Our last Wallander of series III begins on the shore of a peaceful lake in autumn. A quartet of wild swans flies gracefully into view and settles happily on the lake’s surface. It’s the most serene moment of the episode. Right up until a man sets them on fire then whacks an unsuspecting witness over the head with a tree limb.
This guy’s a bad one: a paranoid schizophrenic arsonist who’s escaped from a mental health facility in Odense, Denmark. Kurt Wallander is in for a difficult time.
Before we dissect the episode, however, here’s a warning for Henning Mankell fans: This TV dramatization departs substantially from the 2002 novel, which was billed as a “Linda Wallander Mystery” and featured Kurt’s daughter as a rookie police officer. Understand this and accept it. You won’t be sorry. The episode is plenty mysterious and thought-provoking in its own right. Plus, it includes a car chase through the countryside that ought to make every Volvo owner on earth kneel down and kiss her brake pedal.
On the docket this week are a missing granny and a fire that was probably set by Halloween pranksters. Neither has Wallander overly concerned. His colleague Ann-Britt is on the mend at last, after being brutally assaulted in “An Event in Autumn,” the first episode of series III. It’s a time for new beginnings, she tells Wallander, a time for everybody to be getting on with life. This theme crops up over and over, and everyone but our man Kurt seems to grasp it. But that’s what makes him Wallander, isn’t it?
At his beautiful, remote farmhouse, where his faithful black lab Jussi greets him lovingly (Jussi’s particularly adorable in this episode, it must be said), Wallander receives a visit from his daughter’s girlhood friend Anna Westin. Her arrival spooks him; the fact that she won’t tell him what’s on her mind troubles him. Does her mother know she’s all right? He’ll just give her a call to let her know. One moment while he steps into the other room to find her number . . . And poof! Anna’s gone.
(Why, oh why do characters do this? The mysterious visitor will vanish as soon as you leave her alone. It happens every single time. If we know it, why don’t our brilliant hero detectives? Harumph!)
Now Wallander’s worried about Anna, and the best person he can think of to help him find her is his daughter Linda. But Linda and Wallander are estranged (it’s complicated) and he’s not even sure she’ll come to help. When she does arrive, it’s not exactly the family reunion he’d anticipated. Then again, the scenes between Kenneth Branagh as Wallander and Jeany Spark as Linda are awfully good, including an absolutely perfect exchange at the end of the episode. (No spoilers now!)
Because nothing is quite as mysterious and disturbing as real life, Henning Mankell, as always, takes his inspiration from current events and social issues. In “Before the Frost,” it’s religious cults. Who joins such groups? How far will they go in the name of their cause?
The teleplay by Peter Harness, changes some cultural references to make them more current without compromising their significance. Various story threads intersect in an unlikely, but largely believable way. It’s a small world Wallander inhabits after all. Sure that bugs him—we know he’d rather be in the big city—but it does make it easier to follow the leads.
As we exit series III autumn is waning. Fog blankets the landscape, and, as is customary in Sweden, candles are lit to stave off the oncoming darkness of winter. Again, credit must be given to the people who make Wallander look as beautiful as it does—who can make gently turning wind turbines seem biblical. Wallander’s inching his way toward peace of mind (the farmhouse near his father’s old place seems to be helping), though he’ll never overcome the feeling that he’s responsible for everybody. And that, too, is what makes him Wallander.
From what we can tell, nothing is set in stone for Wallander IV, although it’s rumored that scripts are being written and that one of them might be The White Lioness (Wallander in Africa?). Kenneth Branagh is a busy man (more on that soon), and obviously Wallander must work around his schedule. We have high hopes that he’ll return to Ystad sometime soon.
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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.