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What Makes ‘The Bridge’ So Damn Good?

One bridge, two countries. One body, two murders. Even if I stopped here, chances are you’re already a little intrigued. But if you dive deeper into “The Bridge,” you’ll learn that its brilliant premise is just one piece of what makes the show a worldwide phenomenon. Every component, from a gripping script to the unforgettable performances, is as strong as the next, and together they combine to create one of the most seminal shows in TV history. If you need any further proof, you only have to look at the five remakes it’s inspired across the globe. So just what makes “The Bridge” the legendary show that it is? (WARNING: Some light spoilers ahead.)

The Masterful Writing

There are several elements that go into a complex thriller like “The Bridge”: intriguing premise (we already know that box has been checked), multidimensional characters, character development, a pace that builds suspense, convincing red herrings, and believable twists that no one saw coming. These may be common elements, but what’s rare is when a thriller executes every single one of them perfectly.

The story opens with the discovery of a dead body in the middle of Øresund Bridge, the conduit between Sweden and Denmark. When two detectives, one from each country, are assigned to the case, they realize not everything is what it seems with the body. Already, within the span of a few hours, the story turns up a notch, the mystery deepens, and the stakes are raised. And it only builds from there, taking viewers on a journey filled with surprise after surprise until its unforgettable conclusion.

As for the characters, the impossibly mismatched Saga Norén, from Sweden, and Martin Rohde, her Danish counterpart, are easily one of the most memorable and loveable detective duos that have ever graced the screen. Not only are Saga and Martin beautifully multifaceted, but the way they each evolve reflects just how much the writers care about these characters.

“The Bridge” is not a thriller that needs to rely on shock scares or cliffhangers to keep your attention. This is a thriller that delivers every story element with the precision of a surgeon and the finesse of an artist. It’s no surprise that The Guardian has called it a “gripping, expertly told thriller.”

A Character Unlike Any Other

Speaking of memorable and loveable detectives, there really is no one like Saga. She’s unapologetically blunt, hopelessly awkward, and unmatched in her brilliance. Though it’s never been confirmed, it is implied that Saga has Asperger’s syndrome, as evidenced in both her social interactions and her work habits.

One of the earliest introductions to Saga’s personality is a scene in which she takes off her shirt in the middle of the police station, without hesitation and without warning to Martin. Later on she tries to join a group conversation by earnestly announcing, “I got my period this morning.” And almost every time she calls Martin it’s in the middle of the night. That’s because, unintentional comedy aside, Saga’s nature also makes her singularly focused on her cases. As long as the killer is still out there, nothing else really matters, least of all small talk.

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A Serial Killer Unlike Any Other

Saga’s not the only character who sets new standards. The serial killer in season one is so chillingly proficient, he makes Hannibal Lecter look like an amateur. He doesn’t just kill; he merely uses murder as a vehicle for a much larger plan. It doesn’t take Saga and Martin long to piece together that the perpetrator is commenting on society’s biggest problems, with each murder representing a different issue, such as classism, homelessness, and child labor.

Judging by the meticulous planning that goes into each murder and the way each one goes off without a hitch, it’s clear that the killer is countless steps ahead of the police. But half the fun is watching Saga and Martin figure out how to outsmart and outmaneuver this elite mastermind.

Each subsequent season features equally sadistic and elite killers, but it’s the killer in season one who sets the bar for the rest.

The Heart Beneath the Thrills

It’s indisputable that “The Bridge” is best known for its thrills, but that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t also have heart. Woven into the chilling, gripping murder investigation are moments of tenderness, particularly between our protagonists. Though they butt heads at first, Saga and Martin quickly become friends, with Martin assuming a mentor-like role to help guide Saga through social interactions. In fact, it’s Martin’s lesson on the benefits of the occasional white lie that defines one of the show’s most pivotal scenes.

Saga herself is a study in emotional depth. At first viewers might find her behavior wacky, but over time, it becomes clear that underneath that stoic, no-bullsh*t, all-business surface is a vulnerable individual who just doesn’t know how to show it. There is a heartbreaking scene in season two, in which she points out that it’s easy to lash out at her because everyone assumes she’s incapable of being hurt.

While the relationship between Saga and Martin sets the tone, the rest of the series looks into Saga’s personal story and sees her become even more emotionally involved with the people in her life. As the show progresses, Saga grows both as a detective and as a person, and we as the viewers grow with her.

It Is Nordic Noir Defined

According to The Verge, Nordic Noir is defined by its “emotional chilliness and overarching sense of despair, expressed via brutal murder-mystery plots, often set in cold, dark countries like Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Finland.” The description goes on to include “troubled detectives” and a “sense that contemporary society is rotten at its core.” “The Bridge” serves up all of these elements like a neatly severed head on a platter. Now let’s dissect it.

“Emotional chilliness?” That could be Saga’s middle name. But it’s not just her. Emotional chilliness permeates the series, from a mother’s neglect for her teenage daughter to the murders themselves, which reduce human lives to footnotes in a psychopath’s manifesto.

“An overarching sense of despair.” The series is largely shaped by recurring themes of loss, grief, and trauma, as seen in the victims, as well as our heroes.

“Brutal murder-mystery plots.” Say no more. Each season is centered around a killer (or killers) more twisted than the last. Severed bodies, poison apples, elaborately staged murder scenes complete with mannequins—you name it, “The Bridge” probably featured it.

“Often set in cold, dark countries like Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Finland.” Well, with “The Bridge,” you don’t get just one cold, dark country—you get two!

“Troubled detectives.” From the outset, our protagonists are already flawed, each with their own personal demons. But as the story unfolds from season to season, they’re dealt unspeakable blows that will threaten to break them.

“A sense that contemporary society is rotten at its core.” This last element is demonstrated ever-so eloquently and morbidly by our season-one killer. Even though the bulk of the social commentary in the series is doled out by the adversaries, viewers can’t help but relate to their message. Classism does exist. Big food is ruining the environment.

So there you have it. “The Bridge” is essentially Nordic Noir defined. Not only did the series help popularize the Nordic Noir TV genre, it inspired five remakes around the world:

  • US/Mexico (“The Bridge,” 2013)
  • France/Britain (“The Tunnel,” 2013)
  • Russia/Estonia (“The Bridge,” 2018)
  • Malaysia/Singapore (“The Bridge,” 2018)
  • Germany/Austria (“Pagan’s Peak,” 2018)

Speaking of which…

A Remake Worthy of the Original

Using the same murder-on-the-border premise, “Pagan Peak” follows two detectives, one from Germany and one from Austria, who team up when a gruesomely staged body is found on the border between their two countries. Their investigation will lead them into the never-ending darkness of the Alpine wilderness as they hunt for an elite and sadistic killer with a penchant for hand-carving nightmare-inducing masks. You may never go camping again.

You can stream both “The Bridge” and “Pagan Peak” on Topic.

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