Welcome back to Screen Ethics after another unexpected hiatus. I could attribute the absence to the sluggish months of pop-culture news, to new challenges that needed more immediate attention or to the sheer laziness of the editor. Mea Culpa, readers and friends, because we all know that it is the third reason. To ensure a more organized workflow, Screen Ethics will publish once a week on Saturdays and this would hopefully allow me to line-up content more efficiently. Hopefully, the days of a post every day for a week followed by two weeks of silence is behind us!
So let us resume our discussions of TV and pop-culture with Broen|Bron, one of the best TV shows of the 2010s. Over the past eight years, this show has built a name for itself as a character-driven psychological drama that goes beyond its quirky murder plot. The fourth and final season of acclaimed Swedish-Danish TV series ended in its distinct fashion – with a finality necessary and fitting to the character, and somewhat unexpected in a TV series. Saga Noren from Malmo Police department is perhaps a cop unlike any other, despite appearing to be a TV cop like every other TV cop. She has inexplicable police instincts that drive her methods, she is utterly socially incompetent, her methods often lead people close to her to uncomfortable situations. However, she is different from her counterparts in her ability to revisit her site of obsessive crime-solving and raising an important question – is it healthy for her to do the work she does?
The gruesome and sordid world of “the Bridge” is a study in near-cultural differences between two Scandinavian cities as well as the psycho-social differences between the society and someone who has cast herself outside of its conventions. Amidst a sea of expressionless geniuses who also solve crime on TV, Saga Noren is unique in her rather rigorously methodical approach to routine and mundane police work. She does not solve crimes through magical abilities. In fact, there are times where her methodical approach is detrimental to the case as she demonstrates ignorance to social conventions and etiquette, preventing her from achieving her goals. Saga’s is not a story of exceptional behavior as a gateway to exceptional results – it is a study of something that TV rarely engages with – consequences of such behavior.
Like many of the other tales of exceptional genius, Saga’s story also lies in the connections she builds around her despite the barriers she raises and maintains. Her closest friend is a mentor Hans, with whom she struggles to connect in a way that he would appreciate the effort she has put in. Two successive partners from across the eponymous bridge, are often at odds with her eccentric antisocial behavior, and their friendship survives because of their persistence rather than the effort. The first of them is Martin Rohde, played by the instantly likeable Kim Bodnia, who seems to regard Saga as a project as much as a friend. He tries to impart social interaction cues to Saga by introducing her to his wife and colleagues. The second partner, Henrik Sabroe, played by a more ambivalent Thure Lindhardt, extends this recuperative mission by becoming romantically involved with Saga.
However, the show does not allow Saga to simply succeed in a typical manner of an overcoming the odds narrative. Saga’s success does not hinge on a “despite” which is the bread and butter of eccentric characters on TV. While she manages to forge important connections with people close to her, the narrative does not simply show an outsider magically transform into a well-adjusted person. This show goes one step further to examine the effects of her personality on the connections she manages to forge. The story also engages with the adverse effects she has on the people she is connected to, because of her relentlessly single-minded policing. In the final moment of the show, Saga stands on the titular bridge and weighs the defining role she accorded to her job as a police officer. In the dynamic world of the Bridge, Saga is not exempt from the changes and decision-making that other characters face. And therein lies the greatness of this show – in its unwavering commitment to providing consequences to its characters.
Similar only to River, she reaches something very remarkable in a TV series – narrative resolution for a character as a result of introspection and growth. TV shows are built to last and spawn more iterations of the same format. TV shows have suffered from this very limitation, as necessary elements of character development often strike at odds with the inevitable reset that occurs at the beginning of a new season. Characters will face reversals bringing them back to their earlier position, or they will face new problems that perpetuate a familiar structure. This is a glaring aspect of the TV series which we endure for the necessity of continuity. Unless we are willing to tolerate the endless run of stand-alone episodic structure from the 80s era sitcoms, there seems to be no option but to come to terms with the process of TV returning to stasis in order to continue. This is where Broen takes a bold step in a different direction. Every move in the narrative is structured towards a conclusive resolution for the narrative.
Although the viewer is surprised at this seemingly impossible conclusion, TV history has also warned us to be wary of such endings. Shows which have progressed to a fitting conclusion have often been resurrected from beyond the grave for yet another series for simple monetary reasons. Here is hoping that one of TV’s greatest shows does not face such ignominy.
SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.