New Danish crime drama on ITV3: Those Who Kill

My thanks to Rhian over at It’s a Crime! (or a Mystery) for drawing my attention to a new Danish crime drama starting tomorrow, Thursday 23 February, on ITV3 at 10pm.

Those Who Kill (Den Som Dræber) originally aired in Denmark in March 2011 and appears to have been pretty successful – it’s been sold on to a number of other countries and will be remade for the US market (following in the footsteps of Forbrydelsen I).

The investigative team. Wait a minute! Who's that on the right?!*

The series synopsis from ITV3 reads as follows:

‘Those Who Kill is a compelling dark crime series, based on the novels by bestselling author Elsebeth Egholm. It follows the investigations of a special unit of Copenhagen’s police force, consisting of detective inspector Katrina Ries Jenson (Laura Back) and forensic psychiatrist Thomas Schaeffer (Jakob Cedergren). The pair specialise in identifying serial killers that do not fit within traditional behavioural patterns and aim to uncover the psychology of a violent killer in their attempt to solve a case surrounded by fear and mystery’.

I have to confess that this description doesn’t particularly appeal to me, as I’m rather averse to serial killer novels and dramas. They often seem to dwell excessively on sadistic acts of violence and the suffering of (usually) female victims, and of course this violence and suffering are enacted again and again with each successive murder (it’s the grim repetition that really does me in).

But what’s interesting about the ITV3 press release, which I’m guessing from its use of ‘we’ is a translation of Danish press materials, is the way that the subject of serial killings and killers is presented:

‘THOSE WHO KILL is a crime series about a violent criminal surrounded by fear and mystique – the serial killer. Up until now, we have been able to curtail their activities with early – and effective – interventions via the safety net of a comprehensive social welfare system in Scandinavia. But times have changed. Borders have opened up, social welfare is in decline, and slowly but surely the whole system has become imbued with a sense of resigned impotence and callous disregard for those it once sought to rescue. The rifts in the net have become so large that bigger fish are slipping through the mesh, and as a result, a new type of crime is starting to burgeon – killings not grounded in traditional motives and patterns of behaviour.’

So here we are given a sociological explanation for the rise of the serial killer in Scandinavia – the disintegration of the social welfare system (also a principle concern of the 1960s / 1970s ‘Martin Beck’ series by the Swedish crime writers Sjowall and Wahloo). I’d be interested to know if this rise is documented, but, whether real or not, the passage suggests a more thoughtful approach than most dramas to the topic of serial killers, through an exploration of the way in which society and its structures contribute to their making. This impression is reinforced in the description of the investigators’ activities:

‘For both Katrine and Thomas, the challange becomes one of discerning the human behind the monster. For only when they come to understand the fantasies and trauma that drive him are they able to confront him’.

On the one hand, this kind of psychological investigative approach reminds me of Val McDermid’s Carol Jordan/Tony Hill series (of which I’ve read The Last Temptation) and on the other, of historical studies seeking to understand perpetrator motivations and war-crimes (Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men springs to mind). Both try in their different ways to move beyond the idea of killers as one-dimensional monsters, and to comprehend the logic, however distorted, of their actions.

Of course the press release could simply be sophisticated packaging for the usual serial- killer schlock, but who knows, maybe Those Who Kill will be different. I’ll probably watch, given the high quality of other recent Danish dramas on BBC4 and the welcome presence of another strong female lead, but may find myself switching off if things get too uncomfort-able.

The full press release from ITV3 can be accessed here.

*One of the main characters in the drama, Magnus Bisgaard, is played by actor Lars Mikkelsen, who will be familiar to fans of The Killing 1 from his role as the idealistic politician Troels Hartmann.

24 February update: Due to a conspiracy of circumstances involving a snowboard, suspected concussion and a trip to A+E, I didn’t get to see last night’s opening episode. But here are a few Twitter reviews to give a flavour of how Those Who Kill went down with viewers.

@richard0x4A: thosewhokill pretty good. A bit predictable but I enjoyed it. itv3 in decent foreign drama shock.

@Schmolik: ThoseWhoKill last night was distinctly “meh”. Don’t know if Lars Mikkelsen’s cheekbones are enough to keep me interested.

@Packet_editor: #thosewhokill my new The Killing fix

@crifilover: thosewhokill getting tense!

@fleetstreetfox: Hmm. I could miss that and wouldn’t mind #thosewhokill