I just happened across a BBC series on Netflix starring Kenneth Branagh as Danish police detective Kurt Wallander. It’s based upon a Danish series (itself based upon a series of Danish novels) that I’ve not yet seen. It’s very psychological and moody, as Scandinavian dramas and their imitators tend to be.
Wallander is depressed, given to extended periods of numbness punctuated by outbursts of rage and sorrow. He’s meant to be seen as an exceptional detective but in fact, as one would expect from a very depressed and benumbed man, he misses a lot. In the first episode I saw, he misses that a fellow detective is even more tormented than Wallander himself; a half-dozen people die as a result, including the other detective and nearly including Wallander’s daughter. One of the victims is shot with Wallander only yards away. Temporarily trapped on an island in the Baltic, he howls in frustration and hurls his cell phone to the rocky shore as the killer speeds away in a boat. This, as opposed to trying to find a spot with a cellular signal or a telephone in the luxury vacation home where the girl he’s visiting has just been shot.
Throughout the series, Wallander has a habit of haring off by himself without calling for assistance until it’s too late. He repeatedly misses clues that someone less absorbed in his own misery wouldn’t. In almost every situation where he has a reasonable opportunity to forestall disaster, he manages not to. With nearly 30 years of police work behind him, he has somehow managed to discard the most basic rules of it.
Everyone around him recognizes that he’s a basket case — they’re always imploring him to go home, get some rest, eat some food, take a break, get a life — but ultimately they accede when he insists on staying at the center of every investigation. And no wonder: in the British version, at least, all the other detectives, including the chief of police, are even more clueless than he is. Perhaps that’s why their little corner of rural Denmark attracts so many heinous crooks. They’ve reason to think they can get away with it, whatever it is.
Branagh is a wonderful actor and while there’s no doubt a line item in the series budget for the expense of reimbursing location proprietors for the scenery he’s chewed, he’s quite good at playing the part of a cop who beats himself up without mercy. It’s just that everybody fails to see that Wallander is quite right to beat himself up, and he shouldn’t be on the job at all until he’s well again. And then, in the last episode I’ve seen so far, when he does get something right through a bit of good police work, none of his colleagues believe him.