This Scandinavian crime drama is cold. From the opening of Episode One where officer Hanna Svennson (Marie Richardson) arrests her son Christian (Adam Pålsson) for selling drugs, almost all the show’s relationships are characterised by brutality, functionality or a total lack of empathy. This network of relationships all intersect in such a way that what starts as an investigation into the murder of a cop turns into something more sinister. All against the backdrop a biker gang war on the streets of Stockholm.
It is a slow burner and takes until the second episode to truly reel you in, but is endlessly gripping thereafter. The whole series rests on trust and family, with the relationship between Hanna and Christian taking centre stage in several different ways. It all seems to be leading towards a seemingly predictable conclusion, only for everything that you thought you knew about the show to go up in smoke during the breathtaking final episode.
It’s a stellar performance from Richardson, who perfectly conveys Hanna’s relentless streak as well as her more fragile moments. Pålsson is equally impressive as Christian, a character caught in a bad place for the entire series and who slowly degenerates as the episodes go on. Also worth mentioning is Davor’s (Alexej Manvelov) appearance as Christian’s boss, who dominates the screen whenever he appears.
The writing does well to tie in so many different stories in a way that, on second viewing, does all make sense. That all these characters and scenarios are interlinked by the murder of an honest police officer really sums up how dark and unforgiving Before We Die is. The lack of comic relief may put up some viewers off, but it makes for a fixating watch that leaves you wanting more.
It is a wish however that goes unheard in the empty Swedish countryside where much of the show is set. The script attempts to include so much that some plot threads end up being forgotten or marginalised. The fight between biker gangs the Mobsters and the Delinquentos is not given enough attention to make you believe that this is the all-out war the characters talk about it being. The biggest secret Davor keeps from his family is also annoyingly inconsequential. This could leave scope for a new series, but the most substantial plot points are settled before the end. It is as if they ran out of episodes.
This, however, is of little concern while watching the show. Before We Die never loosens its grip on your attention span as you sit rigidly still, unable to move for fear of missing something important. Strong performances and an ambitious script complete what is an unnerving and intoxicating Swedish crime flick.
Image: Swedish National Heritage Board via Flickr