As we all know, anyone who mentions the words ‘Scandinavian’ and ‘drama’ is guaranteed to cause much frothing at the mouth. The successes of crime dramas The Killing and The Bridge, as well as political drama Borgen and the recent period war opus, 1864, means that anything remotely connected with Sweden, Norway, Denmark and, to a lesser extent, Finland (although I hope Finland soon gets the attention it deserves) is automatically gobbled up by folk eager to align themselves with the cool Scandinavian aesthetic. They’ll swoon at the modernist furniture, the liberal nature of their cultures and societies, the forests, the dry, matter-of-fact humour, the stunning landscapes and even the relentless gloom. Especially the relentless gloom. We have our own check-lists when it comes to Scandi drama, especially crime drama, and we haven’t had one for a while. Swedish 10-parter Jordskott is the new kid on the block, so take your pen in hand – let’s play Scandi Noir Bingo.
Jordskott has a driven, damaged female cop at its heart who has suffered heartbreak. There are lots of remote forest locations. There is moody music. There are men who look extremely dodgy. It’s a veritable full house. Everything you know and love about Scandinavian crime drama is here, present and correct. What wasn’t a cliché five years ago is a cliché now, and there’s a fine balance to be struck for productions coming out of Scandinavia to be just familiar enough to make feel comfortable within its genre confines but not attaching themselves too eagerly to stereotypes as to rehash old ground. After this first episode, I thought Jordskott had done a pretty good job. Yes, there were lots of familiar things floating around, but at its heart it was a tale of motherhood, loss and redemption, things that The Killing and The Bridge only rarely touched upon.
So we were introduced to police investigator Eva Thörnblad (Moa Gammel) who, we were shown in the first scene, was an expert police negotiator. Except she wasn’t so expert, especially when the hostage situation she was attempting to pacify ended very badly – she was shot, point-blank, in the chest by a psychotic man holding his ex-wife hostage in a bid to win back custody of his daughter (bringing a shotgun to family negotiations is never a good idea).
Still, the next time we see Thörnblad she’s jogging with thrash metal pounding in her headphones, and, after showering back at home, she’s then preparing a trip back to her home town of Silverhöjd to take care of her late father’s estate and attend his funeral.
As she ran her fingers over the contours of the scar left from her hostage-situation-gone-wrong it’s clear Thörnblad has had a life of it, and we soon find out the source of her woe – her young daughter Josefine (Scandi fans will have swooned when they heard Thörnblad say the word Josefine), who went missing on a picnic by a lake after she turned her back for a second. It’s clear going back home will be painful for Thörnblad not only to confront her dysfunctional relationship with her father, but also dredge up old horrors regarding her daughter, whose body, we soon learned, was never found.
When Thörnblad arrived in her hometown, we find out she’s not just there to take care of her father’s estate – a young local boy has gone missing and she believes that he has been taken by the same man who took Josefine.
An intriguing start, and something that differentiated Jordskott from its illustrious Scandinavian predecessors and contemporaries. Thörnblad is feeling the unique and intense pain (and guilt) of a mother who has lost a child, and the drive, determination and borderline obsession of wanting to put things right and assuage her guilt. She sees the missing boy’s case as a path to redemption – if she can find him, perhaps that will lead her to Josefine.
She didn’t have to wait that long.
Ever since Thörnblad arrived in Silverhöjd the lush surrounding forests were photographed lovingly, and it was on one of these deserted roads she swerved to avoid something in the road late one night and crashed her car. She soon found out the thing she had successfully avoided was a teenage girl, who not only matched Josefine’s description but was also in possession of one half of a pair of earrings Josefine wore as a child. Thörnblad was convinced it was her daughter, but the teen was in a near catatonic state, severely malnourished and dehydrated. It was off to hospital she went.
Scandinavian crime dramas love hospitals. We’ve often seen key characters who could and should be crucial witnesses to crimes end up either in a coma or unable to speak and in a hospital bed. While the plot continues they’re only re-introduced when the writer decides it’s time to reveal the information the patients are holding. It’s an effective way to build suspense and raise tension. And so it remained with ‘Josefine’. Was it Josefine at all? Naturally, we’ll have to wait and see. Things were further complicated when, in the last frame of the episode, ‘Josefine’ was found by a nurse with her hand in a plant pot. When she withdrew her hand, the nurse was horrified to find that her patient’s young fingers had sprouted tendrils and roots and seemed to be drawing nourishment from the soil in the plant pot. Okaaaaay then.
I’ve always loved the way the Scandinavian region and its people seem to have a really strong relationship with the nature around them and respect for the seasons, which, in turn, seems to have cultivated a deep harmony with their surroundings and a love of myth and storytelling. ‘Josefine’s’ plant pot situation was a complete surprise, however, and pretty much took Jordskott down a totally unexpected path, and a path I’m not entirely comfortable with. Fortitude was daft but took its brushes with strange zombie-like figures seriously enough for the viewer to go along with it. How Jordskott will handle a plant girl is anyone’s guess.
But still, there was a lot to like in the first episode. Moa Gammel as Eva Thörnblad was believable (although I’m not sure who else will be as interesting elsewhere in the ensemble cast), while small-town Sweden was, of course, photographed beautifully. And there was intrigue – why had Thörnblad’s father killed himself, what had he done? Was he involved in the disappearances? What were Thörnblad’s father’s lawyers doing meeting with a strange man who was previously seen in the forest exhibiting weird behavuour? And was the teenager growing roots out of her fingers in the hospital really Josefine?
We’ll see where this one goes…
Jordskott continues Wednesday on ITV Encore.
Contributed by Paul Hirons
Read more from Paul on The Killing Times