Sofia Hellin was still astonishing in ‘The Bridge’, but Michael C.Hall’s British accent wasn’t the only thing out of place in ‘Safe’.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 6 years since we first fell in love with Saga Noren, her leather trousers and vintage Volvo. That was back when ‘The Bridge’ (BBC2) was quite literally a bridge between her Swedish coldness and the Danish warmth of her bear-like partner Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia). Their polar opposite chemistry was inseparable and yet our fondness for Saga’s sublime mix of Sherlockian sleuthing and Aspergersy interpersonal skills let her go solo; ending last season -three years ago now - in an uncharacteristically happy and frankly perfect place.
There was nothing happy or perfect to be found in Saga’s state or indeed anything in this first episode of ‘The Bridge’s fourth and final season; upgraded to prime time BBC2 from BBC4’s subtitled Saturday night slot. The opening sequence was especially grim - even by ‘The Bridge’s brutally bleak standards - involving a woman duct-taped and buried in the ground before being stoned to death. While the act itself was largely off-screen with the camera looming away from her injuries, the impact was every bit as harrowing as we watched - from a distance - the dark shadow of a truck throwing rocks to muffled screams.
This woman was, in fact, head of the Swedish immigration board; responsible for blocking an influx of refugees from entering the country. Danish detective Henrik Sabroe (Thure Lindehardt) - now a series regular - believes a Far Left group known as “Red October” is responsible. ‘The Bridge’ has constantly tampered with real-world subjects ranging from abortion to climate change to LGBT as the basis for its often sensational crimes; mostly being manifestations of the extremism that exists beneath Scandinavia’s famously laid-back liberal politics.
This case, however, feels particularly grounded and relevant in its nastiness; exploring the ramifications of the refugee crisis which has ripped through the sub-continent since 2015. Yet pill-popping, goateed, Johnny Depp lookalike Henrik lacks the support of his “Svensk kollega” who is in the slammer falsely accused of murdering her mother with Munchausen’s.
It’s been a while since I’ve felt quite so sorry for a TV character as I felt for poor Saga here; a detective of her brilliance and intellect left picking away at pottery and threatened by inmates who don’t take lightly to the concept of a copper in jail.
This is undoubtedly the masterwork of Sofia Hellin’s performance; evoking empathy for a character who sorely lacks such. It was a bold move on Writer Hans Rosenfeldt’s part having his heroine out of the limlight for an episode’s entirety and, by its end, you may wonder were it the right move, but Hellin made it work. Never has a character as emotionally detached and almost alien as Saga felt quite so human. Truly one of the greatest female characters ever written.
Writer Rosenfeldt has stated this is a saga from which there can be no return. I dread to think what he has in store for our hard-to-love, but utterly lovable heroine. And yet where ‘The Killing’ (‘Forbrydelsen’) and ‘Borgen’ both faltered in their final seasons, ‘The Bridge’ appears to be only upping its ante. It remains “peak Scandi Noir” with an aura of place and culture unparalleled on TV today. However this Saga ends, she and it will be a saga sorely missed...
There was something culturally misplaced about ‘Safe’ (Netflix). It’s a production populated by the BBC’s biggest thesps and yet is produced by Netflix, scripted by American crime writer Harlan Corben and - most bafflingly - headlined by the man who was ‘Dexter’ Michael C.Hall.
Here Hall plays a surgeon which doesn’t sound like a stretch from slicing up corpses as Miami’s most loved serial killer; except here he’s a grieving father having lost a wife to death and now his daughter (Amy-Jane Kelly) who disappeared during a house party. Investigating the case is Amanda Abbington’s local detective who is also Hall’s boyfriend in the show and a young “city copper” (Arteton) who isn’t prone to small town life.
Safe’s small town is also inhabited a French teacher having an affair with a student while being subjected to domestic violence at the hands of her husband.
This “small town with secrets” trope is as old as ‘Twin Peaks’ (1990-1991) and has woven its way from our Norse neighbours in ‘The Killing’ (‘Forbrydelsen’) (2011-2012) to homegrown fare like ‘Broadchurch’ (2013-2017) and ‘The Missing’ (2014-2016).
What those show’s had which ‘Safe sorely doesn’t was a sense of location which brought realism to proceedings. I didn’t believe in this bourgeois British community which’s scorching suns, swanky cars and swimming pools supposedly substitute for southern England yet feel far more like fiery Florida and had none of the ominous atmosphere that a foggy Scandinavian landscape brings with it sinisterly.
I didn’t believe, either, in the doddering detective duo whose ‘Scott and Bailey’-esque banter and prissy prettiness seemed distinctly retrograde in wake of female cop characters as real and rugged as Saga Noren and ‘The Killing’s Sarah Lund.
I didn’t even believe in Michael C.Hall and his broadly British accent; a surprise given he once managed to make us feel for a chainsaw-wielding psychopath like Dexter Morgan and yet felt highly out-of his-depth in the role of a parent experiencing the loss of a child. I yearned for James Nesbitt’s heart-wrenching portrayal of a man never giving up hope despite there being largely none in ‘The Missing’.
Dramas involving subjects like abduction need sensitivity where ‘Safe’ feels soapy and sensationalist. Moreover rather warped it’s Americanised portrait of idyllic Home Counties England. You wonder why they didn’t just set it across the pond.
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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