Sebastian Bergman (Swedish: Den fördömde) – Series 1.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa and Michael Hjorth.
Starring Rolf Lassgård, Gunnel Fred and Tomas Laustiola.
A strong-minded, politically incorrect and grief-stricken criminal profiler helps police to solve the murder of a 15 year old boy before finding himself on the trail of a brutal serial killer.
Sebastian Bergman, which aired on BBC4 earlier this year, is destined to be lumped in with the post-Wallander spate of Scandinavian dramas to hit our shores, with the likes of The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge. But it’d be a real shame if it got lost in this stampede, because there’s a lot to like here.
As with Wallander and The Killing, the characterization in Bergman is a great deal more layered and complex than much of our own drama. Bergman (Rolf Lassgård) is clearly depressed, but not outwardly so. He projects an exterior of a cocky, arrogant man, which seems to result in everyone he knows disliking him. He needs to work to be happy, ironic given the grisly nature of the cases he works on. Though the character of alcoholic, depressed detective has become something of a crime drama trope, this one mostly manages to avoid any clichés usually associated with it.
The cases themselves are tightly plotted, the twists difficult to predict and the drama as exciting and watchable as we’ve come to expect from the ‘Nordic Noir’ genre. The first explores the murder of a teenage boy, his heart cut out, the second a serial killer with a close link to Bergman himself. But as with Wallander (who Rolf Lassgård was the first to portray), it isn’t really about the cases, but about the character. Sebastian Bergman is intriguing enough to justify the focus, his roguish exploits underlined with a tragic undercurrent when we learn of the death of his wife and child. Running alongside the cases is Bergman’s investigation into his own past, after finding a letter in his recently deceased mother’s belongings that leads to a revelation at the end of the first episode, one that’s fairly predictable, but not interesting enough that it isn’t a distraction.
As with so many crime protagonists, Bergman’s shambolic and unstable, but brilliant at his job. As a criminal profiler he proves invaluable to a case he shouldn’t even be on, and is only allowed to when he recalls a favour from an old friend now in charge. As a character he’s interesting, but not particularly likeable. He’s rude to his colleagues, he’s misogynistic and occasionally hugely unprofessional (attempting to seduce a key player in the case, for example). And though this makes for a more interesting character, it’s also one of Sebastian Bergman’s biggest problems. Bergman has few redeeming qualities, and while his past gives him an excuse for this, he’s often too cold to warrant your sympathy. His rudeness is both entertaining to watch, and frustratingly unpleasant.
The first episode is the stronger of the two, its plot tight and focused, where the second veers dangerously close to the unlikely. Both however, are prime examples of exciting, yet contemplative television. The mood remains sombre throughout, set beautifully by the gentle brass score and a washed out, almost grey tint to the picture.
It isn’t as gripping as The Killing, nor The Bridge, but if you liked those it absolutely deserves your time. Nobody’s yet managed to explain this flurry of quality programming from Denmark and Sweden, but it’s certainly a sorry state of affairs when there’s more character progression and intrigue in two episodes of this than British Television can do in a series. But when someone else is doing it so well, perhaps we don’t need to.