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Brooding Swede Wallander Combats Thugs, Dead Flies: TV Review

Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh as brooding Swedish detective Kurt Wallander in "Wallander II." The three-episode series is based on the novels of Henning Mankell, and is hosted by Alan Cumming. Source: Bank Pictures via Bloomberg

Brooders rejoice. Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, perhaps the most melancholy man on television, is back.

Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) has plenty of reason to mope in “Faceless Killers,” the opening episode of “Wallander II,” a three-part series airing Sunday nights on PBS. The shows are based on the crime novels of Henning Mankell and hosted by Alan Cumming, the slithery political aide in “The Good Wife.”

In the opening episode, Wallander tries to solve the grisly murder of an elderly Swedish couple. Foreign workers are the main suspects, prompting a hate group to target immigrants.

Wallander’s father (David Warner) is in the grips of dementia and has taken to strolling the roadways in his pajamas, burning his furniture and beating his skull while screaming “Space!” He pleads to his son not to “put me away,” as if the old man feels he’s about to be euthanized.

Meanwhile, daughter Linda (Jeany Spark) has taken up with a Syrian doctor, which appears to have incited a repressed strain of xenophobia in the deeply decent Wallander, who detests the anti-foreigner sentiment in his fellow Swedes. He also must deal with various psychos who live in his port town of Ystad, including the murderous thugs who run the Tilt-A-Whirl at a traveling fair.

Bedraggled Look

This is quite different from your typical cop series, where most of the women are babes, the men tend to be glib cynics and even file clerks can knock off a felon without remorse.

Wallander’s got no swagger, no wisecracks and definitely no tan. Rather than waltz into a crime scene, he takes a preparatory deep breath as if he’s about to get a root canal. Bodies spook him, unlike a typical American TV cop who might use a dead man’s chest for an ashtray.

Wallander, brought to life by Branagh’s majestically morose performance, lacks pretension, not to mention an ironed shirt. He’s got stubble on his face and a mole under his lip. He apparently combs his hair twice a year, max, and appears to have last done a sit-up in the 1980s.

White Stallion

He sympathizes with the downtrodden, especially migrant workers, one of whom is shot dead in the opener. After an explosion at a worker camp, Wallander runs into a burning trailer to perform a heroic rescue. When he gets outside, he’s shocked to discover what’s inside the blanket he carried to safety.

Perhaps there’s something symbolic there, as with other scenes featuring dead flies on a windowsill and a roaming white stallion that doesn’t get to trot off into the Nordic sunset. There’s also lots of stark scenery and a musical score featuring lonely piano lines, all of which should put viewers in a Wallander frame of mind.

With the help of a tipster he discovers the murders of the elderly couple may involve a mistress, a bastard son and lots of money. He finally gets one of his men in a way that would make Dirty Harry proud. Instead of gloating, though, he sinks into a deep funk.

Just call him Brother Grim.

Rating: ***1/2

The episodes air Oct. 3, Oct. 10 and Oct. 17, starting at 9 p.m. New York Time.

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Dave Shiflett is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions are his own.)

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