Review: Wallander (Episode 4 – Faceless Killers – BBC)

I enjoyed Wallander which returned to our screens this evening.

From the stylized opening credits and background music, this instantly feels different to the common or garden crime drama we usually get on our TV. Of course, the key difference is that it’s set in Sweden and that it is in fact a Swedish crime thriller based on the novels of Henrik Mankell, but filmed by the BBC in English with an all-English cast – in Sweden.

This is genuinely a welcome breath of fresh air that stands apart from the usual menu of British and American crime dramas we get served up on television. The landscape is bleak and raw (think Fargo). The people and their mentality are rather different (Scandinavian – instilled with a latent melancholia).

Kenneth Branagh is well suited to playing the part of Kurt Wallander. He carries off very well the grizzled, manic, driven man which the character calls for. And he represents flawed humanity. For he really isn’t a great father to his daughter, Linda. He shuts her out and finds it very hard to connect with her, to communicate with her. And yes, he’s sort of there for his ageing, dementia-ridden father. But he could do more. A lot more. Only, he doesn’t and he won’t, because his job is the most important thing in his life. His family are incidental.

This episode’s plot followed the standard format. A violent murder is looming. A stallion stirs uneasily in its stable as killers we can’t see make their way into the farmhouse. The owners turn to look, seeing their killers head on – instantly cognisant of the violence that will ensue.

When Wallander gets to the scene the man is dead and the elderly woman is in the final throes of death. He tries to get information from her but she is able to say only one word. He doesn’t know if this word is ‘fair’ or ‘foreigner’. From early on, the possibility of ‘foreign killers’ looms large. Mankell, in his novel and thus in the drama, is tapping into Europeans’ inherent fear of foreigners. Those migrants who come to this continent to work. He plays on it.

And it becomes more complex when we learn that Linda, Wallander’s daughter, is dating a young Syrian doctor. Wallander is torn. Torn between a loyalty to his daughter that plays down and over compensates against any evidence that it may be a foreigner – but also torn by a common sense acknowledgement of the facts which, as his colleagues strongly believe, point the finger toward foreigners.

I won’t say too much more about this episode as some won’t have seen it. I like the fact it was quite… non standard (re: the plot line) and that the killers’ identify is actually rather secondary to other elements explored in the episode, i.e. his father and his worsening dementia, our latent attitude toward other races, the far right and their ‘pay back’, and the internal police leak – the traitor in their midst.

It was what I expected – a drama with very high production values, slick cinematography and a dark, twisted plot line that acts, ultimately, as a canvas on which to eke out Mankell’s own dark visions of the human condition.

More Wallander stuff that I find interesting:

An interview Kenneth Branagh recently gave on Swedish radio

An interview he gave on BBC radio, part 1:

Part 2

Overview of Wallander on the BBC