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How Nordic Noir introduced a new scowling breed of female detective

Alex Casey discovers the legendary stony-faced female detectives in Scandinavian thrillers The Bridge and The Killing, who swap the pantsuits for chunky knit jumpers and the smiles for scowls.  

It’s a pretty grim state of affairs when one simple Google search for “woman cop” yields these sort of results:

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Now that is just unrealistic. There’s not bullet-proofing there at all. Where do you keep your notepad? What happens if it starts to rain whilst you are out on the beat? Nobody is catching any bad guys on the run in 12 inch heels.

Beyond what Google has to offer, there still seems to be a strange hesitance to put female investigators at the forefront on television – God forbid they get emotional at the sight of another unidentified corpse found on a riverbed. It’s probably just about their periods or something. 

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How about when True Detective practically won a Nobel Peace Prize for casting Rachel McAdams as a lead detective, but unfortunately forgot to put her on the promotional posters? Cop shows remain a universe where the men are much more likely to be at the centre of the story. And that’s just the truth, [puts sunglasses on] man.

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Luckily, there’s a new breed of woman taking over our TV screens, reminding us that wearing fishnet stockings and fluffy handcuffs is hardly an essential part of a woman’s work. I’m talking about the leading ladies of Nordic Noir shows The Killing and The Bridge, both brash, strong heroines who work tirelessly as detectives on chilling murder cases and hardly ever crack a smile. Look at those poker faces.

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On the left we have Swedish detective Saga Norén, a brazen blonde who becomes involved in an eerie, administrative nightmare of a case in The Bridge. One body is found underneath the bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden, placed precisely on the border of both. The murder then falls under the jurisdiction of both countries, which leads to many tensions between her and the burly blokes from the other side of the fence. Saga remains stubborn, demanding she talk to the authorities….

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… and later dropping casual lines just like this:

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Saga’s charm lies in her brutal frankness, particularly surrounding her own sexuality. She’s the one in the old Porsche who will take a man home from a bar, sleep with him, and forgo the snuggling to look at gory pictures of corpses on the internet. She’s not one for small talk and social niceties, telling her dinner hosts that their dinner didn’t taste good and announcing to a whole lunchroom that she just got her period. In a word: she’s awesome. Although I’m sure she would despise being referred to as a refreshing gust of fresh air, that’s exactly what she is.

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Joining Saga Norén in the blunt Scandinavian woman Justice League is Police Commissioner Sarah Lund, the stoic sweater wearer of Danish series The Killing. Part of her signature look includes the now-iconic Faroe Island sweater, a chunky-knit number comparable to a Christmas cheese dream. Her jumpers are so iconic they even have their own website.

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Actress Sofie Gråbøl chose the sweater herself during a costume fitting one day, as she explained to The Guardian. “I saw that sweater and thought: ‘That’s it!’ The reason it’s so perfect is because it tells so many stories. It tells of a person who doesn’t use her sexuality – that’s a big point. Lund’s so sure of herself she doesn’t have to wear a suit.” She might not wear a suit, but she can definitely rock a viking helmet with the best of them.

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Instead of choosing the traditional path of juggling her high-pressure job with having children and a love life, Lund throws herself wholly into every case in The Killing. With each 60 minute episode following 24 hours of the season-spanning murder investigation, there’s just no room for dressing up, dating and drinking cocktails. She embodies a type of traditionally male character we’ve seen a million times over from True Detective to Dirty Harry – the stony faced, sleep-deprived genius, staring alone into the abyss to make their world a better place.

Sarah Lund and Saga Norén represent a new type of no-bullshit woman. She devotes herself fully to her work without being judged by society, able to play with the big boys on complex and violent murder cases. She’s not trying to “have it all’. Her narrative doesn’t revolve around a man. She doesn’t even have to smile if she doesn’t feel like it. If these Scandinavian thrillers have taught us anything, it’s that there is nothing wrong with being a little bit icy. And if it all gets too cold for you, just pop on a sweater.


Click below to see Sarah Lund and Saga doing their thing in The Killing and The Bridge on Lightbox today

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