Say hello to the “bearded troll from Norway”!
In the wake of Gunvald Larsson’s death and the departure of Mikael Persbrandt from the long-running crime series, casting a new partner for Martin Beck (Peter Haber) was no easy feat. Having cultivated almost a 20-year rapport with audiences, the iconic police duo’s unique relationship has arguably been the driving force of the show. On BBC Four at the weekend, detective Steinar Hovland made an unforgettable entrance as “the Norwegian” on the streets of Sweden in the new season of Beck. Nicknamed as the “bearded troll from Norway”, the self-deprecating moniker has since become a social media meme with the Twitter tag #BeardedTrollFromOslo. Say Hej (or Hei, in Norwegian) to Steinar Hovland, also known as Kristofer Hivju.
Kristofer Hivju made his cinematic break-out performance in the ensemble cast of the prequel to John Carpenter’s science fiction horror classic The Thing (2011). Playing part of the Norwegian team that discover the alien entity, Hivju went on to appear in M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth (2013), In Order of Disappearance (2014) alongside Stellan Skarsgård, Ruben Östlund’s award-winning and BAFTA nominated Force Majeure (2014), and The Last King (2016) with Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Jakob Oftebro. Perhaps his most popular character to date is the Wildling Tormund Giantsbane in HBO’s global phenomenon Game of Thrones (2011- ).
At the start of Beck: Steinar, we find out that Martin’s boss Klas Fredén (Jonas Karlsson) has taken it upon himself to recruit Steinar in Martin’s absence, coming to terms with the loss of Gunvald. We do not see Steinar straight away, but we get a glimpse of his name on the door to his new office which tells us he has arrived and has settled in. Klas describes Steinar to Martin as one of “Oslo’s top homicide investigators” and that his former boss was disappointed to lose him. Light-heartedly, Klas also shares Steinar’s stunning comparison as “the Petter Northug of investigation”. This likeness to the Norwegian Winter Olympic World Champion in cross-country skiing is later touched upon when Steinar tells Oskar Bergman (Måns Nathanaelson) that he was once a Junior Champion in wrestling over 20 years ago. However, his strength has left him with back problems as he walks the beat, questioning witnesses door-to-door.
We first lay eyes upon Steinar at the same moment as Martin. Thrusting the police-do-not-cross tape out of his way, Steinar launches into his first case; fresh on the scene of the crime at the campsite. Martin doesn’t realise who he is at first and it is this unassuming, informal visage that makes it easy for us to be comfortable with Steinar. This is reflected when Steinar questions Maj Pettersson as a potential witness to the arson attack. He doesn’t believe Steinar is a police officer based on his appearance, namely the pronounced ginger beard. Putting aside his façade, we can immediately tell that Steinar is different from Gunvald. He speaks candidly to Martin: “If I act insensitively or go sticking my foot in it, tell me, OK?” He is considerate of his team’s feelings after the tragic events, yet shows a direct authoritative approach that we cannot help but respect.
As the episode continues, we discover more about the new detective other than his cultural differences. Steinar Hovland was born in Norway and has a dual citizenship due to his Swedish mother. He is a father of three: a 5-year-old, a 7-year-old, and 16-year-old Lina. Lina is part of the reason for Steinar’s relocation to Sweden, as Lina requires frequent medical attention due to her premature birth. His past is mainly brought to light in a series of intimate conversations with Oskar. The scene when Steinar interrupts Oskar working out in the toilets is particularly touching, as it harks back to the times Oskar awkwardly tried to elicit personal exchanges with Gunvald. Here, Steinar and Oskar initiate a bond based on fatherhood. Oskar seeks advice about how to solve the problem he encounters when dropping off his distraught daughter at pre-school. Steinar advises: “…have a coffee and a chat and pretend you’re staying forever. Then, when the kids are playing and having fun, sneak off.” To this, Steinar adds: “Farewells just cause a drama”. This underlying message has an even greater paternal meaning as we can clearly tell Steinar is talking about coping with the loss of Gunvald.
We further learn that Steinar’s tough exterior does not shut himself off from his emotions. He opens up to Oskar even more during a stake-out. He describes killing a youth in defence during a robbery at a jewellery shop, 12 years earlier. This has left an impact on him he cannot forget and so he placates Oskar for not shooting Gunvald’s killer, Rodney Söderlund, dead. Steinar assures Oskar he should be grateful Martin stopped him. We see that Steinar’s presence has also resonated directly with Martin who says: “He seems to know his stuff”. Nevertheless, there is something he doesn’t quite know that is creating a distance. Maybe Martin doesn’t want to get too close to another partner for fear of losing a friend in the line of duty? Otherwise, a growing inferiority from his peers who seem to trust Steinar as the leading investigator could be forming a wedge, which eventually convinces Martin to retire from the force. We will have to wait and see the outcome of the new partnership.
In the meantime, here is a snippet of what the BBC Four viewers have to say about Steinar Hovland:
Steinar Hovland might just be the best #NordicNoir character since Saga Noren.
“Steinar Hovland is the anti-Gunvald. Empathetic, strategic and quick-witted (in both senses). He is quickly loyal to Beck and has his back. He has actual detective skills and uses them, rather than relying on a fast car, a well-loaded gun and an impeccable dress sense” – Café Thinking
“Hovland’s dry sense of humour goes down well, despite everyone’s problems with his accent, and it looks like the depressed Beck might have competition in the leadership stakes, particularly since he can’t find his spectacles. But Hovland clearly has a Tragic Secret connected with his family…” – The Killing Times
As Beck: Steinar came to an end with Steinar’s ex-wife delivering news that his daughter is missing, what we can expect is more taut crime drama from Beck’s compelling new character.
Beck season 6 continues on Saturday nights on BBC Four from 9pm.
Pre-order your copy of Beck The Series: Volume 2 on Nordic Noir & Beyond DVD from the Amazon store here.