Is The Bridge changing perceptions of mental health?


I hope Saga doesn’t mind that I once perched on the bonnet of her precious gold Porche…

I’ve spoken before that I am a HUGE fan of The Bridge and especially the character of Saga Noren. 

Last night, my adoration for the series went to a whole new level.

Avid fans of the Scandinavian detective series cannot fail to have been rapt by Saga’s  inaugural therapy session last night (Season 4 episode 3) (screened 25/5/18 in the UK).

Self-diagnosing with post-traumatic stress disorder following a spontaneous panic attack, the currently-homeless Saga’s looking for a fix to an emerging symptom that she basically doesn’t want to get in the way of her prolific 24/7/365 work rate.

No more than a minute into the consulting room, she is forensically listing an eye-wateringly harrowing set of life events.

“My mum had Munchausan by proxy. She almost killed my little sister” she starts, the therapist making a note in a book. Then, without taking a breath Saga’s speech rate quickens as she relays how she made sure her parents went to prison. “I took care of Jennifer. She killed herself at 14”. Saga’s saga continues, embracing the suicide of her boss and friend, for which she feels culpable by virtue of a paperclip.

The therapist is now doing 200wpm shorthand as Saga leaps to the fact of her police colleague’s imprisonment for poisoning his son’s killer. Still blank-faced, as if giving a court statement, she describes the return of her mother and how she took her own life in such a manner as to frame Saga for her murder.

By now her therapist’s put her pen down and is gazing open-mouthed at Saga’s description of her prison stretch, culminating in her being stabbed in the neck by a besotted fellow inmate with a broken table tennis bat.

“I see. We’ve got a bit to work with…” says the therapist. “Good” says a nodding Saga. already looking palpably relieved to got that brief glimpse of life events off her duster-coated chest.

There are two reasons why this scene particularly resonates for me. First, it is very rare indeed to witness positive representations of the therapeutic relationship on screen and in other popular culture formats. No wonder people are fearful of stepping into the consulting room when TV depicts mind-bending unethical practitioners such as in Gypsy and Dexter. Note that it’s the female therapists who are the most deadly….that’s for another post.

In complete contrast, here we see the seed sown of a listening, caring relationship, a safe space where Saga is not asked ‘what’s wrong with you’ rather ‘what’s happened to you’. That leads to the next very important point – we’re starting to see that there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with Saga at all.  She’s having a perfectly natural reaction to a litany of horror in her life that would render you or I mute.

Saga’s been dubbed by the media as a new positive role model for autism yet at no point in the making of the series have the producers ever confirmed Saga is on the spectrum. I don’t think she is and I predict neither do they.

Having been gripped by every series since the show arrived in British screens in 2012, I am now holding out every hope that this final season is about to leave us more than the legacy of a strong uncompromising fascinatingly complex female cop.

Are the writers about the dash the bio-medical model asunder and rightly represent psychotherapy as the ultimate key to unlocking our potential and transforming our lives? Roll on next Friday.


The Rise of the Saganauts

My eyes lit up when I saw her – I’d dreamt of seeing her in the flesh since I first laid eyes on The Bridge’s detective Saga Noren. Long, fashionably uncombed hair, ethereal beauty, flicking crumbs from her cinnamon bun off her ankle-grazing khaki military coat and leather trousers – this bewitching brunette was the ultimate Saganaut right down to her lace-up ankle boots. Welcome to Nordicana 2014, a pop-up cathedral for the disciples of Scandinavian crime detective fiction, film and TV.  Thank goodness Saganaut was well wrapped up, as the day couldn’t have got off to a chillier start…

Despite arriving nice and early to the venue, a former brewery in London’s trendy Shoreditch, a queue of shivering ticket holders snaked right round the corner down Brick Lane. The negative tweets to the organisers started just as early, especially when, after over an hour shuffling outside we faced a further queue for wristbands inside. As the crowds crammed into Screen 1 for an audience with the stars and writers of Danish political drama Borgen, necks craning to catch a nano-glimpse of lead actor Sidse Babett Knudsen, the sound system crashed. Luckily I’d only downed one Chokolad Boll; a second and I’d never have squeezed through the frowning throng into my seat. It’s true to say my fellow Scandifans were mainly affable white, middle class, middle aged BBC Four types – a bit like Hay Festival-goers but more Helly Hansen than Barbour. They were as politic and polite as their gentle, slow edit on-screen heroes. For now.

An hour or so later, I feared an actual murder or two might occur in that appropriately industrial backdrop while someone tried and failed to work out how to play the much-hyped Bridge preview episode. The factory lighting burnt through my corneas like Sarah Lund’s interrogative torch.

My micturally-challenged mate Kim put out an SOS tweet for a ‘She Wee’ during this lengthy ‘technical hiccup’ (as it was dubbed by the organisers.) As seasoned marathon runners, we found comfort in the knowledge that the urge subsides as you become more dehydrated.  After all that, my view of the subtitles was blocked by Mount Fairisle sat six inches in front of me, but I took comfort in the fact she seemed to be having a good time.  And I was now, finally, as warm as a Swedish meatball amidst the now calmer seas of Scandilovers.

Thanks to this sudden thaw, the Helly Hansens were shed faster than you could say gravadlax, to reveal a cacophony of fairisle jumpers, hoodies and accessories. Even the delightful Danish Ambassador’s salt and pepper beard looked knitted.

My fascination with Scandi Noir was sparked by Krister Henriksson’s Wallander a few years ago. As a Merseysider in landlocked exile, I identified with his penchant for staring out at sea flanked by his canine sidekick, Jussi. Just as my own home port has had a rocky record on race relations, the Malmo of Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander mysteries is, according to Matthew Engel in the Financial Times, one of the ‘most racially divided cities in Europe.’ Asked to reflect on these explicit themes in Mankell’s work, an otherwise candid Henriksson would not be drawn on politics. But he revealed he is drawn to tough, serious characters after suffering playground bullying: “I decided I never wanted anyone to laugh at me again.”  Never mind the narrative, though, just look at Krister’s tailoring. Who knew he’s such a Scandi Dandy?

Eventually, the real and regal Sofia Helin came into view, and she could not be more unlike Saga Noren. Sofia looks uncannily like Grace Kelly, while Saga’s manner’s much like C3-PO’s. Sofia’s smile alone made her unrecognisable, her gentle voice and graceful gestures a far cry from Saga’s abrupt stompiness. Though during the Q & A, as she cocked her head to one side and furrowed her brow inquisitively to hear an inaudible query, the chap behind me piped up: “There! Saga-face”.

I sensed, in the queues for the Ladies at close of Day 1, that a few women now regretted sporting their Sarah Lund sweaters – cream with blue bands of intricate Nordic patterning – embarrassed at how many of their Lundite sisters were in the same gear. Heads down, jackets were pulled across bosoms rather than displaying their affiliation loud and proud. They knew it – the Sarahnauts are ‘so last year’. Saganauts are the new black.