The Heroine’s Journey in “Before We Die”

At a party, somewhere in Stockholm, a young man called Christian is selling drugs, to a woman called Inez, with a Z. Uh, oh, Christian’s mum, Hanna, a cop, suddenly shows up, with a couple of uniformed colleagues. Empty your pockets, son. “Happy?” he asks her, when they find a load of guilty little plastic bags on him.“Remember what I said?” she relies.

That’s some pretty hardcore parenting, but she had warned him, I approve. Now he’s going to jail, two years in the naughty room. I’m not sure Christian’s going to forget it for a while, though, even after he’s released and gets a job as a washer-upper (is it just that though, just washing up, or is there something more to it?)Advertisement

Hanna’s own career is not going so well. She’s been shifted to financial crime, which is boring her to tears. Plus, she is being encouraged to take early retirement by her younger boss. So her son hates her, her career’s gone down the swanee, and her colleagues don’t rate her.

At least she’s shagging one of them, a married investigator named Sven (of course). But then he goes and gets kidnapped, carelessly, and there may be a link with Inez. Oh, and it all involves warring leather-clad motorcycle gangs, the Mobsters and the Delincuentos. They’re into that over there, biker gangs.

Plus, what is Krajina? Make that where is Krajina, because it’s a place and the answer is in Croatia. There’s a Balkan connection. Balkan Noir, it could be a new thing.

You can do a certain amount of box-ticking with Before We Die. The tricky family situation,: check. The complicated relationship status. An impatient boss and a new mistrustful colleague (called Björn, not Benny). A spattering of pretty sickening violence. And they’ve done the usual excellent job of making a Scandinavian city look like a thoroughly miserable place to be, wet and dark and inhabited, sparsely, by unhappy people. There’s a lot of driving around at night, looking for missing people with lights reflected in rain-flecked windscreens.

Now Hanna and Björn are out of town, it’s daylight, but still bleak as hell: grey skies and gloomy woods. Great car chase though, dark pickup truck v Volvo estate (of course), which ends up flying through the sky. And the pickup, with Sven tied up in the back, drives on, into a thickening plot.

Before We Die is not just Nordic noir by numbers though. I may not (yet) be feeling the intense humanness of The Killing, which never let you forget that crime isn’t just about bad dudes and cops and violence, it’s about personal tragedy as well. Nor does it have the ingenious blind alleys, switchbacks and red (pickled) herrings of The Bridge – again, yet. But Hanna (Marie Richardson) is a seductive character, her relationships – family, personal, work – are intriguing. As for the plot – well, it’s a bit like that Volvo estate of hers. It takes a bit of getting going, but with a foot to the floor it carries on picking up speed and momentum, until, by the end of this first episode, it’s flying. Literally.