Image source: guardian.co.uk
The third and final series of the acclaimed Danish drama Forbrydelsen (aka The Killing) returns to British households tonight. The famous knitwear-toting detective Sarah Lund (played by the excellent Sofie Gråbøl) has fast become a popular cultural icon for Denmark and she joins a long line of unconventional contemporary female ‘heroines’ that have emerged within Scandinavian drama and fiction. Lund and the eccentric Saga Norén from Swedish/Danish crime genre The Bridge are both natural successors of Stieg Larsson’s computer-hacking femme fatale, Lisbeth Salander. The common traits shared by each of these characters are social awkwardness and the valuation of their privacy. Furthermore, it is often suspected by other narrative protagonists that these females suffer from Asperger’s syndrome or some other form of emotional disorder yet, despite these handicaps, they are unparalleled in their line of work – a character trait that has infiltrated American soil and planted itself firmly within Homeland’s Carrie Matheson. Identity is therefore at the heart of all these characters and we, as viewers, are constantly asking, ‘Who are these women?’ With reference to Joke Hermes’ essay, ‘Father Knows Best: The Post-Feminist Male and parenting in 24’; I will examine the conventions of genre in the development of gender identity in 24 and argue that Hermes’ analysis can be applied to characterisation in Forbrydelsen. I will focus specifically on Jack Bauer and Sarah Lund as care givers and professionals and argue that Lund, like Bauer, crosses gender boundaries as dictated by genre. I will also rely on a variety of press interviews given by Sofie Gråbøl in the hopes of understanding our favourite Dane.
Joke Hermes argues that 24 can be seen as “playing with traditional televisual and cinematic conceptions of masculinity” from its adherence to “established generic conventions and attributes of the ‘male’.” He adds that shows like 24 reflect current social constructions of masculinity and these are then shaped and dictated by the conventions of a particular genre (2007; p.163-164). However, 24 draws on more than one genre therefore, the expectations of masculinity are forced into question. For example, Hermes argues that 24 utilises aspects of the soap opera genre to bring into question traditional notions of masculinity and parenting. It suggests “what ‘male parenting’ might look like” (2007, p. 164). Like 24, Forbrydelsen brings into question traditional gender roles. In episode 1:1, Sarah Lund is presented to us as a maternal figure: she is leaving her job with the Danish police to start a new life in Sweden with her teenage son Mark and her boyfriend Bengt. As the narrative progresses, and Lund becomes involved in a murder investigation, her professional life takes precedence and her relationship with Bengt and her son begins to deteriorate. In episode 1:14, Lund’s replacement-cum-partner, Jan Meyer, ridicules her for way she handles family life, “First the Norwegian, then junior. I hope your mother stays put.” She lacks the traditional female qualities to perform her role as caregiver effectively. Lund’s real relationship is with her job and she struggles to find a balance between her personal and professional life.
Lund’s professionalism, like Bauer’s, comments upon societal issues surrounding the sexes. Nadia Kløvedal Reich, head of fiction at DR, states that Scandinavia’s recent insight into gender, careers and society are reflected within the stories and characters we see on TV. She adds, “It means something that women in Denmark were early onto the labour market to carve out careers, and that our children have been looked after in daycare centres. It helps us to tell stories which have both a political dimension and relate to the dilemmas that exist between family and society.” (nordicrepublic.com, 2012) Lund’s professionalism comes at a cost and the relentless demands of her job, as well as her patriotic duty, means that she lacks the ability to commit to relationships – both professionally and personally. Bauer and Lund know exactly what they must do in order to get the job done – usually disobeying orders and going against protocol – but they fail when it comes to “affairs of the heart” (Hermes, 2007, p. 166). Bauer has a string of failed relationships: his wife Terri, Kate Warner (Season 2) and Audrey Raines (Season 4-6) because he is unable to deal with personal problems when national security is at risk and equally so is Lund. Emotions don’t enter the equation and they are criticised for their cold and oft-selfish nature.
Critics have often cited the character of Sarah Lund as inhabiting archetypal characteristics of the male detective, and Gråbøl herself has stated that she wanted to move away from clichés to something much darker because she has always played women “who are expressing themselves, always crying and getting hysterical” (The Guardian, 2011). She doesn’t use her sexuality to get what she wants because she has confidence in her intuition and ability. Her female sexuality is nullified through the androgynous attire she wears, her lack of emotion and blank introspection. Furthermore, there is a constant desire and need for Lund to work alone and, like Bauer, she sees her ‘missions’ as a personal quest. Therefore, they both draw on characteristics associated with the Western genre. Joke Hermes’ labels Jack Bauer as a cowboy, “Rather than seeking assistance and surrounding himself with bureaucracy, Bauer decides to confront the situation by ‘going it alone’” (2007, p.167). Lund does this on a regular basis. When told to leave politician Troels Hartmann alone, Lund disobeys her boss and pursues the evidence despite its fabrication and in true Bauer fashion, Lund is suspended and remanded in custody for her behaviour. Whilst being transported to police headquarters, she steals a colleague’s gun and threatens him until she is released. Furthermore, the death of her colleague, Jan Meyer, motivates Lund’s desire for heroism. She no longer requires a professional resolution; she is out for revenge. Lund’s motivations can therefore be associated with some of the generic motivations of the cowboy who, according to Hermes’, “rides out to do justice” (2007, p.167). However, Lund is avenging the death of her partner rather than her family. Furthermore, in a similar vein to 24, she must cross borders in order to complete her mission. Lund must tread the desolate terrain of Copenhagen’s outskirts as well as the political sphere. Therefore, her character subsists in a world that shifts between the wilderness and society. Hermes’ argues that Bauer resides between these two locations and, as a result, “epitomises the ‘frontier myth’ of the pure Western: living to protect the community, yet existing outside of the group, constantly alone” (2007, p.167-8). This analysis is quite fitting considering Gråbøl’s famous outburst to writer Søren Sveistrup in which she declares her character to be Clint Eastwood (The Independent, 2012).
For the most part, Lund has been discussed as having predominantly male characteristics. As Sofie herself has said, “This role has challenged my own views of what’s feminine and what’s masculine” (BBC, 2011). I think that this is one of the most exciting aspects of the character because she doesn’t wholly conform to traditional representations of gender. The show juxtaposes gender traits to create an interesting individual. Whilst she may ‘go it alone’ like a cowboy, Lund’s refusal to carry a weapon could be interpreted as inherently female. She believes that negotiation is more important than resorting to violence. Moreover, the British journalist, Kirsty Wark, stated that she believes Lund’s intuition to be a very feminine characteristic (BBC, 2011). Whilst she is not wrong, if we look at the generic hybridity of the show, can this really be clearly defined?
Forbrydelsen questions many traditional female characteristics with its lead Sarah Lund. Society has changed and there is no longer the demand or desire for depictions of domesticated women. There is more desire for career driven women who struggle with the traditional demands expected of them. Characters, like Lund, become more layered and complex and they resist any attempts to shoe-box their roles. As Jacob Lace argues, “these shows relish the portrayal of its female characters as flawed yet sympathetic, complicated yet engaging, presenting complex and authentic visions of women in positions of power” (thedailybest.com, 2012). 24 challenged gender roles by introducing audiences to an example of male parenting and similarly Forbrydelsen challenges traditional gender roles by depicting the parenting skills of a woman driven by her professional code. Jack Bauer and Sarah Lund are motivated by a juxtaposition of male and female traits. Whilst they may be different in temperament, their narrative desires are often comparable.
Albrechtsen, R.; ‘Knitwear in Prime Time: Danish TV Beyond Boundaries’ (11/07/2012) Available at: http://nordicrepublic.com/danish-tv-beyond-boundaries/ Accessed 30/10/2012
Gillbert, G. ‘Sofie Grabol, aka The Killing’s Sarah Lund: ‘I took off my, jumper and my gun, and cried all, the way home’ The Independent online (19/10/2012) Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/sofie-grabol-aka-the-killings-sarah-lund-i-took-off-my-jumper-and-my-gun-and-cried-all-the-way-home-8216691.html Accessed 22/10/2012
Hermes, J. ‘Father Knows Best: The Post-Feminist Male and parenting in 24’ in Peacock, S. (ed), Reading 24: TV Against the Clock (IB Tauris: New York, 2007) pp. 163-172
Lacob, Jace; ‘Forbrydelsen,’ ‘Borgen,’ ‘The Bridge’: The Rise of Nordic Noir TV (20th June 2012) Available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/06/20/forbrydelsen-borgen-the-bridge-the-rise-of-nordic-noir-tv.html Accessed 22/10/2012
‘Killing star on challenging feminist views’, Online video available at: <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-15532611> Accessed 22/10/2012
‘The Killing: Sarah Lund’s jumper explained’The Guardian online, (20/03/2011) Available at:<http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2011/mar/10/the-killing-sophie-grabol-sarah-lund> Accessed 22/10/2012