After Stieg Larsson’s well-loved Millennium trilogy, the popularity of Scandinavian television shows has risen drastically. And for good reason. Scandinavian crime shows, or ‘Nordic Noir’, as the popular term is, are dark and gritty, and have plots that twist and turn until you forget where they even began. The best thing, in my opinion, is that these shows don’t leave any room for clichés or dream-like scenarios, as I have so often found in their American counterparts. Its impeccable resemblance to reality is probably what is the most thrilling, and admirable, about these shows. Or perhaps this just has to do with the fact that the settings are very distinctly European and so similar to the Netherlands that I can just imagine one of their serial killers showing up on my doorstep.
However, my favorite aspect of Nordic Noir is not the setting or the amazingly written plot. It is the way the characters, and the female characters especially, are written. Emma Robinson of Cinema Scandinavia wrote: “As a whole, these shows relish the portrayal of its female characters as flawed yet sympathetic, complicated yet engaging, presenting complex and authentic visions of women in positions of power.” Following in the footsteps of Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, the women in Nordic Noir are smart, strong and very capable of doing their job, but still human. These shows do not strive to portray their characters as heroes, as is so often preferred in American television, but rather go for a realistic approach. This means they do not shy away from telling the stories of women in power, letting them, in some cases, take over what people would traditionally call the roles of men.
Take Forbrydelsen’s Sarah Lund, a die-hard detective who will stop at nothing to solve her murder cases. Lund is cold and ruthless, but she is also portrayed in such a way that the viewer can’t help but sympathize with her. (The knitted sweaters she wears in basically every episode have become a hype that I don’t think anyone saw coming.) Forbrydelsen does not only focus on a murder case, but also on the lives of the detectives working on that case. We learn about Lund’s life and see her struggles, but though it is easy to sympathize with her, we never even begin to question her strength.
Borgen’s Birgitte Nyborg is another remarkable female character. We follow Nyborg as she becomes the first female prime minister of Denmark. The show focuses on the relentless world of politics, with secrets and backstabbing and media-involvement and trying to do what is best for your country. Like Forbrydelsen, though, Borgen does not only focus on the political side, but also on the way it affects Nyborg’s personal life. As her political influence grows, Nyborg’s marriage hits a rocky patch. We see that she has to work very hard and how the media are doing their best to make her career a difficult one, but we also see how her family tries to cope with this. It is hard not to sympathize with the struggles Nyborg goes through, because while she might be prime minister, her life is just as messy as everyone else’s.
The characters of Nordic Noir have won me over. The fact that it focuses on women in positions of power who are strong but relatable at the same time is something that I particularly enjoy, but besides that, these shows are thrilling, well-written and realistic. It is this realism that makes it so easy for viewers to relate to these shows, and the reason I hope you will give them a try.
Header image courtesy of callaqueempieza.com