You may have noticed the onslaught of Scandinavian stories that have hit US shores recently. While part of this is the voracious reading habits, particularly of mystery lovers looking for something new, it is primarily due to the wide success of Stieg Larsson and his Millenium trilogy (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.). Wallander has been around for years in books and Swedish TV, but is only recently being translated onto film in English.
One of the primary themes of the stories from this area of the world, at least those that make it to us, is the crushing despair and bleakness of life. In the first couple rounds of this series, that was certainly the case. Unlike equally dark shows such as Luther, Wire in the Blood, or Touching Evil, there was just no sense of hope. Fortunately, there were only a few stories per series or they’d be too much to handle or to want to hang about for, even with Branagh (most recently, My Week with Marilyn) and the up and coming Hiddleston (War Horse, Midnight in Paris, Thor, Avengers, and The Hollow Crown) in the mix. And the latter is gone from the third series due to that long list after his name.
With series 3, we pick up Wallander’s life where it ended on a smidgen of hope and then, predictably, grind it into pulp. The arc of the third series revolves around the meaning of and the need for family in Wallander’s life. And, for the first time, there is more of a feeling of an arc than has existed in the previous 2 series. It is a tenuous and thematic, rather than direct plot, but it is there and it has implications for everyone around him. Also different this season is how Swedish culture (so prevalent in shows like The Bridge) has been somewhat pushed to the background and homogenized. The Sweden of series three feels more British than Swedish. In some ways, this is better, though it waters down the interesting aspects of the stories themselves and makes them less unique in exchange for being more accessible. It also makes the motivations in this round more understandable.
Branagh is, as always, great in his role. The role itself, or perhaps the plotting, make Wallander seem a success despite himself, rather than because of it. I’m not sure if that is intentional or byproduct, but you don’t really feel he deserves much in the way of congratulations for how he’s conducted his investigations; even if he’s willing to put himself on the line for the decisions. He’s a mess, pure and simple. And yet Branagh manages to keep him compelling.
The series is certainly gaining its own identity as it add installments. I’d be back for the next round, if there is one, but it isn’t the strongest of the BBC mystery series by a long shot. I wonder why they would continue with these but cancel something more unique (and well received) like Zen. I’m sure having Sir Kenneth aboard has something to do with that, but it doesn’t make it a better decision.