One of the best detectives series around has been that of Wallander (2008-) based on the books by Henning Mankell. With its combination of clear Swedish beauty and deep Swedish depression, it supplies one of the best character-driven mysteries out there. The first two series are absolute must-buys (Region 2, Region 1 (more expensive)) for fans of Branagh, mystery, Swedish Noir–awesome genre–or people more depressed than you. It’s beautifully made, the soundtrack is phenomenal, the acting, the stories, it ticks every box. It’s the heavy meal to Sherlock‘s (2010-) dessert (for those who find Benedict Cumberbatch the gateway drug, welcome).
Well, that’s the last two series. In the words of the Jedi Master, “There is another.” And it’s coming out over the middle three weeks of June (and you can pre-order it here–out July 23, 2012). It’s got a number of different faces coming in. How does it fare? Unlike The Newsroom (2012) which, if I’m honest, I’ve probably been over-posting, I’ll put up these reviews cumulating as I see them (and delete the older post).
Episode 1 – An Event in August
How do you change the ringtone on these things?
Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) has moved house with Vanja (Saskia Reeves) and her son Peter. He’s smiling? Oh no! He’s changing his shirt? Say it ain’t so! Ah, a skeleton is found under his black currant bushes. A woman has been thrown from a Sweden-Poland ferry. Then things start getting quite bleak. Phew! The woman from the ferry is his case, but the body in his back garden belongs to Lennart Mattson (Barnaby Kay), another officer. Most of the team isn’t around except for Ann-Britt (Sarah Smart), who got promoted and so is on her way, and Nyberg (Richard McCabe) the ME. He’s got a new partner in Linderman (Mark Hadfield) who is a bit of gnome.
Written by Peter Harness, who will write the next two episodes, isn’t quite familiar, I think, with the Wallander series. This stuff is about Wallander, the scenery, and sad murder. We do not do parallel stories of murderer and detective. I will say that the Wallander unable to speak about his feelings is a welcome addition. The director, Toby Haynes, hadn’t done a Wallander episode before and it shows. The camera work, pacing, and general feel of gloom and doom isn’t quite there.
Episode 2 – The Dogs of Riga
I’m an old man in a hurry.
Two bodies are found in a raft, tortured, shot, and with Russian mafia tattoos on. A Latvian detective , Major Liepa (Søren Malling), comes in to help, but only adds more mystery to the case. Come to find out, there was something inside the raft, and the mystery is even more complicated that it at first appeared. When Liepa ends up dead, Wallander goes to Riga where things get even more complicated.
Whenever international intrigue finds its way into a mystery, you know you’re getting to the bottom of the well. This episode works well enough because there are still things to figure out, but something has definitely changed. Wallander is a harder man sometimes and reckless. Here, a man is killed and Wallander almost doesn’t care that much.
Things do not return to form in the writing or direction—why would it? It’s the same people as the last episode (and not that of the earlier series). Like the last episode it was all workmanlike and good, but it wasn’t the same deep, depressed tone as in the earlier series. I don’t think that’s a matter of taste, it had defined the series and the character. The pace was slow and grinding before, but this one is The Bourne Identity (2002) by comparison. This is where fans should start feeling comcerned.
Episode 3 – Before the Frost
It’s all book of Revelations…it’s in the back.
Wallander is back at it. Ann-Britt is up and…almost walking, but she’s not in a rush to get back to work. Anna (Maimie McCoy), an old friend of Linda’s (Jeany Spark) (Wallander’s daughter), comes to see him one night in a bit of a state. A schizophrenic arsonist has come to Ystad and set some geese on fire. About that time, Anna goes missing and as Wallander investigates, it seems these acts have “cultural Christian” ties (“fundamentalists”). It becomes clear that it isn’t just one man. Linda, after an estrangement, has returned to see what has become of Anna. She’s got some news of her own.
It’s official, the third series goes down as the weakest of the three. There is a sense of formula without the same character we’ve grown to be depressed by. The soundtrack, which is gorgeous, has become plug-and-play. Example. The end sequence of each episode ends with an outro rendition of Nostalgia (the opening credits tune) while in earlier series it was reserved for endings so sad that the tune would give us some hope.
Wallander’s support has become entirely functional and unidentifiable. I don’t think he even refers to his female partner, Kristina (Rebekah Staton), by name. “Hey, somebody needs to tell Wallander that they discovered something about the body,” he calls out, “any volunteers?” Is one sensitive and another proud, are they concerned for Wallander’s mania, is anybody doing any detection other than Wallander? No.
The beautiful scenery is imagined, by Haynes (director) as a solitary tree placed in the right or left background. A fine image, to be sure, but more variety is required. The landscapes he chooses are not particularly colorful or dynamic. The show just doesn’t have the same look as it had. The pauses are less philosophical.
But, what it does have, is Kenneth Branagh. Even as a off-white imitation of himself, he still delivers the show. The final episode gives the opportunity for a showdown with Linda, which has such promise. Okay, so they didn’t really deliver on that either, it was cut short and the most emotional bits diluted.