The crime behind HBO’s Danish series The Investigation is pure Scandi-Noir. A young, attractive Swedish journalist, looking for a story, boards the homemade submarine of a Danish inventor for a spin around Køge bay off Copenhagen. A day later, the submarine sinks, and the inventor, Peter Madsen is rescued, but there is no sign of Kim Wall, the journalist. A week later, her torso floats to shore. After almost 60 days of searching, divers find her head and limbs, anchored to the bottom of the sea. 3 years later, executive producer Tobias Lindholm (Borgen) creates a series focusing on the investigators who are scrambling to find evidence that will convict this monster of murder. Lindholm’s approach to the material is anti-sensational. We never see the torso or other body parts; we never meet Madsen or see his interrogations; hell, we never even see an image of Kim. We are simply stuck in the day-to-day banality of real police work.
I understand Lindholm’s intentions. It’s a recent crime, and the parents are still mourning the loss of their daughter. As such, The Investigation is exceedingly respectful to the Walls. But it’s dull. Hitchcock said, “Film is life with the boring parts cut out.” The Investigation is all boring parts. Cops waiting days for forensics results, frustrated divers finding nothing day after day, an anxious prosecutor trying not to harangue the police to find him evidence, dreaded phone calls to Kim’s parents, lots of staring into space. And when there is a breakthrough, it’s understated. Perhaps in Scandinavia, because the crime was so notorious, there is no need to rehash the gruesome details. But I had never heard of this story, and while watching, I had a million questions. “Who is this guy? Why did she get on that sub? Is this his first murder?”
The Investigation boasts a stellar cast. Borgen alums Søren Malling and Pilou Asbaek play Investigator Jens Møller and Prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepson. But they don’t have much to do, at least in the first 4 episodes. Søren Malling spends most of his time waiting for calls, and then making calls to the Wall family. As of episode 4, Pilou Asbaek has only shown up at meetings to remind cops that he needs incontrovertible evidence of murder, and then left. Additionally, there is no chit chat. People tell each other what they need to know, and that’s it. There is no camaraderie, absolutely no humor, not one wasted piece of dialogue. It’s a very quiet series. One exception would be Kim’s parents, played by Pernilla August and Rolf Lassgård, who talk about Kim’s work and her travels, and even contribute to the investigation. Their grief is restrained, but feels genuine.
Our take on The Investigation
In an article with Drama Quarterly, Lindholm says that he wasn’t interested in writing a fictionalized account of the sensational story, but instead wanted to highlight the dedication of the investigative team, and focus on the relationship between Møller and the Walls. I understand the urge to avoid exploitation. It’s a noble idea, but it doesn’t make for good TV, even with excellent production values and a superior cast. I don’t usually write about series that I can’t recommend, but many people gave this series high ratings, and will certainly disagree with my opinion. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
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