Sweden’s Bridge is Best

Sofia Helin, left, and Kim Bodnia, right, star in The Bridge.
The reputation of Scandinavian thrillers has really taken off in recent years. Stieg Larson was the first author to gain international fame, but other writers such as Jo Nesbø, Henning Mankell, and Camilla Läckberg are equally well regarded. At the moment, there’s also a great deal of Scandinavian crime drama available on television and given that I live in the United Kingdom, I have a front-row seat to all the latest imports. I remember my first taste of The Killing, a Danish crime drama that aired on the BBC. I watched all 40 episodes sitting at the edge of my seat. Thankfully, the Danish-Swedish collaboration entitled The Bridge soon followed. Diehard Killing fans will take offence when I say The Bridge it is even better than The Killing (cue the hate mail), but I will admit that with shows this good, there’s very little to separate them outside of personal taste. The Scandinavian version of The Bridge isn’t dubbed in English so if you’re not into reading subtitles it may not be your cup of tea, but I’m a master at the multitask, so I really appreciate the opportunity to read, soak up some culture, and watch a crime drama at the same time – talk about sanctimonious guilty pleasure.

The first episode opens with a 48-second black out on the Øresund Bridge, a 5-mile span that connects Sweden and Denmark. When the lights come back on, a corpse is discovered midway across the bridge on the dividing line between the two countries. At first, the Swedes are set to take the case as the victim is initially identified as a recently murdered Swedish politician, but when the authorities try to move the body they realize that it’s actually two corpses that have been reconnected at the waist, thereby setting up an investigative partnership between the two countries. The lower half of the body is eventually identified as belonging to a Danish prostitute who was killed some time ago. She was of no consequence, so her disappearance wasn’t properly investigated. The killer has kept her on ice until he was ready to bring the two halves of his puzzle together. He planned these murders meticulously and will strike again and again using increasingly sophisticated methods.

The Danish and Swedish authorities put their best detectives on the case. In the Danish corner we have a rather rumbled, but loveable rogue named Detective Martin Rohde who is played to perfection by the affable Kim Bodnia. He has a ready smile, a sense of humor, and a disastrous personal life. Countering him is the rather less endearing Saga Norén, a detective with a calculating mind that performs her duties to a high standard, but lacks to the interpersonal skills to develop close relationships. It is widely thought that she has Asperger’s Syndrome. Sofia Helin gives this difficult character credibility. It would be easy to just play on her more comical attempts at assimilating, but Sofia gives Saga real depth, and over time the audience warms to her. The detective’s divergent personality traits aren’t accidental. The program’s creators are playing with national identity stereotypes. The Swedes are known to be cold and calculating and the Danes are supposedly disorganized and happy-go-lucky. The fact that Saga and Martin now have to work together to find a killer makes for exciting television. It’s also interesting that their divergent personalities cause more problems than their different languages. It is a fascinating set up from both a viewer’s and a writer’s standpoint.

The Bridge has such a winning formula that it’s been franchised. In the US/Mexican version, also entitled The Bridge, it is Sonya and Marco who track down a cross-border killer, while in the UK/French version, it is Karl and Elise who are working the case in show called The Tunnel. But if you manage to beg, borrow or download a copy of original Danish-Swedish version your efforts will be justly rewarded. Viewing The Bridge in its original language(s) is far more rewarding than any trip to IKEA. 

Karin Salvalaggio was born in West Virginia in the 1960s. Her father was career military and her mother was a homemaker. Karin has lived in places as climatically diverse as Alaska and Florida and as culturally distinct as California and Iran. Karin attended the University of California Santa Cruz, graduating in 1989, but has lived in London, England since 1994. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London. Her debut novel, a thriller entitled Bone Dust White, will be out in the states in May 2014.


  1. VR Suresh

    I watched and enjoyed the American “The Killing” last year. Liked it so I decided to download the Danish version “Forbydelsen” and watched all three seasons. Then, watched the first season of “The bridge” and have started the second season. I liked the American killing in its own way but liked Forbydelsen even better. But I think (of course, this is from the limited watching mentioned above) the Scandinavians are good storytellers but not good storywriters. The way the shows have been taken, the acting, the characters are all great but the story plots are not believable. A cold-blooded killer turns to family life and allows a racist killer to become close to his family and NEVER sees the danger to his family. A mayoral candidate, his sexy advisor and old friend all hiding things from each other. A young girl on the verge of eloping with a South Asian friend, caught, raped and killed in a brutal manner by a “family friend”. Twenty episodes of this. Second season: political intrigue in the army base and in the parliament, Afghanistan maneuvers, civilian killings. Thankfully, ten episodes of this. Third season was probably the worst: sailors, prosecutor, ME murdered, rich shipping tycoon’s daughter kidnapped, old murder botched and covered up, an angry father moving behind the scenes, and again national politics, and some fellow who could have been a lamp post suddenly turns up as the killer. Ten episodes of this. Sarah Lund was the most vulnerable in this last one and I felt bad to see her fly away on exile. Maybe this can be an opening for a comeback (like Holmes). The Bridge (S01): a truth terrorist who commits a whole bunch of unrelated socially relevant crimes to prove that society made him lose his son and everything else so he finally takes revenge on this one policeman. Worse story than Poirot’s red herrings and blaming everybody until the criminal acts out of angry frustration to showcase his deeds. Season 2 is proving to be yet another pot of red herrings with the ship and the plague and the angry student and ecoterrorism. For those who would like to watch a good show without worrying about the nation of origin, try “The Shield.” Good show. Any other recommendations from people out there?

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