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

10 thoughts on “Review: Wallander (Episode 4 – Faceless Killers – BBC)

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  1. “…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.”

    Nice reading your review, but wasn’t it the other way round? Almost until the end, there are no facts at all pointing towards foreigners, other than that one word, which Wallander may have misheard. Far from overcompensating, as you say, he uses his common sense in a tense political situation. Later, eating pizza, he worries that his own hidden prejudices may have lead him to assume that the woman meant “foreigners.” That’s why he asks his friend: “I’m not really like that, am I?”

    So de psychological story here is not about how we sometimes tend to downplay the facts of crimes committed by foreigners, but about the opposite, the racism that hides even in a civilized, liberal man.

  2. Anthony – good find! I like that song.

    Joris – interesting observations and a good point re: the pizza scene. And yes, ‘fear of foreigners’ (whether this is the same as ‘racism’ is a complex point) exists in every nation and in every race. I lived in Japan in the 90s and saw it first hand there – and was occasionally on the receiving end of it. This happens in all countries. Man is by nature ‘tribal’ and fear of people/cultures that are different to our own is in-built and instinctive. Whether that is ‘right or wrong’ is a wholly separate discussion (beyond the scope of this blog entry, I might add).

  3. I was very confused for a while when the villain in this episode turned out to be the same actor as “Svartman” who is Wallander’s police officer colleague in the Swedish version. Not great casting! Good effort from the UK team, but they don’t measure up to the Swedish production – not even near.

  4. Lena – ahhh. I too was very confused during that scene! I assumed he was a ‘bad policeman’ that had become the bad guy, as I recall him being the policeman from the Swedish series. Was very confusing indeed. Hmmm, not sure I would say the BBC version is SO far behind the Swedish version. Having said that, the last 3 they filmed 2 years ago I think were slightly better than this time round. I haven’t seen no.6 yet though have recorded it so plan to watch it soon.

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