‘Nordic Noir’, the hugely popular brand of Scandinavian crime fiction, has held a cultural grip on our nation since the sweeping success of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series and TV’s The Killing, The Bridge and Wallander. We now have the introduction of yet more bleak and macabre goings on in the lands of the midnight sun, in the shape of Sebastian Bergman – but is this starting to resemble a case of overkill.
Whilst offering typically gruesome and grisly deaths amidst the now familiar setting of chilling and bleak parts of Scandinavia, Sebastian Bergman does provide a slightly different take on the typical central character born out of the genre. Sebastian is male – clue is in the title – and instead of pushing the usual sense of female empowerment for the audience, Rolf Lassgård’s character offers quite the opposite with the somewhat misogynistic aura that seems to envelop him.
Bergman is an abrasive police profiler with a reputation of causing upset amongst his colleagues. Now struggling to come to terms with the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter in the 2004 Thailand tsunami, Sebastian returns to his hometown for his mother’s funeral, and whilst there, catches up with old police colleague, Torkel, who is investigating the brutal killing of a 15-year-old boy. On that same evening Sebastian finds a letter containing a hidden family secret, and realising he is on to something significant, he works his way on to Torkel’s team as an investigator.
The brilliance of Bergman’s investigative mind, paralleled with his tumultuous relations with colleagues, and people in general for that matter, delivers a character that is at once intriguing and intense, but ultimately trying. A lecherous approach to women, along with his unkempt appearance establishes Bergman as an anti-hero of sorts – he is lacking in some of the selflessness and humanity required to be a true hero. It’s for that reason alone that Lassgård’s character can be differentiated from the equally well-constructed characters of Saga Noren, protagonist of The Bridge, and the critically acclaimed Sarah Lund of The Killing.
Much like the rest of this seemingly overachieving genre, its success can readily be attributed to script and performance, but in this case, the choice to employ hand-held camerawork makes a real difference, creating an isolated world, in which Bergman and his inability to let go of the past exist in a consistent state of self-loathing and suffering.
Sebastian Bergman features an extremely well-written screenplay, brimming with painfully emotive back-stories, and deeply motivated characters. It certainly does enough to embed its protagonist into the folklore of Nordic Noir with its short lived but fantastically crafted two-part series, full of secrets, tragedy and unquestioning love.