated with them long before they are clicked into the puzzle of the plot.  There are no “minor” characters – each person is beautifully drawn and acted, witness the range of police colleagues with their very individual appearances, quirks and mannerisms.

This Scandinavia is a cold bleak place.  The colours are bleached out, it sometimes feels like you are watching a black and white film, where even red traffic lights are muted pink rather than scarlet.  Most of the action takes place under artificial light, at night, or in a grey leaf-less drear.  Occasionally it may snow, but it is never Christmas.

The series is beautifully filmed with the camera observing the characters through obscuring layers – behind the glass of a window, in the background behind a crowd of people, partially hidden behind a doorway.  People communicate through barriers.  The architectural settings are clinical and stark or grungy and feral.  This, combining with the unsettling soundtrack, creates a sense of disquiet and menace.

Despite the grimness, there is humour and humanity.  These are people working hard to protect others, despite their individual flaws.  The human interactions provide warmth and hope, particularly the partnership of Saga and Martin. The finale is heartbreaking, but it is well worth spending some time in Saga’s world.