When Victoria Woll (Tone Mostraum) walks into a prison meeting room at the start of For Life, it’s easy to think you know what’s coming. She’s quiet, dignified, every inch a police officer… plus she’s also the lead in this crime procedural series, so it seems obvious she’s here to gather clues on some major case she’s working on. It’s safe to say the meeting doesn’t go well (a knife gets pulled for starters), but the real surprise is that when it’s all over she’s the one taken back to the cells. What could have possibly gone so wrong that she’s now behind bars?
It’s rare that you’d find the creator of a crime drama citing How I Met Your Mother as a creative inspiration. For creator Gjermund S. Eriksen (who was the producer behind hit series Mammon), the US sitcom gave him a vital piece of the For Life puzzle: why not have part of the series take place in the future? Which is why it turns out that Woll’s prison stay is happening around fifteen years from now. In the future she might be a convicted criminal, but today she’s a police inspector in Oslo leading a group of detectives charmingly known as “The B-Team”.
Despite the dismissive name, her team turn out to be pretty good when it comes to police work. Together with her partner Ayla Quincy (Iselin Shumba Skjævesland) the core of the unit is a first-rate crime solving team, while their various offsiders provide solid support. There’s even a traditional Nordic Noir depressive alcoholic on the team in the form of Christopher “Kit” Lange (Ingar Helge Gimle). Woll’s home life seems ideal too, with a crime journalist boyfriend and a teenage son, Johannes (Alfred Ekker Strande) – though how his future self is dealing with a jailbird mother isn’t revealed right away.
With each episode built around the B-Team tackling a stand-alone crime, the series’ present-day action begins with Woll and Quincy investigating a body found in the woods. The dead woman is a former teacher turned PR secretary who seemingly went to her brutal death without resistance, and while the media is quick to put the blame on the missing ex-husband, Woll’s instincts has her looking further afield. Which may not be the wisest choice of action with the top brass looking to shut the B-Team down. As her boss puts it: “The new chief of police wants two things; to be loved, and to consolidate all power”
Sharp-eyed viewers might notice the knife used in the murder looks surprisingly similar to the knife Woll had pulled on her in the opening prison scene. Clues to her future are scattered throughout the series as the B-Team tackle present-day crimes ranging from a politician who winds up dead after a #metoo scandal and Woll going undercover in a psych ward, to someone being murdered during the filming of a popular reality television show. Meanwhile, in the future her situation in prison becomes increasingly precarious; if she can’t figure out a way out, she might be leaving in a body bag.
All this makes For Life sound like pretty heavy going, but the show has a light touch not usually associated with Nordic crime drama. Woll is a no-nonsense character; she doesn’t have time for messing around and she has a dark past that drove her towards crime-fighting (two words: dead parents), but that doesn’t mean she’s never cracks a smile.
She and Quincy have a nice line in workplace banter (in the first episode Quincy picks up on Woll’s strut and suggests a successful date might be the cause), while Kit’s more traditional dour nature is often played for wry laughs. It’s hardly a comedy, but it’s often more of a (relatively) lightweight mystery than a grim exploration of the darker side of human nature.
Then again, this is a series where the lead has somehow ended up in prison. Right from the start, the possible reasons for Woll’s incarceration start piling up. Maybe she was framed? Maybe she’s working undercover? Could her jail stay be a set-up to let the real criminals drop their guard? Or maybe she really did do it and now she has to try and live with what she’s become. There’s only one way to find out: the full series of For Life is available on SBS On Demand now.
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