As the third season approaches, we take a retrospective look at the Swedish detective in her natural habitat.
In Scandinavian crime fiction we have followed in the footsteps of Lisbeth Salander and Sarah Lund. Both characters have assumed the infamous mantle of bearing an unfaltering stamina along with a brilliance when it comes to their investigative skill-set. However, this affluent flair is matched by significant flaws in personality and the ability to balance a social and personal life. Ironically, it is this coldness which has created a fondness for Saga Norén. What is it about her unique spin on the oxymoronic imperfect perfectness of the Nordic Noir heroine that fans respond to? Let’s break it down by looking at Saga’s character traits.
First impressions of Saga
Like a winter chill, Saga Norén made quite an icy entrance at the centre of the Øresund Bridge that sparked the series. We may not have known how to take her jarring and acute personality initially but we have, no doubt, warmed to her charm in the prevailing episodes. Our ambivalent feelings are mirrored by detective Martin Rohde and his dumbfounded reactions to Saga’s bluntness. The immediate clash over jurisdiction due to the corpse dumped on the Danish-Swedish border is further heightened by Saga’s insistence on maintaining the integrity of the crime scene. Refusing an ambulance to cross into Denmark with a patient awaiting a heart transplant may seem cruel but her decision is grounded by logic.
Once we understand Saga’s blunt demeanour stems from an autistic spectrum disorder, we develop a sympathetic humour towards her retorts. By the second season audiences have become so accustomed to this part of Saga’s almost naïve characterisation that we wait for her to say something succinctly scathing. Whether she is speaking with Martin, interrogating witnesses or children, Saga has no qualms with speaking her mind when necessary. An example can be found when Saga is invited to Martin’s house for dinner. When asked by wife Mette “Would you like the recipe?” Saga instantly replies with “No, it wasn’t tasty.” She is also very astute and has no apprehension when addressing people who are not being efficient or direct. E.g. “Saying it over and over doesn’t make it any more helpful” and “Most people use the word interesting when they don’t like something but don’t want to say it.” One cannot argue that Saga is not blunt or to-the-point.
“Saga Norén, Länskrim, Malmö.” This is Saga’s standard way of answering a call on her mobile. In the first season, this is uttered over thirty times in the same unfaltering, formal tone. This salutation can be interpreted as a professional duty. However, due to Saga’s social autism she also uses this rigid formality to introduce herself in person. Perhaps one of the noticeable excessively formal contexts is when Saga replies with this rehearsed line to Stefan Lindberg’s sister when she calls for her brother in a delirious state from a hospital bed. Even when she greets Mette and Martin’s son August she follows up her job title announcement with a firm handshake or a flash of her ID card.
Opening up to Martin
Their candid conversations about casual sex, relationships and family backgrounds formed a unique friendship between the unlikely pair. Despite their frosty beginnings, with Saga filing a complaint against Martin for allowing the ambulance to potentially compromise the crime scene on the bridge, Saga gradually becomes susceptible to Martin’s charms as a partner and confidante. There is a degree of frustration from the cavernous differences between each other’s perception of acceptable conversation, such as sparing a person’s feelings with ‘white lies’ and ‘sugar coating’ statements, social interactions and bending the rules. In spite of this, Martin takes the time to share his feelings and family quandaries to elicit a reciprocation from Saga. Without this effort of kindness from a stranger, would Saga have remained her own island cut off from those around her? The answer is most likely yes.
Before Martin, Saga’s closest co-worker is her boss and mentor Hans Petterson (Dag Malmberg). Hans is the only person who understands Saga and attempts to enlighten her on how to better adapt to the social situations in a work environment. Being reminded that she should acknowledge her colleagues when they perform a job well done is confusing to Saga. Yet, she indulges in acquiescing to Hans’ guidance and delivers her forced gratitude with awkward gumption. In The Bridge II, Saga meets hostility from new colleague Rasmus Larsson (Henrik Lundström) who interprets her personality as rude and unprofessional. While Saga does not care about his outright insubordination, Martin steps in to alleviate the tension and defend his partner from inter-office politics.
Direct approach to sex
One of the traits that link Saga and Martin together is their appetite for sex. However, whilst Martin has a reputation for adultery, Saga pursues her conquests with freedom and disposability. When self-gratification does not work, Saga frequents local bars with the intention of sexual fulfilment in a purely functional capacity. When seeking a one night stand in the second episode of the first season, Saga meets Anton. He asks her “Can I buy you a drink?” Saga declines with a “No.” As he wanders away in defeat she questions “Listen, why did you walk away? I just didn’t want a drink”, after a beat: “Do you want to have sex at my place?” When August (Emil Birk Hartmann) alludes to sleeping with Saga, her main misunderstanding when questioned by Martin is that it shouldn’t be an issue if he is of legal age. However, in season two Saga’s committed relationship with Jakob compromises the isolated lifestyle she is used to.
Saga’s fashion iconography
Saga’s tight leather trousers simply cannot be missed. The typical attire for a detective is not usually considered to be of the leather-clad variety. However, this part of Saga’s ensemble emphasises her open sexuality without undermining her gender or status within the police department. She clearly has no inhibitions when it comes to changing her clothes amidst a busy police station, drawing attention to her naturally blasé attitude. Saga’s gold/ mustard Porsche also adds a classic chicness to her quirky persona. These fashionable extensions of her character amplify how Saga stands out and is not your traditional law enforcer.
Her directness and efficiency can also be seen in her police work. Saga is a dedicated investigator who works long hours when she deems it necessary. Her morbid curiosity and apt skills for determining the cause of the death of the Chairman of Malmö City Council Kerstin Ekwall in the first episode is indulged by the medical examiner. Saga does not limit herself to solving crime within the confines of Malmö police station; she is a field trained agent and “expert shot” with a habit of taking her cases home with her. In one instance Saga finishes having sex with Anton and begins analysing graphic crime scene photos beside him in bed, much to his surprise and horror.
In the first season, Saga’s sister Jennifer is mentioned superficially and then finally we discover more about her backstory. When Martin probes Saga about whether she has lived with anyone, she confirms matter-of-factly that she once shared a home with her sister who committed suicide. A greater insight into Saga’s dysfunctional upbringing is later revealed in season two when a case of child abuse involving Martin’s children resonates with Saga’s own childhood trauma at the hands of her mother. These touching moments highlight Saga’s fragility and further bond her to Martin as he acts as an emotional conduit to confront her past.
Where we left Saga in the second season finale…
The moral dilemma Saga faces in the final episode of The Bridge II brought the season to a shocking and emotional climax. Ultimately, we can see how Saga had no choice but to uphold the law even if it meant betraying Martin’s trust and coming clean about Jens’ death. This ambivalence is shown by Saga’s emotional confrontation with Martin before his arrest when she admits he is her only friend. The lingering, melancholic look as she watches Martin be taken away in handcuffs is further accentuated by the downpour of rain and the swelling theme song “Hollow Talk” by Choir of Young Believers.
Now, the third season is on its way to air on UK screens and we have more exciting moments to look forward to, as the epic Saga continues.
The Bridge III begins on Saturday 21st November on BBC Four