Marvellous news: Swedish/Danish television drama The Bridge is back. Only this time, it's for the very last time.
The show, as fans will know, is the most hallowed benchmark by which we judge all Scandinavian detective shows – a market which, since The Bridge came along in 2011, has become just a little full.
It is, like any good detective show, unpredictable and tense. But it’s also unexpectedly emotional, relatable and funny, despite the gory stuff on show. A large part of this is down to lead character, Saga Norén, played by Swedish actress Sofia Helin.
Saga, a Swedish detective based out of Malmö, drives a Porsche and wears leather trousers. She's got a complicated back story and she has Asperger's and struggles with human interaction. Her obsessive nature makes her an incredible detective, but her social skills cause more than a few raised eyebrows among the Danish detectives she comes into contact with when she crosses the Øresund Bridge to Copenhagen.
"I had no idea. Absolutely no idea," says Sofia Helin when I ask her if she knew what a cultural icon Saga would become. "I was at a point in my life where I didn’t care about what someone else thought so I just jumped into it and did something that I had never done before and I thought, if they get it, they get it." And after a bit of confusion, get it they did. The Bridge has been shown in over 100 countries and three remakes have been created – the most successful of which was a joint effort between the UK and France called The Tunnel, with Clémence Poésy.
Saga's characterisation is so specific, so intense, that after playing her for four seasons, Sofia says it has affected her brain. Saga moves very swiftly, with precision, and sleeps very little. "The speed affects me, it stresses me out. It’s been a struggle," Sofia says, admitting that even now, almost a year after finishing filming, she is reading a book on how to calm yourself down. Playing Saga has had some positive effects on her, though. "I learned to be more rational and not get swept away by emotions." More importantly, she says, she’s developed a better understanding of people who think in alternative ways. "I am much more patient with different sorts of people than I was before."
Saga as a character has become instrumental in furthering the cultural visibility of Asperger's – a syndrome at the milder end of the autism spectrum. The Bridge is comparable in significance to books with Asperger's-afflicted protagonists like The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time and The Rosie Project. It has educated people previously unaware of the disorder but has also served as a source of respite for those who were suffering in silence. "I met a woman after a screening in the UK," Sofia tells me. "She said, 'I discovered through your character that I have Asperger's Syndrome and it’s been such a relief to have that all sorted'. I was the fourth person in the world she'd told. It was really emotional to hear; what we are doing [with The Bridge] is entertainment but when this can be a lesson that can help educate people too, that’s fantastic."
The television show's political agenda doesn't stop there. It has consistently tackled tough contemporary issues, from climate change to terrorism, gender nonconformity to prostitution. This latest season is no different. In the first five minutes, it is confirmed, in a heart-stoppingly brutal manner, that immigration will play a big role in the storyline.
Was Sofia nervous to tackle such a weighty issue? "No," she says, in a surprisingly firm tone. "The [Øresund] bridge was something that was supposed to unite people and make us [Sweden] feel more together with the rest of the continent." And until recently, that's what it did. But with the immigration crisis, the bridge became a symbol of fracture; in 2016, Sweden was granted exemption from the Schengen Agreement and all of a sudden required photo IDs for persons crossing the bridge to enter the country. Denmark, as you may remember, took a much harder line, shocking the world when it passed legislation that made it legal to seize valuables from asylum seekers to help cover their subsistence.
"The world is changing," says Sofia. "There is a big gap between people who believe in democracy and human rights and that everyone should be taken care of, and people who are voting for parties who actually have Nazi ideology. It’s so important – it was obvious we had to comment on [this issue]."
Outside of The Bridge, Sofia’s political ideals continue. She has been instrumental in Sweden’s #MeToo movement, banding together with over 450 of the country’s film and television workers to publish a manifesto in the country’s biggest paper featuring testimonies from women affected.
"We said, 'Let’s not go out and say who’s done what'; instead we said, 'This is what it looks like and this is what we demand from the bosses and the directors and producers, because you have failed, otherwise it wouldn’t have happened'." The group then led readings of the testimonies in all the big cities of Sweden: "The queen and crown princes were there, the minister of culture and democracy was there. It spread to Denmark, to Norway and to Finland." They are even taking Silent Action (the name for their movement) to Cannes – one of Sofia’s friends is giving a speech to the French Ministry of Culture and other bigwigs in the international film industry. "It’s a very peaceful and concrete way of handling it," she says.
So while she's got plenty to be getting on with (watch out for Honour, a show Sofia's working on but not starring in about a female law firm advocating for women's rights), it's unlikely that the legend of Saga will dissipate any time soon. Sofia has found fans of The Bridge in Argentina, Japan and Australia. She directs me to the fan art she just posted on her Instagram. "I thought maybe I should do an exhibition and give the money to charity because there are so many portraits now." Erm, sign me up?
But if the world is struggling to say goodbye to Saga, Sofia is not. Because, after seven years, it's something that just can't be done. "She will always be with me," she says. "I can talk to her if I want to. I know her. It’s not possible to say goodbye."