On February 28, 1986, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot in the back at close range on a street in central Stockholm. He and his wife (who was also shot and wounded slightly) were heading towards a train station after a night at the cinema, without bodyguards or security; he was pronounced dead early the next morning.
Despite a massive manhunt, a decades-long investigation, numerous suspects, and one conviction that was overturned on appeal, the killer has never been definitively identified. The assassination was a massive blow to Sweden on every level; some have suggested the rise of Nordic Noir was partly thanks to the national obsession with crime and justice in the wake of the unsolved killing. Unsurprisingly, conspiracy theories abound. Surprisingly, now Swedish series We Got This has turned this real-life political assassination into a comedy.
"We Got This is more about poking fun at the conspiracies around Palme’s death than the killing itself."
Hit with the triple blow of his father’s death, a collapsing career and a huge tax debt to the Swedish government, flamboyant slob and somewhat arrogant ex-pat American George English (the show’s creator, Schiaffino Musarra) stumbles across a sure-fire plan to solve all his problems when he goes to return a neighbour’s cat only to find the woman dead. Death by hanging usually means a suicide, but she’s wearing a bullet-proof vest and has the traditional conspiracy theorist’s wall of evidence in her apartment. All of which leads George to assume she was killed because she knew too much - but about what?
This being Sweden, the wall turns out to be an attempt to uncover who killed Palme. For George – who, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly blessed with a mind like a steel trap; some reviews have compared him to The Dude from The Big Lebowski - this is great news. There’s a 50 million Krona (around AU$ 10 million) reward for anyone who can solve the murder, and surely no-one would bother murdering a “cat lady” unless she was getting pretty close to the truth.
Unfortunately for anyone looking to cash in quickly, “the truth” in the Palme case is notoriously difficult to nail down. There’s no shortage of facts and clues; when and where Palme was shot is known down to the minute, the kind of gun he was shot with (a .357 revolver) is extremely rare in Sweden, and there was no shortage of witnesses to the shooting, with more than 25 people coming forward to police.
Despite all this, the Swedish police have never been able to put together a conclusive case. None of the witnesses got a good look at the killer’s face, while misleading statements and drawings circulated in the days and weeks following Palme’s death, further muddying the waters. Suspects were arrested then quickly released, while the only person the police charged was a long-time criminal and drug addict who was picked out of a line-up by Mrs Palme. He was acquitted on appeal (it turned out the police had helped Mrs Palme identify him), while the motive given – that it was a case of mistaken identity and that he’d planned to murder a rival drug dealer – wasn’t exactly a satisfying ending to the story.
Almost from the start, conspiracy theories leapt up around the killing. Palme had given a strongly anti-apartheid speech only the week before; had the South Africans ordered him killed? Was there a connection with arms dealings with India? Were Chilean fascists backed by the CIA involved? Could the police have really been so incompetent, or were they behind a cover-up? There were no shortage of possible suspects – including one known as “Laser Man” – but the strongest case was made in 2018 when a newspaper investigation claimed the real killer was someone known as “The Skandia Man”, a known witness to the killing who had killed himself in 2000.
That was good enough for the Swedish Prosecution Authority, who proclaimed the case closed in mid-2020 without further investigation. Unfortunately, the case was hardly airtight (for one thing, there remains no clear motive for the killing) so for conspiracy buffs the hunt goes on. Which means George’s plan remains a sound one – well, as sound as any other get-rich-quick scheme based on a dubious conspiracy.
Soon he’s gathered a ramshackle team to help him, including supposed conspiracy expert Bjorn (Olle Sarri), knowledgeable librarian Eva (Anki Larsson) and best friend Alex (Alexander Karim). Keeping his Swedish wife and daughter in the dark while he leads the investigation, George soon realises they’re onto something – and that being onto something in the Palme case attracts a lot of very dangerous attention.
We Got This is more about poking fun at the conspiracies around Palme’s death than the killing itself. Even after 35 years, the wounds from the actual assassination remain raw in Sweden. Which is why this series is able to make the turn from comedy to drama so effectively: however complicated and crazy the theories might be, no matter how nutty the people who believe in them, in Sweden there are still some things you just don’t joke about.
We Got This is now streaming at SBS On Demand.
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