{television} wallander, series 3

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PBS Masterpiece Theater presented the third season/series of BBC’s Wallander through the end of September and Sean and I were happy to be able to catch them on-line. I tried to not give too much away, and I think I succeeded.

For those unfamiliar, Wallander is adapted from a series of Swedish mystery novels by Henning Mankell where Kurt Wallander is a detective living and working in Ystad, Sweden. BBC’s adaptation keeps the setting and casts Kenneth Branagh as the protagonist. And they produce it in 3  one and a half hour episodes. The production work is outstanding: the cinematography, lighting, blocking and musical compositions remarkably so. Wallander’s ring tone alone gives me chills now, but the music and sound from opening to close is very very good.

Kenneth Branagh is incredible as Kurt Wallander, a character who remains raw for all (and from) his experiences. He is compelled by the mysteries to make the connections, take the risks and solve them. It is often to the detriment of his personal and professional relationships, and these things haunt him. Wallander may sound like the familiar aging detective, but this isn’t American television. His attitudes toward things differ, noticeable are his responses to violence and vengeance. This alone is a fascination and it does keep the foreign viewer on their toes. Another note by this foreign viewer is that it is harder to expect what the procedures or protocol are, so suspension of disbelief is easier with these shows. However, one can expect them to be darker, and so startling at times you should probably not watch them alone.

Sequences tend toward the darkly-lit or pitch—apt for the subject matter, although bright majestic scenes can precede horror just as unforgettably (i.e. the opening sequence of “Before the Frost”). The sharp edged focus and lush color are appealing. The landscapes can be achingly beautiful even without their juxtaposition, but that they find company with the hideous only intensifies its effect. And it draws attention to the composition of a scene, a shot, the blocking, the proximities. Frames minding Wallander/Branagh tend toward the claustrophobic; the close shots can make his emotions inescapable to the viewer, to attend the point-of-view. You also get very little above or below angled shots of Wallander (nothing dramatic); he is neither made great or made small or cast too beyond control. I read both the proximities and angles as a reminder that there is no mistaking who this story is about: Wallander, who is not an avatar for the viewer; the viewer is instead relegated to witness. While it is entertaining to try to solve the mystery. The shows are so much more than a game. We can calculate the costs on Branagh’s face, in his eyes, in the set of his mouth or the gesture of his hand. And we cannot ignore the fear or regret any more than than the amusement or rage or surprise (he really does surprise well).

It is fun to look for the connections between the cases and the personal life of Kurt Wallander. Each episode weaves the two thematically and this strengthens the two parts of Kurt Wallander which we know is actually inseparable because Wallander is that intersection. One side affects the other and the brilliance lies in how you cannot parse out which side effects the other more. One of the main conflicts with Wallander is that he cannot make the separations where others are telling him he really must. And truly, they are not without valid concern. Even Wallander worries. The mysteries are true suspense-filled puzzles, but Wallander himself is just as compelling.

An Event in Autumn” (episode 1), directed by Toby Haynes,  written by Peter Harness.

Wallander can’t seem to escape his work when the dog finds a girl’s skeleton in the garden. The garden of his new place that he is moving into with his new girlfriend and her son. They have found this picturesque setting away where life does look to be settling in a good new direction. But the quaint rural home becomes creepy very quickly—and will haunt us for the rest of this series.

After seeing Series 1 (2008) we swore to keep up with it, and still we missed Series 2 (2010) somewhere. But all we need know was something big must’ve happened there at the end of 2 ep3 because everyone is looking forward to new beginnings and leaving the pieces where they lay. Actually, it isn’t just Wallander, his girlfriend, and his colleagues looking forward and leaving lie. Many a character hoped they could just bury or gloss over that dark and disturbing past and everyone be the better for it. Except who is able to change and who is not? And some things should never be left to abide the way they have. What is or is not “fated” to occur again. What scenarios involving the same people/types play out over and over—can anyone stop it?

Dogs of Riga” (episode 2) directed by Esther Campbell, written by Peter Harness.

After “An Event in Autumn” pushes Wallander’s limits and questions how many times might a person experience the broken before they can no longer find that resilience to go on, we have “Dogs of Riga.” There are gorgeous allusions and echoes in this one. They demand a second viewing (that I will have to wait for) but the dock and the children playing in the water are stuck in my mind. This episode drives home the thoughtfulness of a shot and the value of casting beyond the protagonist.

”After two Eastern European corpses are washed ashore on a raft in Ystad, Wallander travels to Latvia on the hunt for the killers. Thrown into a cold, alien world of police surveillance and lies, Wallander soon finds himself entangled in a web of corruption with no one to trust” (wikipedia).

Wallander gets to be the hero with which we are much more comfortable. He finds a fellow detective to commiserate with, a “damsel” in distress, and essentially gets a working vacation. They avoid the issues pressing after the last episode, with Kurt brushing aside certain conversations, the script giving him space from that ominous close of ep1. “Dogs of Riga” is a breather from Ystad and the espionage-type shift in mystery is nice. Of course, the episode has an intensity all its own with content that increasingly bothers the more one dwells on it.

The reprieve works for character and viewer as we contemplate the corrupted and the incorruptible, and whether corruption is merely situational; and shouldn’t that frighten us as well? Who all gets to take part in the redemption, or is it vindication, at the close? If there is awe to claim, it is Wallander’s ability to navigate a mystery at home or away.

Before the Frost” (episode 3) directed by Charles Martin, written by Peter Harness.

A “religious obsessive” arsonist, a murder, and a strange visit from a childhood friend of his daughter start us out. As with the other two, there is this attempt to restart, to find some new foothold in which to begin again, only this time we have been working our way through closets, the secrets, the past arguments, and the haunting question of origins. I wrote “the sins will of the father parent” in my notes. There are a lot of dynamics at play: Mentor/protégé; father/daughter; mother/daughter; teacher/student; country/people; leaders/followers. How does one damn the other? And who can make recompense for the other—if they can?

This one is truly creepy, and sad. I mean there are some happy parts, but the past comes up to find the wounded and regret has to be dealt with and it doesn’t end well for many. This episode also calls attention to the anxiety of how often Kurt Wallander is out and about by himself. I mean, we are mostly convinced he is capable, but the show has also convinced us that they can and will surprise us. That punch in the face of a crazy but sensical twist is captured in the fist to Wallander’s face as he pretty much accidentally steps into it. A good mystery wants to keep the follower off kilter and Wallander is very very good at it.

 A Series 4 is expected but it will be the last one Branagh is willing to sign on for.

series 3 trailer

{images belong to BBC}

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Carl V. says:

    This series was really fantastic. With only three episodes I hate that it is over and done so soon but the wait was worth it. As soon as that gorgeous theme music starts playing I am sucked right in. Branagh is perfectly cast in my opinion and the show is filmed in such an amazing way to showcase the melancholy mood. The atmosphere is so thick you feel you could cut it with a knife.

    We’ve seen series 2 but have never seen the first and want to track it down.

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