Henning Mankell’s popular character, Kurt Wallander, was brought vividly to life with a standout performance by Kenneth Branagh. The series, focusing on the Swedish police detective, ran for four seasons from 2008 to 2016, first on BBC and then on PBS. As with so many beloved crime fighters, there was incentive to produce new programs. Rather than recast Branagh (with an aging Wallander, the storyline had run its course), the decision was made to go back to the beginning of Wallander’s career. Young Wallander, now streaming on Netflix, stars Adam Pålsson as a recent graduate of the police academy. Unlike other prequel series that place the action in the past, Young Wallander is set in contemporary Sweden so there are cellphones, drones, and DNA evidence.
In the six episodes, Wallander finds himself caught up trying to solve a grisly murder fraught with racial overtones. (Placing the film in present time means dealing with immigration issues in Europe.) A young Swede, his face painted with the Swedish flag, is tied to a fence, his mouth covered with duct tape. When the tape is torn off, it sets off a grenade planted in his mouth. Because the spectacle is staged in an area inhabited by immigrants, the murder is immediately cast as racially motivated.
Wallander lives in the complex, but his neighbors are unaware that he’s a detective. But when he steps forward to calm the crowd, he is forced to reveal that he’s a cop. Distrust of law enforcement among recent arrivals makes Wallander’s ability to investigate the crime difficult. When his superior officers find out he has connections to some of the residents who might be involved, they ask that he step back, an order he immediately violates.
Wallander had a brief glimpse of the immigrant dressed in a dark hoodie who removed the duct tape. When he and his partner, Reza (Yasen Atour), are assigned to manage crowds during a white supremacist march, Wallander sees the suspect and gives chase. His action not only leaves Reza to sustain life-threatening injuries meted out by the unruly crowd, but also results in Wallander getting stabbed by the assailant who escapes.
Even a stab wound won’t keep Wallander in the hospital, especially because he suspects the immigrant was coerced into killing the young man. Wallander goes back to where he first saw the suspect, coming out of a church now being used to house those seeking asylum. The facility is being managed by Mona (Ellise Chappell), who directed disparaging comments about the police during the march. She takes pity on Wallander, however, since he’s bleeding through his shirt and volunteers to patch him up. Her distrust melts away when he explains that the suspect, soon identified as Zemar, was probably forced to cooperate.
Zemar is killed, however, before Wallander can find out who is behind the murder plot. He begins to focus his attention on Gustav Munck, from a wealthy Swedish family, whose foundation is supporting Mona’s facility. While Wallander is able to convince his two superiors, Rask (Leanne Best), and Hemberg (Richard Dillane), that Gustav is somehow involved, finding evidence that will link him to the crime remains elusive. And going up against one of the most powerful family dynasties in Sweden becomes even more difficult when higher-ups in law enforcement begin to put up roadblocks.
Young Wallander is a tense ride. We know Wallander won’t get killed, but have no assurances that those close to him won’t suffer that fate because of what’s been set in motion by the investigation.
While the series proved to be well received, the production also was criticized for failing to cast only one Swede – Pålsson – in a major role. The other actors were mostly British. In addition, filming took place in Lithuanian rather than in Sweden, something that angered Swedish fans of Wallander.
The series ends with major plot lines unresolved, leaving many to hope there will be a second season. So far, Netflix has not made any announcement about continuing the series. We hope they will.
Photos courtesy of Netflix
Top photo: Adam Pålsson as Young Wallander