Agneta Fagerström Olsson | 98 mins | download (HD) | 16:9 | Sweden / Swedish & English | 15
Krister Henriksson returns as the Swedish detective for a third and final series of mysteries, starting with this final theatrically-released episode, based on the final Wallander novel. Yes, there is a sense of finality here — albeit one not reached just yet.
The central mystery revolves around a foreign submarine being discovered in Swedish waters back in the ’80s — inspired by real events that caused a national scandal, something which (if I remember rightly) was also an element in the plot of The Girl Who Played With Fire. Thirty years on, the body of a diver who disappeared during that event is discovered, kicking off a whole political brouhaha. Wallander’s son-in-law’s father was a high-ranking official at the time, and when he disappears, Wallander gets unofficially roped in to investigate.
Alongside this runs a more personal story for our hero: he’s free to go off on this personal inquiry because he’s been suspended from the police after leaving his gun in a cafe while drunk. It’s moderately clear to the viewer, however, that Wallander wasn’t drunk, but that he’s perhaps getting forgetful more generally… A major part of the first couple of British Wallander series was Kurt’s father’s battle with dementia, something which I don’t think has been touched on in this Swedish series, but that knowledge makes it all the more clear where this is headed.
It’s here that Henriksson gets to show off his acting chops the most. At a dinner party with his family, Wallander largely sits quietly with a drink rather than interact with others, occasionally staring aimlessly into the distance, or only remotely engaging with what the others are doing. He witters about a painting of a goat. Later, he has a disproportionately angry response when his friend brings news that he’s been suspended. He dotes on his granddaughter, but one day loses her and her buggy when he pops into a shop — but finds her quickly enough that no one will be any the wiser. Little signs like this are scattered around, clueing us in to where Wallander will presumably end up: retired from the force, and possibly retired from his life. Whether Mankell brought the issues to a head in his novel or not, I don’t know, but here I can only imagine it will build throughout the series.
As a fan of the character, it can be a little difficult to watch at times, I suppose similar to the way I imagine it must feel to watch a loved one begin to struggle so (not that I mean to equate the life of a fictional character to real-life suffering, but you know what I mean). That’s really another credit to Henriksson, for making a character we identify with who is now in trouble. He’s never been a maverick or a whizz kid or any of those flashy things that make some characters obviously identifiable as The Hero that we’re supposed to love, but his steadfastness created a character many admire and are attached to, and it’s disquieting to see that begin to slip away.
The one thing that really cuts through Kurt’s newfound confusedness is when he gets a nose for a case. Quietly, by himself, he sets about digging in to what’s going on, unearthing evidence that’s been missed by others, piecing it together to complete a picture of long-kept secrets and new crimes committed in the name of keeping them. It resolves into a complex conspiracy, one that touches the lives of altogether innocent people. Is there justice at the end of it? Of a sort, but how satisfying that justice is… well…
Incidentally, this story is on the slate to be filmed as part of Branagh’s final series of Wallander tales, whenever he gets round to it. He’s said in interviews that he feels it requires two full 90-minute episodes to tell, which is interesting because here it’s completed in just one — and not one that feels rushed. Quite the opposite, if anything: this has all the slow pace of gradually unfurled storytelling that you’d expect from European Drama. Perhaps there’s some personal stuff that’s been bumped to the rest of this series; perhaps subplots were ditched. I’d like to have seen more of the female detective Wallander encounters in Stockholm, Ytterberg, who seemed like a great character given too little to do — perhaps she has a bigger role? We’ll find out, eventually. (Or I could just read the book now, of course.)
The Troubled Man is not the greatest of Wallander tales, in the end, and as the opening act of a final movement it lacks conclusions that will, one can only assume, ultimately come in a few episodes’ time. But, like our titular hero, even when not at his best, he’s still a force to be reckoned with.
The last-ever episode of Wallander, The Sad Bird, is on BBC Four tonight at 9pm.