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Nordic Noir For Dummies

by Lisa Ikin 2 years ago in tv review · updated 10 days ago
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Winter is coming, get yourself some Scandinavian mystery and misery

“The Bridge” a classic example of the “Nordic Noir” genre

So what is this Nordic Noir, this Scandinavian mystery? We all get sucked into watching them (don’t we?). Over the past few years, the ubiquitous Nordic Noir television series has flooded our streaming providers, Netflix, Stan, Foxtel, and SBS on Demand. When you have watched a few, you realise that these frosty treats have a similar theme.

The setting is cold, always cold, usually snowing and always remote.

By remote, I mean somewhere in Iceland or Greenland where everyone can become cut off from the rest of the world at the slip of an avalanche.

The darkness is metaphorical and just plain dark. This is due to the endless and relentless nights of the Nordic winter seasons. After all, a murder in the sunshine doesn’t have the same effect as a gruesome murder in the snow. Blood soaking into white snow has all the hallmarks of a Scandinavian drama.

There is usually a gruesome murder or multiple grisly murders. Body parts often are missing, cut in half or superimposed on animals' bodies. A message, not always clear, is left at the scene and could be anything from a satanic symbol scratched into flesh or a scroll left in a body cavity only to be revealed when the postmortem is performed by a grimly sardonic forensics pathologist with a drinking problem.

The deaths are never simply a twist of fate or an accident; they are usually the product of a very twisted individual indeed.

We are led on a merry chase through fish factories with oversized cool rooms (as if it isn’t cold enough already!), underground dungeons and, more often than not, a slippery car chase across snowfields ice-covered lakes.

The protagonists of these grisly affairs are always lonely or alone. They have been separated from their families, their long-suffering partners and their estranged children and live in digs, not unlike student share accommodation. And that’s just the detectives.

A lone-wolf detective always leads the investigations with a personality disorder and a tragic back story—someone who has found themselves in this remote backwater for a good reason. The detective will hunt out his suspects, usually the town loner or someone who has returned from the city after a long absence and has been acting suspiciously, buying a “burner” phone at the local store and being in the wrong place at the right time or vice versa.

There is always more than one; the small-town detectives will find themselves well out of their depth as they exhaust all avenues and find themselves buried under suspicion and a growing pile of multiple dead bodies.

They will always head out with no gun and no backup to investigate places I wouldn’t go in the light of day, let alone the dark of a Nordic night. Their mobile phones will inevitably get lost, run over or left behind in a struggle with a hooded figure.

Then comes the call from “outside”, as the local detectives are deemed useless in the face of such devastation and perceived inadequacy. A detective or team of detectives arrive on the scene and proceed to ruffle some serious feathers.

These detectives take over the ill-equipped police station with their tracking equipment, fly in on their state-of-the-art helicopters, and attempt to mop up the mess the locals have got themselves into.

Of course, there is such disdain between the two groups as they struggle to claim ownership of the crime scenes. The locals do not trust these new arrivals, and there is a fight for a balance of power.

The head detective will sometimes have a “history” with the local detective. In their youth, they may have worked together in the past or attended detective training together. There are unresolved relationship issues.

If you have never watched a Nordic Noir series, I won't spoil the ending for you; maybe you can guess. As the viewer, you find yourself rooting for the locals even as you experience frustration at their inadequacy and inexperience. You get to know the main characters so intimately that you feel their pain and sorrow, but you know that they will triumph over those slick city cops. It wouldn’t be a Nordic Noir otherwise.

Some examples of this genre:

“Trapped” is a perfect example of the Nordic trope in action, set in Iceland in the coldest or cold winters. When we first meet Andri, our local cop, he is a sad, lonely character who lives in the same home as his parents, daughter, and ex-wife. This living arrangement doesn’t last long, and he sleeps in the house he and his ex-wife were renovating together.

Andri is an anti-hero, and you find yourself pushing him along, willing him to succeed while also feeling a certain exasperation with his stubborn ways.

“The Bridge” ( the Swedish-Danish original ) is an outstanding series with the protagonist, Saga Noren, a woman on the autism spectrum who has little to no social skills, relentlessly working to solve a series of murder mysteries with a series of different partners from Denmark.

Saga alienates those who come into contact with her straight-talking and her habit of not “beating around the bush.” You fall in love with her manner. She is a character not easily forgotten.

“Wisting” is set in Norway, and the main character is William Wisting, a widower with two older children. Unlike his Nordic noir counterparts, Wisting does not have any skeletons in his closet, nor does he match the driven, damaged characters we see in other such series.

A body is found on a Christmas Tree farm in, you guessed, winter, and the suspected murderer is a missing American serial killer.

Wisting has a journalist daughter who returns from the city in search of a scoop at this inopportune time, and her snooping gets her into trouble.

Throw in an American investigator, and you have a Nordic Noir with an American twist!

The list is endless. Google “Nordic noir” and treat yourself. You won't be disappointed.

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About the author

Lisa Ikin

Freelance writer, amateur photographer, occasional performer of personal stories @Barefaced Stories. Lover of nature, music and art. I write content and copy for small businesses and teach part time in Perth, Western Australia

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