You probably remember the murder case, if only in an indistinct way.
In 2017, Swedish journalist Kim Wall disappeared after boarding a submarine constructed by Danish inventor and entrepreneur Peter Madsen, intending to write an article about him. His initial story was that there was an accident: Wall died when a malfunctioning hatch hit her head and he sunk the sub out of despair and fear. Over the next few months, Wall’s dismembered body parts were found in the waters between Denmark and Sweden. After a short trial in which lurid details about Madsen emerged, he was convicted of murder. In October of last year Madsen briefly escaped from prison but was captured nearby.
At the time of the search for Wall’s body, some sensationalist, insensitive media coverage described the case as a real-life Scandinavian-noir thriller.
The point of The Investigation (starts Monday, HBO Canada/Crave, 10 p.m.) is to drain melodrama and sensationalism from a fictional – but steeped in fact – account of the case. It’s a slow-moving, slow-burning six-part drama that is a variant on the Scandi-noir template; it’s a new and strangely mesmerizing type of true-crime series anchored in deeply understated acting and plot development.
If you’re looking for a conventionally intense, shock-filled drama, look elsewhere. This is so slow, spare and unfussy it makes many crime dramas, including the Scandinavian style, look like cheap comic-book entertainment. For instance, by the end of the first hour we still haven’t seen the Madsen figure nor have we got a picture of the victim, Kim Wall. The climax of the hour is the slow emerging from the deep, cold water, of that submarine. Then the police, divers and searchers, stare at it.
Created by the Danish writer-director Tobias Lindholm (it’s in Danish with English subtitles), a writer on Borgen, the series focuses on Jens Moller (Soren Malling), chief of homicide in Copenhagen. He’s a restrained almost painfully ordinary man. Methodical and careful, he’s an unusual central figure. It only becomes clear, hours into the series, how much strain he is under.
Yet he’s tactically shrewd. He immediately requests that Madsen be charged with murder, in order to give his team time to investigate the case. Thus the series never makes Madsen a key figure. He’s simply “the accused”, parked away somewhere while the police proceed very carefully through the search for details and motivations. The series is literally about the investigation, not the criminal.
Tribute is paid to the victim not by fetishizing her youth or her pluck, but via Moller’s respect for her parents and his ceaseless care about their feelings. His role, he feels, is to show that the system works, even when faced with an extraordinarily complex crime, and he wants everyone to find solace in that.
As the series progresses, hints about Madsen emerge. Calls to the police from the public say both Madsen and Wall were known in BDSM circles, others interviewed say the two didn’t know each other at all, and still others say he’s a nice guy, a bit egotistical, but not a monster. Moller’s job is to separate rumour and speculation from solid facts. The series does an astonishing job of making the mundane seem weighty and dramatically pressing. Sometimes Moller takes his dogs for a walk. Sometimes he sits in his car waiting for a colleague. Nothing happens except just that. And you realize you’re sitting and watching a kind of greyness that has gravity and meaning you can’t put your finger on.
There is only the slyest hint of wit. Reporters call Moller constantly and he’s expert at saying something while revealing nothing. To each of the competing newspapers he says the same thing, “You’ll be the first to know.”
After being trapped in its stony grey palette for hours, but captivated, I can only suggest that part of its profound power is its focus on the sea; the chilly unknown depths of water representing the uncharted regions of human cruelty. You may remember the case of the submarine-murder and only recall indistinct details, but The Investigation is an unusual, unforgettable exploration of it.
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