… was my default uniform: a pair of black leggings from American Apparel, a brown granddad shirt with torn cuffs (I bought this shirt when I was pregnant with my daughter; she’s 17 now) and an old cashmere sweater of my husband’s from House of Bruar in the Highlands. It’s a sweater without shape or personality and it’s perfect for watching The Bridge because I can hoik it up by the neck to cover my face during the scary bits. There are lots of scary bits in The Bridge, a gruelling crime thriller from Scandinavia. As a result, the neckline of my husband’s sweater is so deformed the Incredible Hulk could slip his head through, no tugging.
Of course, what I should have been wearing were the tight leather trousers that Saga Noren, the Swedish detective in the series, wears in every scene in every episode, except when she’s in a hospital gown or wandering around her apartment in her undies. I did think about eBaying a similar pair, caramel-colored (at least I think Saga’s are caramel-colored; the lighting on the show is so murky it’s hard to tell) and wearing them the way she does, with a bit of belly pooching out over the waistband. But I didn’t think I could pull it off, achieve her brand of loony sexiness and autistic insouciance. She wears these trousers with a dingy tee and a v-necked sweater, the whole comprising her default uniform. Every now and then she checks her pits for rankness, but that’s uncharacteristic, a small red herring in a series peppered with red herrings, because she’s basically a slob. But that’s the point of Saga Noren, she’s grubby and louche and although she’s a great detective she’s clueless about pretty much everything else, one of those individuals who can’t read people, has zero empathy and doesn’t see the point of feelings.
A shrink would say she lacks affect.
In my opinion, Saga gets away with this behaviour – with being a gauche, grimy emotional vacuum — because she doesn’t have a daughter who says things like You never listen to me! and You’re wearing that? and who invests both phrases with worlds of guilt and scorn. She doesn’t have a husband either, no one in fact, which is one of the many psychological subplots in the show. Everybody else in The Bridge – even the alleged terrorist who’s committing the crimes — has all sorts of ties that get them into terrible trouble. For example, Saga’s Danish counterpart, Martin, has a surprising number of wives and children, a mistress in an unexplained wig and a daunting female boss to disappoint and answer to. Saga is accountable to no one, not even to her kindly commanding officer who in any event acts more like a therapist than a boss and who is leaving the job he loves for the sake of his family.
(A note about Martin’s scary Danish police chief: she deserves a blog on her earrings alone.)
Saga’s lack of accountability, her Asperger inability to understand the basics of human intercourse and, of course, her questionable hygiene may be why most of the straight men I know hate The Bridge. My husband starts shaking his head as soon as it comes on and my daughter’s best male friend, a generally unflappable sort, heaved himself up off the sofa in the middle of the second episode and ran out of our house — actually ran out of the house. This despite Saga, who’s quite the dish, flashing a lot of breast and thigh with a guy she picked up in a bar. The only heterosexual man I know who really likes the series is my friend Nathan, an architect and an anarchist. The architect in him is charmed by the Gustavian settings and the lines of the titular bridge; the anarchist admires the terrorist’s subversive tactics.
The truth is, we — my daughter and I — can’t believe there’s anyone out there who doesn’t love The Bridge, because we’re crazy about it, in thrall to the series in a way we never were with The Killing. (And let’s be honest, Sarah Lund’s reindeer sweater has nothing on Saga Noren’s trousers, not to mention that whizzy Porsche). We’re so obsessed we re-enact iconic Saga moments (her attempt to make light conversation with her colleagues is a personal favourite), dissect Martin’s infidelities (what is it with the lover and her wig?) and when I ask my daughter if she’s cleaned her room or fed the dog, she answers, impatiently, ja!
She and I have a viewing m.o.: we take over the double sofa in the back room and build a kind of fort out of cushions and Slankets. For extra protection — for example, when something terrifying seems about to happen — my daughter hides behind the screen of her laptop while I yank my husband’s sweater up over my nose and eyes as if I’m about to be gassed.
We’re not skittish as a rule, but The Bridge has made us jumpy. I think it’s the low predictability factor. The unexpected is the only probability and every time one of says, triumphantly, It’s him, that’s the guy, the suspect in question turns out to be nothing more than a social worker with a bad temper or a garden variety pornographer. (Well, it is Scandinavia.) It wasn’t until the penultimate episode that the shoe dropped — and only then because the writers introduced a couple of obvious devices involving plastic surgery and a lost diary. But those are minor quibbles, because the main thing is how much I’ll miss The Bridge. I’ll miss my daughter as well; she no longer has a reason to hang out with me on a Saturday night.
They’re said to be filming a sequel, but I’m sorry to say I’m prepared to be disappointed. In the concluding moments of the final episode we saw Saga deciding to relate to another human being and Martin, teeth clenched like Bob Hoskins in gangster mode, making a mental vow to remain faithful. Both struck me as rather pat transformations with more than a whiff of the American after-school special about them. Even worse, neither suggested the second series will be half as gripping as the first.
May 2, 2012
…was the Calvin Klein bathing suit I bought in a snit and am really coming to hate. Dark blue, square necked, deeply unflattering: it irritates me every time I pull it on. But it cost so much I feel obliged to wear it, amortize my investment in the damn thing.
I’d been swimming in the river and was drying off in the sun, sitting on the grassy bank that the club’s committee members keep nicely mown and weeded. There were three of us, three women in a circle on our towels. We were talking about one of the committee members, a man called J. J is a nudist. It’s not a nudist club, it’s just a local swim club on the river that anyone can join, but it happens that the people on the committee who put in the most work – trimming the hedges, maintaining the ladders and the paths – tend to wander around naked. And J, who is tall and imposing, is the most overt and preening of all the nudists, the one with the full body wax, who walks with his shoulders back and his pelvis tilted forward, who leaps aggressively into the river when it’s full of swimmers and who lingers just a little too long on the riverbank when all the other nudies have scattered to avoid being seen by passing kayaks and punts.
I didn’t know what to think about this guy.
He’s very friendly, but how friendly do you want someone to be when he comes and stands over you, naked and hairless, and launches into a discussion about club policy – with all the attendant jiggling every time he emphasizes a point.
We weren’t talking about any of this, though, because one of the women in our ad-hoc trio was J’s wife, Mrs J.
Mrs J is what you’d call a wispy creature. Thin pale hair, a peaky little bird face, small conical breasts – she’s a nudist as well so I’m familiar with her breasts — and a tiny voice; her words trend to trail off.
(I’m a little worried all this talk about body parts and jiggly bits might strike some of you as a tad, well, gamey. I apologize, but the problem, if you consider it a problem, is that by swimming where I do, I’m constantly faced – and I mean faced — with an anatomical parade. This stuff is hard to ignore. Have you ever watched someone trim a hedge in the nude? With an electric trimmer? It’s a car crash waiting to happen. You can’t not look.)
Anyway, the three of us were talking. We didn’t know each other, we just happened to be there that day, no one else around. Which is probably why Mrs J told us what she did — sometimes it’s easier to unburden yourself to strangers.
She (I still don’t know her name) and J had three sons. There were, she said, the usual rebellions and family squabbles, particularly with the two older boys. But the youngest, Tim, was sunny: happy, popular, athletic and kind. As a parent, you’re not supposed to have favorites but J adored Tim, spent more time with him than he had with the other two. They played football and fished in the river, always ending up in the kitchen together, J sitting at the table with his pint, Tim perched on the counter swinging his legs, the two of them talking, sorting out the world.
Then, age 14, Tim got sick. It was bone cancer. For two years he got weaker and weaker, suffering as much from the treatments as the disease – hard to tell which was worse, the illness or the cure – but in any event, none of it worked. He died in pain, age 16, and it blotted out the sun for J.
It destroyed him, his wife told us.
He was the apple of his eye.
By now, we were hunched up together, one of us naked, two of us in damp bathing suits. At some point we had started holding hands.
They had ended up here, his wife said, at the riverbank club. Something in the small tasks — keeping the weeds at bay, pruning the trees that overhang the river, diving to the bottom of the green water to retrieve fallen branches and sodden towels — had given J a new rhythm for life, not quite a purpose, but at least a glimpse of well-being.
You never know, do you?
You make assumptions about someone, you think, Yeah, I’ve got him pegged, and then it turns out everything you thought was right, was actually wrong.
I had thought it was swagger and ego, a strutting peacock or a gorilla pounding his chest. And it was nothing like that, nothing at all. If anything, it – J — was King Lear, raging at the storm, mad with grief. The stripping down, the overlarge strides, it was a kind of fearful bravado, an attempt to convince himself there was something left, some merit in the very elements — sun, water, air.
He was walking toward us now, carrying a thermometer on a rope. We let go of each other’s hands. He nodded at his wife and dropped the thermometer into the water, looping the end of the rope over the ladder. Every gesture was outsized – the flourish as he knotted the line, the grunt that issued from his mouth as he straightened up. When he said, Another good day, his voice boomed out and we answered, It is, isn’t it, just as loudly, as if we believed him.