In Face to Face on Walter Presents, Detective Bjørn Rasmussen (Ulrich Thomsen), sees his daughter Christina’s (Alma Ekehed Thomsen) body at the morgue while there on another case, and becomes obsessed with proving she did not commit suicide, as the Medical Examiner (Lars Ranthe) has concluded. Taking place over 1 day, Face to Face uses a clever format that reminded me a little of the Criminal series on Netflix. Each 23-minute episode is a single scene of a confrontation between Bjørn and one other person in the criminal underworld of Copenhagen. With a few exceptions, we only see each actor once in the entire series. Creator Christopher Boe managed to wrangle a who’s who of Danish actors for the show, such as Lars Mikkelsen, Søren Malling, Trine Dyrholm, and Nicolaj Lie Kaas. With each confrontation, Bjørn gets just enough information to move on to the next person (and location), until he can finally put the pieces together. And with each confrontation, we learn more about Bjørn, and his relationship with Christina.
Bjørn Rasmussen is a man who is unknown to himself. He is aggressive, violent, and dogged. He may solve a lot of cases, but he is so myopic that he doesn’t really know the people closest to him, nor the effect that he has on them. As a father, we find out that he rejected his estranged daughter, but tells himself that she turned away from him. As a partner to Detective Rylander (David Dencik), he was insufferable, leading Rylander to beg to be transferred away from Bjørn (although in secret so they could remain friends). When he meets a woman named Nikki who claims to be his daughter’s wife, he growls, “Nikki what? What is your last name?” “Rasmussen,” she sneers. Bjørn is clearly taken aback at discovering he has a daughter-in-law, who chose to take his family name, no less. Some viewers couldn’t abide Bjørn, and abandoned the show, but I found him fascinating. Usually a parent who burns every bridge to solve his daughter’s murder is shown to be a hero, but Bjørn is portrayed as a man who is doing too little, too late and learning some unpleasant things about himself along the way.
The format-Pros and Cons
The format of one-scene-per-episode used in Face to Face is done well, but has some drawbacks. Because each episode is one 20-minute scene, it’s a showcase for the actors. The performances are excellent, and would have to be. The drawback here is that the scenes are very talky. That’s fine, except it leads to some awkward lines that are clearly expository, so they don’t sound like how people would speak. I found that the format fit the story very well, as you would track leads one after the other in real life. Each person Bjørn talked to claimed that everyone else was lying, so Bjørn had to use his chops as a detective to discern what the truth actually was, which was sometimes a bit Sherlockian. Because we never actually meet Christina, she remains a cypher. We only know what other people tell us about her, and sometimes things don’t add up, like, she had a major drug and alcohol problem, but was also a criminal genius? But again, none of the narrators are reliable, so we don’t actually know the truth. (Fun fact-the actress who plays Bjørn’s daughter is the actual daughter of the actor playing Bjørn.)
Our Take on Face To Face
With such short episodes, and only 8 of them to boot, Face to Face is a quick binge. It was a treat to see Denmark’s best actors in a long scene that they could sink their teeth into. I’m a theater lover, so imagining each episode as a mini-play was OK with me. And I found it fun to see where the next scene would take place, knowing that there was only one location per show. Although ultimately the solution to the mystery is a bit of a stretch, I liked how Bjørn figured it out. If you like a puzzle, and have the stomach for unlikable or low-life characters, you will enjoy Face to Face.
You can find Walter Presents selections on the PBS Masterpiece streaming service, Roku or Xfinity1.
Looking for more of the best in foreign TV? Don’t miss our other great reviews HERE!