The disappearance of Swedish journalist Kim Wall while on board a home-made submarine in 2017 made headlines across the globe. With a string of lurid details and a high-profile suspect, it was the kind of ghastly crime that seems perfect for the kind of flashy true crime drama that makes a splash across the internet for a week or so then vanishes from sight.
The Investigation is not that series. Sombre, restrained and methodical, the eventual killer of Kim Wall is almost beside the point here. This series doesn’t glorify him or linger on his acts; his name isn’t even mentioned. As the title suggests, the story here is the investigation itself, how the crime was solved and the people who solved it, and it’s a much more powerful and gripping series because of it. When it comes to true crime, sometimes the most interesting story isn’t who did it, but how they were caught.
The investigation begins with the Copenhagen police getting a report of Wall’s failure to return home after her interview. Knowing what her last assignment was, they search for the submarine and its owner in the Oresund, the stretch of water that separates Denmark and Sweden. Before long the sub’s owner appears, saying he put the journalist ashore before the submarine sank. For the police, that was nowhere near the end of the story.
Detective Jens Møller (Søren Malling from The Killing) is not your typical Nordic Noir hero. He’s not driven by personal demons, nor does he have a troubled home life. Steady, methodical, he’s exactly the kind of cop you want investigating your case. He’s not a lone wolf, and he’s not out there bending the rules to get the job done. He’s the head of a team, and his duty is to the victim – and to bringing her killer to justice.
Throughout this six-part series, we only know as much as those investigating Wall’s disappearance (in a way, the less you know about the actual case, the better). It’s almost documentary-like in its precision as it relentlessly moves forward over the course of the eight-month investigation. And there are plenty of developments to track as the sub builder’s alibi crumbles: initially the police are handed an investigation with no body, no cause of death, no weapon and no motive, which leaves them with a lot of gaps to fill.
When the sunken sub is found and raised, traces of Wall’s blood are discovered on board, which blows a hole in the sub owner’s version of events. So he changes his story; when body parts are found, he changes it again. He hardly seems innocent, but it still leaves the police with a lot of work to do to prove him guilty.
Møller and his team of investigators are the heart of this series, but as the case expands, other police officers, Navy divers, marine scientists and volunteers all become involved (and are often played by the people involved in the real case). Perhaps most memorably, we also get Swedish cadaver dogs, trained to find corpses under water by smell (and yes, the real dogs play themselves). There’s also the legal system to consider, as prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen (Pilou Asbæk from Game of Thrones and Borgen) struggles to prepare the case for court.
It’s a methodical approach to tackling a singular crime; think of a Nordic Noir version of The Salisbury Poisonings. Ironically, this approach only heightens the emotion surrounding the case. Small breakthroughs become genuinely thrilling, while the sense of loss around this senseless killing becomes deeper and more authentic simply because it’s not overstated.
Throughout the series, a bond grows between Møller and Wall’s parents, Joachim (Rolf Lassgård) and Ingrid (Pernilla August). They’re not just grieving bystanders (at one stage they make a suggestion that has major ramifications for the case), but their presence helps underline what’s really at stake here: justice for a murdered woman, and some kind of closure for her grieving family.
It’s around them that this series most often shows its heart. There’s a scene where they’re comforted by their neighbours that’s hard to watch dry-eyed. It’s their humanity that connects them to Møller, a detective who turns out to have deep reserves of feeling himself. He’s the opposite of a typical crime investigation lead; he’s a police officer still open to his feelings, his family and to those around him.
But remaining open in the face of this senseless brutality comes with a cost. There’s a reason why this case turned out to be the real-life Møller’s last.
The Investigation is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
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