On Saturday evening The Bridge is back for a third series, and while the novelty of European dramas with kick-ass female roles may have worn off, the sheer joy of seeing them on screen has not. I loved The Killing’s Sarah Lund and adored detective Laure Berthaud from French series Spiral, but for me, the queen of them all will forever be deadpan, leather-panted and razor-sharp Saga Norén.
The Bridge, like its continental predecessors, has forced crime drama in the UK and US to raise its game in a considerable way. From the more ambitious cinematography of Broadchurch and the recent River to better developed (or at least more complicated) roles like The Fall's Stella Gibson, solving mysteries is most definitely not what it used to be. The mercurial multinational mash-up that was Fortitude shows just how ambitious broadcasters are now prepared to be. But where does this leave The Bridge, and will it still find an audience?
The last series ended in utter heartache, with her reporting her partner and (only) dear friend Martin Rohde for the vengeful murder of the man who killed his son. Twenty episodes had been constructed around the unique Martin-Saga relationship and now Saga is alone. I was sceptical about series three to say the very least. How would the show work without Martin? How would Saga function without Martin? (And yes, I was also wondering if I could even be arsed to watch it without Martin, his cosy sexiness, his giant man hugs and his crinkly eyes that could probably hygge me into admitting any crime). But this series is better than ever. It is Saga’s series.
I spoke to Hans Rosenfeldt, series scriptwriter and one of very few writers to have worked on every episode of the show, and he told me that Saga was originally conceived as a counterpoint to Martin’s open, friendly detective. “We’ve seen quite a lot of white middle-aged police officers in Sweden and they always seem to be introspective, usually divorced, they have a bad relationship with their children. They aren’t keen to talk, but just sit there drinking a bit too much and looking out into the darkness. We wanted a family man who was interested in small talk and what his colleagues did outside of work. Then we thought ‘What if we then meet another officer with absolutely no social skills.’”
This consistently even-handed approach to representation of both men and women is what makes The Bridge is a breath of fresh air – in almost every scene, particularly in the wider shots at the police station, there is 50:50 gender split
Saga’s lack of social skills has always been one of the show’s biggest talking points. Critics, fans and armchair psychologists have all been quick to refer to her as having Asperger’s, or at least being somewhere on the autistim spectrum. But Rosenfeldt is clear: “We have never diagnosed her in the show, and we probably never will.”
This ambiguity works for me. Sure, Saga is a terrible communicator, but she doesn’t not understand what others are feeling. She has a lot of traits that many of the aforementioned middle-aged male detectives have, but theirs are rarely as earnestly pathologised. Her disconcerting habits of rattling off statistics, barking orders and nonchalantly changing her top in the office seem commonplace in a male-dominated series, and it’s her frequent lack of self-absorption that makes her such a liberating watch, expanding our idea of what a successful police officer might be. Unlike Sarah Lund or Borgen’s Birgitte Nyborg, she is unshackled by anxiety about family expectations.
This consistently even-handed approach to representation of both men and women is what makes The Bridge is a breath of fresh air – in almost every scene, particularly in the wider shots at the police station, there is 50:50 gender split. This is something the writing team have really worked on. “Yes, we think about that,” says Rosenfeldt. “We wanted that representation even if it is not reality yet in Denmark yet. If we feel that we are being too dominant with either sex we change it.” As such, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that Saga has more than one new female colleague to connect with.
This liberating approach is particularly pertinent in this new series – the murder that lights the touchpaper for Saga’s new case is of a high-profile gender campaigner and the founder of the first gender-neutral kindergarten in Copenhagen. There also features a righteous blogger whose perfect hair and softly spoken family belie the viciousness of her message. “We wanted to be more than just a serial killer show,” explains Rosenfeldt when I ask about the headline-grabbing themes. The show has certainly achieved that – not just with the plot but with Saga herself. At times completely daft and at others outstripping the rest of the team with her smartness, she owns the show now, and does so magnificently.