Reflections on BBC4’s The Bridge / Bron / Broen

Following the utterly gripping and nail-biting finale of The Bridge, it’s time for a few reflections on this ground-breaking Danish-Swedish production.

In line with Mrs P. policy, there are NO FINALE SPOILERS (if that’s what you’re after, do head over to The Guardian‘s ‘Bridge blog‘).

The Bridge vs The Killing

Before The Bridge aired in the UK, a number of people who’d seen the series said they’d liked it even more than The Killing. Although I’ve enjoyed The Bridge hugely, I’m not yet prepared to go that far: the first series of The Killing remains my top crime-drama viewing experience and Sarah Lund still edges it over Saga and Martin’s (admittedly great) investigative duo.

This preference is mainly due to the depth of characterisation in The Killing. In the first series especially, the focus was on a small number of characters whom you got to know very well, whereas The Bridge had a larger cast and, with the exception of Saga and Martin, had less time to dig deep. Compare, for example, the picture we were able to build up of Nanna Birk Larsen as the murder victim in The Killing 1 and those of the politician / prostitute at the beginning of The Bridge (merely the first of many). And there were a number of interesting characters who featured heavily in early plot-lines of The Bridge, but then simply faded away. Their disappearing acts may be a reflection of the reality of investigations – people make their contribution or are ruled out as suspects and then the team moves on – but some of their stories felt incomplete and I’d liked to have known more.

Fabulous biting humour

Those minor quibbles aside, The Bridge was a top-notch Scandi treat that had me gripped throughout, and became increasingly assured as time went on. The last four episodes were absolutely cracking.

One particularly fine quality was apparent right from the start of the series: a biting and at times splendidly irreverent humour. Much of this was generated by the interplay between the odd-ball Danish-Swedish investigative couple, and also provided a way of managing the audience’s reaction to Saga as a character on the autistic spectrum (we’re invited to see her behaviour as ‘endearingly odd’ rather than ‘threateningly weird’). There’s been some debate about the suitability of this strategy, but I felt it worked extremely well, and that the writers kept the balance between the humour and the more serious elements of the drama just right. Episodes 7 and 8 were superb in this respect.

Hey Martin…was it something I said?!

In sum, The Bridge is high-quality crime drama firmly located in the tradition of socially-engaged Scandinavian crime fiction, with a wonderful pair of detectives and more twists than fusilli pasta. If you haven’t yet seen it, you’re in for a treat.

For earlier posts on The Bridge, see here and here.

And, for one last time, a link to the wonderful title sequence, featuring the sublime ‘Hollow Talk’ by the Choir of Young Believers.

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28 thoughts on “Reflections on BBC4’s The Bridge / Bron / Broen

  1. I am presently watching The Bridge and whilst it is good, I am afraid the Swedish Investigator Saga is just too strange. I liked The Killing and thought the two series were well worth watching. It was a pity that they came to an end and I long for series three. I’ve also been watching Inspector Montalbano and thought this was just fabulous – funny, revealing, and wonderful scenic views of Sicily with that rascally detective Salvo Montalbano. It’s very good that the BBC has brought these European television programmes to the viewer. Thank you.

    • Thanks, John. Saga grew on me greatly as the series progressed 🙂

      I’m with you on The Killing – Series 3 can’t come soon enough – and totally agree with you that BBC4’s programming of Euro crime drama has been great. These series are something really different that open our minds to life beyond British shores – always a very good thing in my book.

    • Yes, I thought it was an absolute grower too. Really glad you enjoyed, and agree that the ending was great. As for more: definitely, but would follow up series have to involve the bridge again, or would the title have to change according to the location of the crime?!

    • Yes, let’s have our cake and eat it too. Why not indeed 🙂

      If I heard the BBC4 announcer correctly, it’s a new Swedish two-parter called Sebastian Bergman next week. There are some further details on an earlier Mrs P. post (BBC lines up a double-helping of Swedes for 2012).

  2. I agree with Mrs P that ‘the Bridge’ isn’t as powerful as the 1st series of ‘the Killing’.
    At first I found the Bridge rather contrived, but stuck with it; I’m glad I did because the 2 central characters became convincing and fascinating. The finale was extremely good and left me wanting to know what happens next to Martin and Saga. But nothing in the series compared to the intimacy of the ‘Killing’ and it’s multiple layers of satisfaction. ‘The Killing’ haunts me and I want to watch it again, so I guess it’s time to buy the box set.

    • Thanks for your comment, Norma. I still remember the exceptional impact of the first two episodes of The Killing 1 – just superb. I haven’t re-watched as yet. In two minds about doing so, as my memories of the first viewing are so good. But am tempted – in order to scrutinise the actions of the murderer as the episodes unfold and pick up on those clues I missed first time round.

  3. Excellent summary. I think ‘Broen/Bron’ was so different from ‘Forbrydelsen I (and 2 for that matter!)’ as to defy comparison.
    It seems many viewers found Saga’s oddness hard to take. Initially I found this puzzling; but know (and appreciate) a few people at the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum, accordingly and fortunately able to identify her as an ‘Aspie’ immediately. Like you, I found the character grew on me – largely due to the fact that the scriptwriters cleverly allowed her to develop. And Saga was willing to learn from Martin (that most unlikely of moral compasses … therefore possibly a good mentor: ‘do as I say, not as I do’?!).
    Loved the constant point-counterpoint, with two distinct and distinctive national stereotypes being played out (often with wit); with police intelligence pitted against that of the killer; with the two principal protagonists’ very different circs/mentalities; lighting camera & sets colour-coded with characters/wardrobe to highlight differences. The whole series was full of humour, surprises and – of course – shocks. Edge of seat stuff; completely different from the slow unfolding and intensity of focus of ‘Forbrydelsen 1’.
    Also LOVED that Saga was given her head, clearly respected (if not necessarily liked) on the grounds of the proven effectiveness of her high-speed logic, intuition, powers of concentration and courage. I liked the character most of all for her arrow-straight honesty, a natural form of integrity, and complete lack of any pettiness or malice (qualities which would – and do – interfere with disastrous results in any project in almost any field). Can’t imagine her fitting in with The Met, let alone any other force – or, indeed, into any form of corporate life, where any mode of communication, other than Orwellian Newspeak + meaningless psychobabble, is not tolerated. And the costs of this – both literal and metaphorical are clearly visible all around us.
    Ouf, have babbled on a bit myself! Apologies; but many thanks for this chance to crystallise my thoughts.

    • Thanks, Minnie, for this very illuminating comment and the extra insights you’ve provided, particularly into the characterisation of Saga. I very much liked the way she developed too.

      And, as so often the case in Scandinavian dramas, a wonderfully positive depiction of a talented woman doing her job really well. As with Lund, it was a pleasure to watch Saga and her bountiful intelligence hard at work.

  4. Mrs P I was one of those who thought Saga was too way out to be a detective, but the series grew on me. Her lack of empathy turned out to be a vital component of her investigative skills. The ending was just too sad and bleak for me.

  5. I preferred The Bridge to The Killing which I thought was about 5 episodes too long. Like you, I enjoyed the interplay between the two characters and the humour, especially in episode 7. I though the final episode both nail biting and very moving. Saturday nights won’t quite be the same.

  6. I’ve now finished The Bridge so can comment!
    For me, the pros:
    -Saga and Martin’s characterisations were great, as you write.
    -The art direction with everything in the same colours brown/grey throughout except for August’s jumper in the final two episodes — which was both an allegorical statement and possibly a nod to the Killing (I understand Saga’s leather trousers have not had the same impact as Sara Lund’s sweater).
    -On a subjective level, I quite enjoyed it until……see “cons”

    For me, the cons:
    ….until the utterly predictable last two eps which both I and my co-viewer, for whom crime fiction barely registers, accurately predicted every step of the way, huge yawn and v disappointing after the build up.
    -lots of logical impossibilities which I won’t reveal here for spoilers
    -almost all the actual detection is off screen in the sense that Saga has a team of nerds and each time she wants to know something she barks out an order and they find out via a database instantly, eg car number plates, who owns a house, etc. Hmmmm…Then Saga and Martin rush off to wherever it is and find a clue
    – various scenes in which someone or two people are on their own and don;t call for back up or call colleagues (even though in Saga’s case she is wedded to her phone in every other scene!)
    – the crimes are flat because as you write they just happen in isolation – we don;’t see their impact (eg the best subplots, of Anja and of the brother/sister duo) as they are ignored as soon as they have happened

    But it was good, I loved Saga and did not like Martin much but both were excellent and interesting characters – I’d watch them again (unlike, eg Barquo and Those Who Kill which I hated).

    I thought The Killing #1 was better, and even despite its plot weaknesses, Killing #2. I don;t think any of them are as good as BORGEN, my all-time subtitled favourite 😉 (Montalbano a close second!)

  7. Hooray, Maxine! I’ve been waiting for your take on it all!

    Interesting – I think you’re the first to express disappointment with the final two episodes. I had anticipated some aspects of the plot beforehand, and correctly predicted a few more while the programme was airing, but have to say that this didn’t spoil my enjoyment – perhaps because the ending felt like a logical outcome of much that had come before. My only frustration, as hinted above, was the disappearance of some very interesting characters (in my view the writers over-played the ‘red herrings’, because there was still an expectation, on my part at least, that one of the earlier characters might pop up / have a juicy role to play in the denouement).

    I agree with you that the detective work on the part of the team looked a little too easy. There didn’t seem to be any of the dead ends that must constantly be encountered in police work. But then again, this is an ultra-efficient Swedish team, so how could we expect anything less 😉

    I very much look forward to discussing the other aspects of your comment that involve spoilers at some point..

    Borgen – oh yes. Series 2 can’t come too soon.

  8. I too loved this series…
    May I say it’s refreshing to find a positive reviewer who appreciates the power and worth of this type of subtitled european drama, after finding a couple of terribly lazy negative rants. One of which spent more time banging on about some ‘reality TV’ programme! You’ll find it with a quick search if you haven’t already 😉
    I went from finding Saga slightly amusing, to falling in love with her as her character grew and learned throughout the case. In general the characters were very well drawn but I agree with some who’ve said that the rest of the team could have been fleshed out further, although it’s just a minor quibble. As is usual for Scandinavian drama, I was impressed with plotting, cinematography and pacing. I thought the conclusion was excellent, even if I half predicited a couple of things and found it very, very sad.
    Furthermore, I count myself among the hoards eagerly awaiting Forbrydelsen 3, Borgen 2 and dare I say, maybe even a cheeky Engrenages/Spiral 4 (is it 3 or 4?)?!
    Long may BBC4s sat drama slot reign supreme 🙂

    • Thanks very much, beeinventive – yes, I’m extremely enthusiastic about international crime drama and its contribution to the UK’s TV! I think BBC4 has (possibly accidentally) identified a growing demand for high-quality, international crime drama and has created a very nice niche market, which is hopefully benefiting the channel as well as us viewers. For me, one of the best things about these programmes becoming more mainstream is viewers discovering that subtitles aren’t as offputting as they might have thought, and enjoying exposure not just to a foreign culture, but to different languages as well.

      Plus, of course, they are crackingly good entertainment.

      I think it’s Spiral 4 next (I still have catch up with 1, 2 and 3, alas…).

  9. Mrs P, I think your analysis is spot on. The Killing 1 had an emotional depth that set it apart from almost any crime series I can remember, not least the stunning performances by Nanna Birk Larsen’s parents. There were plot devices in The Bridge that have to be considered as weaknesses, but I loved it all the same (though it is challenging having to explain that Malmo isn’t all like it is portrayed!). The only thing that could improve Borgen for me would be an appearance by Troels…

    • Thanks, Philip. TK1 was really special, wasn’t it? And you’re right, the actors playing the parents were outstanding. It was as much a family drama as anything; a forensic dissection of the fallout from the murder on them as individuals, as a couple, and as parents.

      You’ve got me all intrigued now about Malmo: how is it different to its portrayal in The Bridge?

  10. I enjoyed the series for many reasons. One that I’d like to call out though is how tolerant Saga’s colleagues were of her eccentricities. I have a child who is on the spectrum and the depiction of someone different as being valued for themselves and not judged was just great.

    • Thanks very much for your comment, Inye – I really liked that too. In particular, the relationship between Saga and her boss was beautifully done – quiet, but rock-solid support on his part.

  11. Really enjoyed THE BRIDGE. Although it’s a very different beast to THE KILLING, it has a lot more in common with THE KILLING 2, which I had just watched beforehand and (generally) found it to be a massive disappointment. THE KILLING worked because it had so much time (20 episodes) to build up characters and make the constant He-Did-It-Wait-No-HE-Did-It more natural. THE KILLING 2 tried to do an even bigger (and far less intimate story) in half the time and failed. While THE BRIDGE admittedly had a much larger budget, the writing was far more focussed, centred on the Martin/Saga relationship. A sad, bittersweet ending, but a pretty satisfying one. Interested to see where they’ll go with Series 2 (maybe explain why Stefan Lindberg and his sister have identical scars on the left arms!).

    • Thanks for your comment, Jam. The first series of The Killing is definitely the one that has stayed with me, and I’d agree with you that one key strength was the longer length: those 20 episodes, exploring that one crime in forensic detail, were incredibly effective TV.

      Like you, I enjoyed The Bridge, but yes, there were some loose ends that still needed tying up!

  12. Pingback: The Bridge (Bron/Broen) | The Game's Afoot

  13. Probably a bit late in the day, but having just watched season 1 on Netflix, I found the ending contrived and wholly unconvincing. I honestly thought that August was going to be revealed as Jens’ son, not Martin’s and I can’t help wondering whether the scriptwriters had a last minute change of mind about this!What a great twist it would have been had Jens realized his mistake too late!

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