Tonight’s U.S. television schedule includes the start of a second series of Wallander, the British crime drama that stars Kenneth Branaugh and is based on Henning Mankell’s novels about a depressed but still determined Swedish detective named Kurt Wallander. Three new 90-minute episodes have been queued up to run under the Masterpiece Mystery! umbrella on PBS-TV this month.
The first of those, tonight’s “Faceless Killers,” finds Inspector Wallander called out to a rural farmhouse, where an elderly couple have been assaulted and one of them has already died. The wife is busy taking her final, halting breaths when Wallander asks her, “Who did this?” He thinks she answered “farmer,” but it might have been “foreigner,” instead. When the latter suggestion is leaked to the media (against the inspector’s orders), it sets off a torrent of xenophobic hatred and incites violence against migrant workers around the town of Ystad. Wallander tries to stay above such shallow intolerance, but he can’t escape his own discomfort with “foreigners” as he endeavors to relate to his daughter Linda’s new boyfriend, an otherwise perfectly pleasant-seeming young chap of Syrian heritage. Rumors of the late farmer’s hidden riches, Wallander’s irritation with an unknown press informant within his department, and the inspector’s own doubts about his motives in this case complicate his investigation and push him even closer than normal to his psychological edge.
The consequences of all those events will be writ large on Wallander as he launches into next Sunday’s episode, “The Man Who Smiled,” which involves an apparent suicide, the missing financial records of a philanthropist interested in African “good works,” and black-market body parts. Finally, in “The Fifth Woman” (October 17), the agitated and lonely inspector is called out to the isolated residence of a retired automobile dealer and birdwatcher, who has been brutally impaled upon the ends of sharpened bamboo poles stuck into a ditch. Soon afterward, a florist is strangled and left tied to a tree. As the bodies accumulate, Wallander looks for a pattern, and finally thinks he has found one in a women’s support group. Meanwhile, he must deal with his father’s rapidly declining health and his ex-wife’s sudden reappearance in his life.
Although Branaugh’s Wallander can be a bit too intense and self-destructive at times, and it’s hard to imagine how he manages to face each bleak new day, there’s great power in his portrayal of Mankell’s man. For folks who’ve read the Wallander novels, these adaptations can seem a bit disjointed or thin (for instance, the third episode doesn’t adequately explain the meaning of the title “the fifth woman”). But they do capture the storytelling pace and psychological anxieties of the books. I’ve even come to accept the fact that everyone in this TV series speaks with a British accent, rather than a Swedish one. It may not be true to reality, but portraying mere reality was never Mankell’s intention.
Check your local TV listings to see what time and on what channel Wallander begins in your area.
READ MORE: “Kenneth Branagh Brings Swedish Detective Kurt Wallander Back to American TV,” by John Timpane (Philadelphia Daily News).