Early morning. Håkan von Enke (Terrence Hardiman) begins his day as he always does, winding the Mora clock in the front hall of his beautiful historic home. Taking the same walk. Thinking the same thoughts. Just as he described to Kurt Wallander in Episode 2: “A Lesson in Love.”
Only this time, von Enke doesn’t come home from his walk. This time, that troubled man disappears without a trace.
Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) is asked to investigate von Enke’s disappearance, in part because he’s a detective, but mainly because Håkan von Enke is the father-in-law of Wallander’s daughter Linda (Jeany Spark), which makes it a family matter. Wallander wants to set Linda’s mind at ease. Plus, he’s curious about the secrets Håkan revealed to him in Episode 2. It was pretty big stuff related to a high-level government cover-up that goes back 30 years. Wallander figures it’s related to Håkan’s disappearance.
Local detective Nils Ytterberg (Simon Chandler, who’s had roles in many of your favorite British mystery series from Midsomer Murders to The Bletchley Circle to Vera) isn’t having much luck finding Håkan. He’s happy for Wallander’s help, and Wallander is happy to be helpful, given that he’s been suspended from duty in Ystad.
For Kurt Wallander has troubles of his own.
He’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s the diagnosis he didn’t want to hear; the one he knew he would hear. Wallander watched his father Povel (David Warner) battle with Alzheimer’s—he knows what’s in store. “It’s time to make some accommodations,” the doctor advises. “It’s time to start telling people.” But, Wallander isn’t ready for that. He picks up a Sudoku puzzle instead. Then he picks up Ytterberg’s investigation.
Could simple greed be at the root of von Enke’s disappearance? That would be an obvious explanation—and as Ytterberg tells Wallander, “The truth is often just staring you in the face.”
Yet, this being Kurt Wallander’s world, the explanation is bound to be more complex and—as we’ve come to expect from author Henning Mankell—likely to be politically motivated.
The incident plaguing von Enke involved a Soviet submarine incursion into Swedish waters in the 1980s. That clear breach of boundaries was never officially reported.
“There was an order to take no action. In the end we had to let them go without identifying them,” von Enke’s friend Sten Norlander (Christopher Fairbank) tells Wallander. There were “rumors of a weak link in the chain of command,” Norlander adds, which is a nice way of saying traitors and spies were at work. Did a Communist conspiracy suppress reports of the Soviet subs, and if so, was von Enke behind it?
The investigation is complicated by the stoic personalities involved, particularly Håkan’s wife Louise (Ann Bell), who had visited East Germany once upon a time. There’s so much anger. So much pain. So much not being said. And all the while, the clock is ticking. The windshield wipers are beating. The windmills are turning. Wallander knows this will be his last investigation and he’s running out of time to solve it.
Writer Peter Harness does a fine job of balancing the human elements of Wallander’s final chapter with the police procedural ones. The recitation of “The Half-Finished Heaven” by Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011, is particularly effective. So is the use of dizzying points of view, such as the overhead shot of cars traveling across the Öresund bridge. They echo Wallander’s sadness, fear, and confusion as he gradually loses his ability to organize his thoughts, to sequence events in time, to recognize people and places. “They’re just moments now. They don’t join up,” he tells Linda.
Henning Mankell died in 2015. The Troubled Man was his last Wallander novel. If his wishes are honored, there won’t be another.
Like Mankell’s final Wallander novel, Harness’s final Wallander teleplay doesn’t sugarcoat the inevitable tragedy of Alzheimer’s. It does, however, leave us with an image of our hero in a happy moment, which makes it just a little easier to bid Kurt Wallander and this series farewell.
Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.