It’s that time of year when two things happened. It gets cold out (or coldish in the case of Texas) and there isn’t anything to watch on tv. The dreaded winter network television hiatus. What better way to combat the doldrums than with with cold, dreary, Scandinavian television?
Lilyhammer (Amazon/Netflix Streaming)
It’s like the Ballykissangel of mobster shows. An American gangster testifies against a Mob boss and goes into witness protection. A random memory of a winter Olympics leads him to pick Norway as his refuge. Snowy, isolated Lillehammer welcomes in a mysterious immigrant who quickly has to adapt his mob ways to Norway’s liberal culture while avoiding attracting the curiosity of the local police or the mobsters out looking for him. The show is a mix of English and Norwegian (Norweglish at times too) with subtitles scattered around. Two seasons are out on Netflix Streaming.
Forbrydelsen/The Killing: Series 1 (Amazon)
Forbrydelsen is a near claustrophobic 20 episode account of the days following the murder of a teenager, the family’s downward spiral, the maze of suspects that reaches the highest levels of Copenhagen society, and the Alice in Wonderland like hole the lead investigator falls down in her search for justice. It’s an interesting look at society, personal responsibility, and the illusive and sometimes inconvenient thing which is justice. There was an American version of this show which aired on AMC. This is the original Danish. The real gem with the award winning performance by Sofie Grabol, the cold Scandinavian scenery which becomes almost a character itself, and a runaway train pace that doesn’t end until the climax at the last episode. Yes, the original series resolves the mystery at the end of each season. None of this pace killing wait til next season to find out who the killer was garbage.
Vikings (Amazon) Vikings has every bit as much character goodness and grittiness as Game of Thrones without the bloated mess that a book translated to television unfortunately has. Instead of having a cast of thousands it has a small cast but very clear story goals. All I ask of my shows is that they do what they set out to do and Vikings succeeds at the scope it was targeting. It is an explorers narrative. It is a family story. Brother against brother. It’s a story about a bamf shield maiden. It’s a power struggle between houses. It manages to pull off making two religions feel like living religions. That last doesn’t always translate on tv well. I think the only other show I’ve seen do similar is HBOs Rome. The scope of the show is both micro and macro in that it revolves around one family, but the context is within the framework of viking expansion and growing influence as explorers. It also does a great job at showing early egalitarianism in Viking culture that shows the early seeds of a superior egalitarian society in the region today.
Forbrydelsen as a show has always played around with the idea of civic responsibility and personal honor. It was almost fitting that the series would come to an end with Sarah Lund once again faced with the impossible task of seeking justice in an indifferent world. A world where even the best of people would be tempted by their own self interest.
In the case of series three we got to meet a lot of people who were tested and ultimately failed at avoiding that temptation. Ironically it was the kidnapper in the active case that made the most sense to to Lund. He understood the weight of his own actions completely and while he strayed into violence he never thought higher of himself than others. He could empathize with the parents of his kidnapping victim, with Lund as she searched for justice in a world indifferent to it, and desperately wanted someone, anyone to empathize with his murdered daughter. A victim inconvenient to so many people. Empathy was his main weapon but no one but Lund was open to feeling it.
The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.
In previous seasons Lund was bruised, battered, and brought low by the end of the season. The case would fill her up, but when it was over she was once again empty. Her personal life was a disaster. She was the most alive while acting on behalf of justice. She would fall into obscurity between cases until society would call upon her one more time.
This season started with Lund receiving recognition of a long career. She was moving on to a desk job. She had attempted to start a garden at home even though she had no idea what she was doing and managed to kill all of the plants due to both inattention and trying to grow them in the wrong season. Timing in her personal life was always sadly off. She took in her son’s pregnant girlfriend. Pregnant with a half wanted and half unwanted child. The potential there was not yet realized. Like the plants it was out of season. She ran into her first real love from the academy, and after all those years he had grown into someone almost her equal. He spoke her language of justice and they connected. He was married to someone else though and had a family.
Timing. It was starting to feel like if she was ever going to have a chance at all it would have to be then. The little pieces of a real life were coming together even it was still a dysfunctional one. She could have a half dead garden, a dysfunctional family, and be a home wrecker. For her that was a happy ending and she fought even having that much despite clearly wanting it. She had a chance to live a full life or as close to one as she’d ever get. But she had one last case to get through.
By the end of the show we are at a very familiar situation. Lund knows who the killer in the old case is. The killer that the kidnapper wanted her to catch. The killer no one bothered with for years. The system wanted her to leave him alone though. The evidence was interfered with intentionally and there wasn’t enough left intact to bring him in.
The small bit of evidence she had finally found wasn’t enough to bring him in on it’s own, but it was enough she dared to call him out in private. He confirmed her worst instincts. He killed the girl. He killed girls before. He will kill them again.
The killer recognized her skills, but brushed her off. He was a well connected old man who was more convenient to keep around unpunished than to bring the fabric of the political structure of Denmark down just to bring justice to the death of a nobody. Too much would be disturbed if he and the massive cover up was exposed.
For neither life nor nature cares if justice is ever done or not.
As the show wound down we found out that all the key players had evidence against this man and all of them were faced with the chance to bring that evidence to the authorities. All of them to a man come up with reasons why they shouldn’t have to though. People who most would consider on the outside to be good people. The progressive politician. The kidnap victim’s father who should feel empathy to the earlier victim who didn’t get a happy ending.
Which left Lund in the car with the killer who would get away and kill more children who live on the fringes of society. She snapped. Got out of the car, opened the back seat door, and shot him in the head without hesitation.
At the end of series one, Lund and her counterpart Troels, kindred spirits in many ways, were offered two choices. Lund chose the right one which left her as a big inconvenience to those in charge and banished her to lonely barge duty in the middle of no where. Troels chose silence which compromised his personal honor but kept his newly won political position. It was always an interesting question to me as I liked both characters a lot and wanted them to be both happy and right. Not one or the other. I wanted them happy, right and together as they had gone through so much and I’m a romantic at heart, but their different choices would burn that bridge forever.
I find the public passion for justice quite boring and artificial.
Can you seek justice if society fails to want it? For a person who internalizes the call for justice like Lund does, who exactly was in control when she acted during the time that justice was silent?
Lund seemed so empty at the end. She normally borrows the strength and humanity from the family of the victims who demand justice. That is a welcome burden to her. That is what fills her otherwise listless spirit and is why she seems more alive while deep in a case than at home. In this case, during the final minutes in the car, no one living cared about the long dead girl or was demanding justice for her killer. Lund was cold and empty and searching inside herself for anything. Whatever she found told her what to do and she did it.
I’m not sure what she was thinking after the shooting. During that time her partner was planning out loud on the spot how he’d help her escape with a wad of cash, flimsy documentation, and with a few hours head start. I find it intriguing though.