Regular viewers of BBC Four’s Saturday evening foreign language slot may have become accustomed to deferral with regards the resolution of whatever drama they might be enjoying at any particular moment. Knowing that they might have to watch ten hours of television to finally learn who perpetrated a particular crime and the motive behind such a heinous act, the committed viewer might consider the several weeks spent watching various stages of the police’s investigation to be one element that contributes to their overall appreciation of the show. Piecing together various clues contained within the narrative over a prolonged period of time the viewer may try to predict the eventual outcome ahead of the series’ detectives and at the end express delight at getting it right, frustration due to being utterly wrong, or simultaneously being stunned and ecstatic over an unexpected twist that took the conclusion in a totally unexpected direction thereby rendering all forecasts invalid. Furthermore, this specific mode of seriality is enjoyed by active enthusiasts who engage in regular fan based online communication as competing perspectives on plot points and character actions are shared, and discussed. That BBC Four’s current series Arne Dahl‘s narrative disequilibriums are resolved within the space of two Saturdays as opposed to several weeks creates a very different viewing dynamic. The series is comprised of five two part stories as opposed to a lengthy serial narrative thus enabling the audience to dip and out whenever she or he wishes to do so without the fear that not seeing a couple of editions will make it very hard to comprehend what might occur in later segments. Every second Saturday becomes a first night in terms of story and the potential for a different relationship between show and audience is an interesting development, rather than maintain a consistent core group of viewers what might happen is that new and curious spectators sample fresh storylines whilst others might withdraw until the next one.
The commencement of a second story, Bad Blood, sourced from a novel originally entitled Ont blod facilitates us being able to compare it to the previous two parter in order to evaluate a number of factors including, but not exclusively, possible tropes which might be specific to this series, development of character arcs, changes in tonal quality, and improvements in the overall quality. Additional episodes may confirm any observations made or subvert all previously held assumptions so on that basis critical commentary concerning the series, as opposed to individual segments, is provisional due to it being too early in the run to make any prescriptive statements.
It might perhaps be unfair to compare Arne Dahl to Danish series on a like-for-like basis due to country specific broadcasting factors and cultural cues that have given this series its distinctive stylistic signature so wherever possible I attempt to resist the temptation to refer to other series which have been transmitted by BBC Four or released on DVD by Arrow Films.
Adapted for television by SVT, the Swedish company that brought The Bridge to our screens and who will soon become the source of much praise when the excellent Anno 1790 and Real Humans are released on DVD in the UK, Arne Dahl has arrived on our shores having proven to be the most successful property that we had never heard of until a few weeks ago. Some 2.5 million books have been sold in Europe and this figure will no doubt be enhanced now that Vintage have begun issuing English language translations. The profile of the TV series and range of books the author may be increased following the author’s forthcoming tour of selected the UK and Irish book stores. .
With each subsequent episode we become better acquainted with this series and assumptions based on pre-transmission publicity are constantly being modified by the new narrative information enabling us able to accept it on its own terms, rather than in comparison to any other series, and find elements that are pleasing.
The first part of the second story, Bad Blood, has a darker texture than that of The Blinded Man. Having introduced the A-group in the previous two-parter and established its modus operandi, team members, their specific skills, whilst giving tantalising glimpses of how they will interact with each other the new scenario benefits from not being burdened with having to perform scene setting and selling thereby enabling the writer to open this edition assured that the overall story-world has been successfully communicated.
This episode is packed with incident and a number of enigmas that playfully invites the viewer to see how these separate elements are connected. The script is one part Chinese puzzle and other part cat’s cradle. It throws up several scenarios each of which could conceivably be the sole basis for a book or movie but here they merge, separate and conflict at various points, often simultaneously. Deferral, as a form of pleasure is intertwined with the exhilarating thrill of watching whatever action is happening at any give moment. Trying to figure out how each event will be resolved in the next episode and ways an individual plot element might be knitted into the killer’s motivation is something this series encourages.
Acting on a tip off from an FBI operative, Jenny Hultin and the members of A-group race to Arlanda Airport aware that a serial killer may be en route to Sweden from Newark, New Jersey. Boarding the plane could create a hostage scenario and lead to unnecessary death so Hultin makes a judgement call, allowing passengers to disembark as normal hoping that this will not alarm the killer. Closing a busy airport for the purpose of apprehending a suspect is not an option in this instance as the team has scant information about the killer’s identity and physical appearance so the only available option is to patrol the arrival area scanning for any signs of suspicious information until the FBI provides more a detailed description of the suspect.
Reprising a motif from The Blinded Man, criminality is imported into Sweden necessitating cross boarder multi-agency co-operation and causing the series’ budgeting department to have serious headaches over how to arrange the finances to balance the budget so that the filming schedule includes some overseas filming. Last time we were taken to Estonia and now the audience, along with Jenny Hutlin, is taken on a whistle stop tour of New York. It would have been very easy for the director to redress some European streets but the producers have decided, possibly with an eye on American sales, that a trip to the U.S.A. is a worthwhile investment and it gives off the impression that the creative team behind this series have absolute faith in the novel they are adapting and believe having a character walking against a green screened composite would sabotage any attempts at convincing the audience this is a translation into a different medium that respects the originating novel.
The New York based sequences continues the adoption of Americana which was a an important element in the preceding story, specifically, though not exclusively, through the use of diagetic and non-diagetic music. Confident that viewers are visually literate in terms of identifying cinematic and TV reference points the soundtrack designer has thrown in some mournful jazz chords which alongside visual nods to The Sopranos and William Friedkin’s The French Connection celebrates the city’s rich heritage in terms of crime fiction and rewards those who pick up on these Easter Eggs.
The gruesome methodology applied by the killer and how it is represented on camera might be another occasion in which themes thus far present in each episode are applied to both protagonists and antagonists; penetration and religiosity. David Fincher’s Se7en provided a template for exploring and representing of serial killer activity and both Jan Arnald/Arne Dahl’s text and the director refer back to it at selected moments.
In addition to the primary plot, individual members of the A-group are fleshed out and it is here that we finally get to know them as characters as opposed to cyphers. Their dreams, whether realized or thwarted are slowly being revealed to us in terms of professional and personal decisions they have made over the years and how this has impacted upon where they are at this precise moment .
Now that this series is starting to emerge from the shadows of other series aired in this slot on BBC Four it’s with this third episode I am finally sold on the emotional and investigative journey that the A-group will travel on over the coming weeks and am very keen to see the remaining seven episodes and acquire the books as English language editions become available over the next few months. If the author is reading this, please give the cleaner his own show.
Arne Dahl will shortly be released on DVD;
The book of Bad Blood is available from Amazon and all other booksellers;
Tickets are still available for Jan Arnald/Arne Dahl’s appearance at the Piccadilly branch of Waterstones;