The Success of The Bridge

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The first time I wrote an article for Writer’s Block I talked about my love for Scandinavian television. There is something about Swedish and Danish crime shows, especially, that makes them much more thrilling than any of their American or British counterparts – at least as far as I have seen so far. After the international success of the Danish Forbrydelsen (2007) and Borgen (2010), Sweden and Denmark combined forces and created The Bridge (Bron/Broen, 2011). Since this show, which has won two Golden Nymph Awards at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival, recently released its third season, I figured it was about time to write about what makes this particular television series as outstanding as it is.

The first season of The Bridge, released in 2011, starts with the discovery of a body on the halfway point of the Øresund Bridge, which connects Copenhagen in Denmark to Malmö in Sweden. Since the body is found on the exact border between the two countries, the Swedish and Danish police are forced to work together to solve a gruesome murder that turns out to be part of a much bigger plot. Besides the raw and realistic way of filming that seems to characterize all Scandinavian television shows (and what makes them so far removed from Hollywood glamour), The Bridge takes it one step further in its twistedness, with a way of storytelling that makes the viewer almost unable to not empathize with the villains of the story. The show also makes a point of openly discussing current societal issues that everyone will be able to relate to in one way or another. For example, the second season shows how people respond to mass epidemics and overpopulation, and the third season revolves around issues with gender performativity and sexuality.

But at the heart of the show is one of its main characters, Swedish homicide detective Saga Norèn (Sofia Helin). It is an understatement to say that Saga is unique to crime television. Though she is never diagnosed on screen, she displays behavior that seems to be a form of Asperger syndrome: she lacks social skills and the ability to empathize with other people. However, though she comes across cold and insensitive at times, Saga’s bluntness and unwillingness to stop the research no matter the consequences have made her one of the most genuine and, in my opinion, most likeable characters in television, as well as a highly influential and positive representation of a character with autism in general.

Throughout the show, Saga is consistently making an attempt to improve her social skills, and is quick to adopt any kind of social behavior taught to her by her Danish coworker Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) and her boss Hans Petterson (Dag Malmberg). This results in both hilarious scenarios as Saga’s boldness causes everyone around her to be shocked, and endearing moments when she tries to apply what she’s learned to real life and it becomes clear that she really wants to make an effort. Throughout all three seasons, Saga ties the show and all its characters together. Her attempts at dealing with other people are a crucial part of what make The Bridge the international phenomenon it is.

It is unable to remain unaffected by the rollercoaster that is The Bridge. The show is both realistic and gruesome, and still incredibly entertaining. While the dynamic between Saga and Martin is heartwarming and the show is filled with other well-written characters, it is Saga Norèn who is most memorable. But apart from just being a mix of comic relief and a brilliant mind, Saga also serves as an important reminder that a person with autism does not need to be excluded or ridiculed. Hopefully, with this character, The Bridge will break down the misconception that “being different”, in whatever way that may be, is a bad thing.

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