More Cop Quality in Wallander Series 3
by Kristin Battestella
In 2012 Kenneth Branagh returned to UK television as Hennin Mankell's Swedish detective Wallander for another trio of 90 minute cases mixing personal angst and gritty crimes.
New house, new gal pal – things should be looking up for our eponymous copper in this first episode “An Event in Autumn.” Unfortunately, a labyrinthine Baltic ferry, brisk waves, and a traumatized young stowaway gone overboard bring the wayward Wallander back into the police fold alongside gruesome propeller damage, dockside bleak, and a teddy bear charm bracelet. And did I mention there are few unpleasantries buried right in Kurt's own backyard? A lot has been dumped in Wallander's lap, and some plot ties or closed circuit footage may seem slightly convenient. However escalating circumstances, new victims, pregnancy twists, prowlers at home, and suspicious real estate keep the intrigue moving. Shady families, creepy old men, and prostitution have our detectives breaking the rules yet again – leading to some very upsetting canine scenes, surprising injuries, and bittersweet hospital moments. Questionably obtained evidence, unsure witnesses, and doubtful facts add to the tension while violent car interiors, congested filming, unseen killer perspectives, shadowed photography, and contrasting lighting reflect the sinister at work. Fishy phone calls don't help as the dead bodies mount, but the mix of gray amid this case both criminal and personal layers the well built suspense. Wallander narrows the locations and suspects, creating a history will out and superb, yell at the television drama.
Telemovie two “The Dogs of Riga” picks up where the previous episode leaves off and adds more seagulls, clouded dark skies, and bodies adrift. Wallander still isn't to grips with the ongoing officer recoveries and everything that has happened, but mysterious prison tattoos, Latvian connections, and unforthcoming foreign detectives certainly contribute to his professional and private angst. The nonchalant English mixed with other languages, lingering revolutionary feelings, and more international intrigue may not seem as heavy or as close to home as the previous events. Time transitions from one scene to the next also feel super fast – in less than a week people can travel to the continent and be killed and buried. Thankfully, the pains in Ystad and abroad parallel prior angst as the mystery deepens via sulfuric acid, cocaine heists, dead informants, and solemn funerary. Undercover drug details and suspicious superiors interfere with all the back and forth phone calls, missing faxes, and notes slipped under the door. This loose police work has even Wallander side eyeing his Latvian comrades over rules and regulations! Gangs, journalists, and remnants of KGB espionage simmer as affairs and corruption unravel amid abductions and missing files. The straightforward police stand offs are well filmed, yet hidden in plain sight clues, tender moments, and clever deductions raise the bar.
“Before the Frost” begins with beautiful nature and things looking up until disturbing violence, animal abuses, and former friends unable to deal with past traumas shatter all positive strides. Yes, it is again convenient that a childhood friend of Kurt's daughter shows up at his new house out of the blue but with a seemingly related piece of case. However, this familiarity layers more history and clues on the crime while a missing grandmother, maze like trails, and scorched, shallow bodies belie that nuclear safety and the lakeside lovely. Danish suggestions, Biblical evidence, fundamental churches, painful animal traps, and aliases add to the confusion as a shootout siege goes wrong and scarred suspects watch the police mistakes from within the trees. More family surprises and previous relationships elevate the high speed chase through the countryside, and the pursuit is well edited to parallel the dangerous trains and hate crimes. Abortion talk, changing Christian ideologies, and Creationism in schools are big background topics, but the personal struggles and deep conversations anchor the investigation at hand as people are burned alive over differing spiritual thoughts. Tense one on one scenes work well with smartly used video clips, audio calls, and secret bank accounts as cults and following in the family footsteps go to extremes. Amid all the fires, multiple attacks, and warped dangers, Wallander keeps the individual reflections and bittersweet memories at the forefront for a layered finale that is both sweeping with hostage toppers and an intimate denouement.
Wallander producer and star Sir Kenneth Branagh returns as our titular but crusty copper who just can't get his life together. It's so pleasing to see Kurt cleaned up and happy to start this third season. He's well adjusted and centered at home in the beautiful country complete with a family dog. But of course, that immediately recognizable mobile ringtone just won't quit, and if his family couldn't handle the detective life before, why is there reason to think a new one would now? When your cases are so sickening, it's no easier for Wallander to go home at the end of the day even to a happy place – not that he can catch a break when there are literal skeletons buried on his new idyllic property. He may have left drowning himself in the bottle behind, but his work will always find him, causing him to miss his daughter's nuptials and fall asleep in his favorite chair as usual. Kurt has several cute and endearing moments with his dog, for whom he can leave his work at the door and not have to talk about his day. However, this companionship isn't peace enough for him when his recklessness gets a fellow officer hurt and resolving a case will always be more important than calling home. Wallander yells at the perpetrator instead of shouting at himself over his own mistakes, but strives on with his own breaking the rules kind of righteous. Kurt needs the validation of finding himself at the end of the investigation and refuses to believe in coincidence when crime is in play.
Saskia Reeves (Luther) is a little under utilized as Kurt's new girlfriend Vanja Andersson, but she provides the right too good to be true balance against Wallander's prior despairing. Vanja and her blink and you miss him son seem too sweet and innocent – they will not be able to handle Wallander's personal heavy nor the work burdens he places upon himself and thus them. Ironic counseling symmetry accents Wallander's ongoing tug and pull between work steeped in life and death daily. We viewers see the writing on the wall as soon as Kurt thinks something bad is happening to him which Vanja corrects as “us.” She says what we are thinking, whether it's what she wants to hear or not. Lithuanian actress Ingeborga Dapkunaite (Hannibal Rising) as Baiba Liepa adds a new and interesting dynamic for Kurt as well. Here is a former freedom fighter from a rebuilt country who understands how to take the simple day to day moments when you can get them rather than making domestic demands. Will that hopeful stick for Wallander? We shall see. On her game as always, Sarah Smart continues to tread carefully alongside Wallander as the level headed inspector Anne-Britt Hoglund. She's both sensitive to Kurt's new life but has been promoted and is ready to move on herself. Of course, Wallander won't actually say he doesn't want her to transfer, but he makes things right when she sticks with him even at extreme risk to herself. We don't see her as much in this Wallander, but Anne-Britt remains a superb catalyst over these three episodes.
Likewise, Jeany Spark as daughter Linda remains on terse terms with Wallander in Episode Three. There's bitterness over her wedding fallout and she is also trying to move up in the world, but their love for each other ebbs and flows alongside investigations that push them apart or bring them together for some very beautiful moments. Perhaps Wallander is missing Tom Hiddleston this season, but Rebekah Stanton (Raised by Wolves) isn't as dynamic or given enough to do as new paper pushing detective Kristina Albinsson compared to the ornery Magnus Martinsson. However, in a season of strong female characters, she oddly doesn't seem to mind her backseat role and accepts being relatively ignored by Kurt. This season, Wallander is definitely about the man himself rather than any squad room interplay or ensemble uplift. Was Kristina even necessary? Maybe not, but Barnaby Kay (New Tricks) as new boss Lennart Mattson is also lacking compared to prior team leader Sadie Shimmin. He's a yes man in a suit who doesn't appear often much less have time for any good repartee with Wallander and ultimately feels more like a rookie than the authority figure meant to reign in Kurt's wayward. It's horrible to say but Mark Hadfied (Into the Woods) as Stefan Lindeman and the returning Richard McCabe as Sven Nyberg are also treated as interchangeable this season. Both are good with procedure, know how to work the case the right way, and provide steady detective exposition when needed yet I had to double take each time one of them came or went.
Fortunately, the look and feel of Wallander is once again on point with unique Swedish scenery and on location Latvian filming. Assorted European accents and Scandinavian names may be confusing at first, but the vocals add flavor alongside well placed foghorns, phone rings, and gunshots contributing to the sharp editing and suspense. While its not in your face, Wallander provides some surprising violence and shootouts to fit the plot. Harsh outdoors, cold winds, and bitter landscapes provide realism while dark, grimy interiors sell the shady. Older technology, dated cameras, flip phones, and fax machines, help keep the investigations somewhat more downtrodden despite the lovely photography and cinematic design. Compared to the same old downhill Law and Order: Special Victims Unit or the always up intensity of the 24 styled, action oriented detective dramas stateside, I'll take Wallander win win for its intelligent manner and angsty casework. Audiences have to pay attention here, almost becoming interactive as we spot clues alongside the cast, deduce, and gasp over the twists, turns, and outcomes. Rather than dumb down its entertainment, Wallander is a well woven tapestry remaining sophisticated for viewers seeking a more meaty detective drama.