Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Witching Hour with BBC Four

It is a common misapprehension about me that I am afraid of flying. This is decidedly not true. I am a catastrophiser - every time I get in a car, get a headache or turn on a gas fire I think that I will be crushed under a lorry, suffer a brain haemorrhage or exploded respectively. At no point during the day do I not think that the activity, however banal, will unexpectedly take a turn for the tragic. It makes every day an adventure. Flying is a welcome relief from this - the minute the wheels are up, there is a sense of peace. With every other imagined catastrophe, I have an idea, however illusatory, of how I'll escape or avoid terminal injury. With flying, even I accept that once something goes wrong, you're pretty much dead. All responsibility for personal safety has been abdicated.

Which is not to say I do not find flying stressful. I do. I'm naturally disorganised, so when there are certain aspects of life where you HAVE to be organised - on location, or flying - where there are no options for talking your way out of things and certain things have to happen at certain times in a certain order, I find it incredibly stressful.

All of which is a protracted way of explaining why last night I did not sleep, because I'm flying later to Nashville, I'm still at the House in Oxfordshire, and my mother is having an aneurysm over terrorist attacks and threatening my uncle with severe reprisals should he fulfill his promise of driving me to the airport later.

Which is how I ended up watching the Swedish Wallander at about one in the morning on iPlayer (squirrelled away as it is on BBC Four, presumably because the BBC thinks only the viewers of that channel can speed read). I love Swedish Wallander, but had been planning to watch it at a more civilised hour upon my return, and I wish I had. It went out with a bang, in this case, the bang of a main character shooting their brains out. In UK dramas, cops Take It Personally by drinking too much, sleeping with a witness and hitting a suspect. In Swedish Wallander, they go off the deep end by drinking too much, murdering a suspect and killing themselves. Of course, in UK dramas, cops Take It Personally because they are soppy. In Swedish Wallander, they Take It Personally because they have been systematically abused as children.

You probably can't learn any more about Sweden from Wallander than you can learn about Scotland from Taggart, but there are several interesting facts I've learned. Firstly, nobody ever takes their cosy parkas off indoors. I find myself shrieking at the screen "you won't feel the benefit!" like my mother. Do they not have central heating in Sweden? Secondly, Swedish is a weird language. Thirdly, people regularly go to the beach (and indeed are murdered on the beach) in Sweden while snow is on the ground, apparently without a second thought. Fourthly, they really do all seem to furnish the homes exclusively from Ikea. Fifthly, you can be beaten to death in Sweden, or you can shoot your own head off, and there will be no blood and no visible injury. There is NEVER ANY BLOOD in Swedish Wallander. Like everything else in the show, it doesn't need to be shown. This episode opened with a small boy silently taking off his top and trousers, while you could just see on the edge of the screen someone holding a camera. It was creepy as all hell. Words are at a premium. Linda gasping out the words "I loved him" were like squeezing blood out of a stone, but they weren't needed - we knew she did already.

Swedish Wallander raises massive questions and then leaves them unsaid. Was it really Kurt's fault? No, he didn't listen to Stefan, but can he be held responsible for the suicide? Stefan killed the wrong man - but what if he had killed the right man? Could anyone have saved Stefan? Linda's terrible but understandable rage at her father, can that really go away with a hug on the beach?

It's very different from the cosy Lewises and Midsomer Murders of the world - chilly, unrelentingly bleak and completely engrossing. But not ideal midnight pre-flight viewing. Extremely unsettling, and quite haunting.