‘Before The Frost’
Another Sunday, another instalment of the BBC’s Wallander, the crime drama in which Sir Kenneth Branagh stars as Henning Mankell’s damaged Swedish cop. This time, in an adventure entitled Before the Frost, Wallander is on the tail of a dangerous and mentally unstable man with links to a fundamentalist Christian cult. At first everything seems simple, but then it emerges that Linda’s childhood friend Anna has become mixed up as well, bringing the whole case a lot closer to home. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this final episode, having been somewhat disappointed by series three as a whole. I felt the previous episode especially was lacking something; the plot (which embroiled Kurt in a tedious chase around Riga looking for some case notes while running from gangsters and not knowing whom to trust) felt hackneyed and predictable, and it certainly didn’t help that Wallander’s love interest was a pretty bland combination of mysterious blonde and damsel in distress. It was like watching a generic thriller, whereas on a good day this show has the potential to be so much more. Thankfully, last night’s finale was much better than The Dogs of Riga had led me to expect. For me it was the best episode of the third series, for the simple reason that it allowed for more meaningful interaction between the characters – it’s something we haven’t seen much of this series, as Wallander doesn’t really seem to talk much to his colleagues any more. In particular, I thought Branagh and Jeany Spark handled Kurt’s difficult relationship with his daughter Linda extremely well, which in turn meant that the redemptive conclusion seemed like a natural progression rather than a sentimental add-on.
Still, some things never change. Wallander’s complete inability to have a conversation with another human being is at times so excruciatingly awkward that I begin to wonder how someone with so few interpersonal skills would ever have been allowed to join the police. Case in point is a particularly chalkboard-scraping moment when our intrepid Inspector has to break the news to a missing woman’s daughter that her mother’s charred remains have been discovered out in the woods. She’s crying her eyes out, obviously, but true to form Wallander just sits there in complete silence, like a very pallid robot whose empathy circuits have packed in. However, the problem isn’t restricted to Kurt himself, who is clearly a deeply troubled man and can therefore be forgiven for spacing out occasionally. Several times during this episode, and in the series as a whole, I’ve felt as if I’m watching two halves of different conversations. Every character takes several seconds to form a reply to the most straightforward questions, and even then their answers are often cryptic and bear little relation to what was asked. Strangest of all, when this happens Wallander almost never presses them further. I can’t comment on how far this is a reflection of Kurt’s style of interrogation in Mankell’s novels, but it certainly makes Wallander uniquely frustrating to watch.
All in all, this was a great episode, but it came at the end of a disappointing series.