There are certain things you associate with Christmas-time: mulled wine, thick jumpers, food. Oh, and of course, gruesome murders by cerebral killers in the snow. Yes, it wouldn’t quite be winter if there wasn’t a crime drama on TV, and, while Sherlock doesn’t air ‘till New Year’s Day, there’s entertainment before then in the form of the latest ‘Scandi-noir’: Sweden’s Modus.
The basic premise of the show is familiar enough. After her autistic daughter Stina (Esmeralda Struwe) witnesses a murder, Inger Johanne Vik (Melinda Kinnaman) – a criminal psychologist now working in research after scarring encounters working with the FBI in New York – joins Ingvar Nyman (Henrik Norlen) on the case to catch the killer, after they kill again. Whether this familiarity is a good thing or not rather depends on the viewer. Someone who just wants more of the same dark, twisty drama that we’ve been treated to over the past years will get exactly what they were looking for.
It’s still a very good entry to the genre. In particular, Kinnaman’s Inger Johanne makes for a compelling lead, precisely because the case is far from the most important thing to her. Through the eight episodes of Modus, her professional interest comes second to her care for her family. It can get a bit maddening at times as a viewer, but it does give her significant depth, creating a character who does feel like they only exist within the confines of the show. This is reinforced by the solid characterisation given to her two daughters: Stina, and her ‘little big’ sister Linnea, whose simultaneous maturity in caring for Stina, and immaturity as is natural for an eight-year-old, is portrayed remarkably by child actress Lily Wahlsteen.
There are very few moments where any characters’ personality and actions are in conflict, which stands in contrast to the typical crime drama flaw of manoeuvring pieces into place to keep everything ticking along, regardless of whether it really makes sense for a particular development to happen. Modus’ murders fit the murderer, investigation fits the investigators, and generally, the show is better for the cohesiveness bred by this logic.The atmosphere of the show is also impressive. It’s somewhat of a given to expect crisp, dark visuals on a show like this, but the locations and cinematography really are first class. Stockholm feels like a city, just as the snowy woodland around Inger Johanne’s house feels like a more open environment. Undoubtedly, the travel will probably infuriate Swedes by making wild leaps between places like Luther et al. do with London, but each setting works well.
Despite this, the ultimate motives for the murders is slightly odd. Without giving too much away, it is refreshing that there is an ideological motive to them, rather than it being part of some shady conspiracy, which wouldn’t fit the tone of the show. But even then, you are, until the last episode’s reveals, left wondering quite why it’s set in Sweden. Before that point, you only get vague allusions to disguise this reveal, allusions which are so tenuous that you’re only left with two possibilities – it’s clearly a red herring (thus making it a pretty poor red herring), or it’s just terribly thin motive. Thankfully, it’s the latter, but it does make for a slight quirk to the action.
But this is the only major issue with the show, and on the whole, it’s a strong crime drama. A second season is mooted to arrive at some point, and the central duo of Inger and Ingvar could certainly hold the show if it were to return.
Modus is released on Blu-ray & DVD on Monday 19th December by Nordic Noir & Beyond