Sex is a killer - the best dramas stay out of the bedroom

The Bridge's Saga Noren and Martin Rohde are a refreshing new model of a TV partnership, says Alison Graham

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Sex is a killer - the best dramas stay out of the bedroom
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Men and women are so rarely friends in television dramas. I mean proper friends, people who share the best and the worst in each other's lives, knowing they won't be judged and they will be supported. Sadly and tediously, and with a steadfast lack of imagination, men and women might start out as friends, but it’s not long before they’re dusting croissant crumbs off the duvet after having spent at least one episode casting “I really, really want you” glances at each other. Sex, it’s a killer.

Even sexual tension in dramas can be wearisome. It’s so predictable, bringing previously interesting characters to a level of every other potentially interesting character in the history of TV drama – ie horizontal. A presentable male character? A presentable female? She’ll be in her bra and knickers before his rapt gaze faster than you can say “I just knew those two would get together.” And once they’ve Done It, well, there’s nowhere left to go.

But a proper, multilayered friendship between a man and a woman that doesn’t die a death in the bedroom seems to be too difficult for dramas to convey, possibly because it’s too time-consuming, takes too much effort from writers and actors and, anyway, who’d want to watch two leads who aren’t grunting away like rutting Gloucester Old Spots?

Until, that is, The Bridge, the spellbinding Scandi crime thriller whose second series ends on BBC4 this Saturday. The finale of this complex story of eco-terrorism and serial murder is harrowing and exhausting. I was wrung out and tearful – not just because of the above, but because of an unexpected turn in the rich friendship between cops Martin Rohde and Saga Noren (Kim Bodnia and Sofia Helin). It's a measure of The Bridge's clever, subtle writing and acting that this key relationship lies at the heart of everything, as it did in the first series. 

When Saga, who is totally without artifice or evasion, tells Martin, after he's done something she finds unforgivable, “I’ve analysed why and I’ve concluded you are my only friend”, it’s a moment that strikes right to the core of why The Bridge is so unlike anything else.

Saga’s and Martin’s isn’t a buddy-buddy partnership; they aren’t Scott and Bailey or Lewis and Morse. Their friendship is undemonstrative – there are rarely any hugs, they don’t chat over a pint in the pub. But it drives every aspect of The Bridge, right to its shattering conclusion. Martin and Saga are fully rounded beings but they aren’t quite complete without each other, something that makes a friend's failing even harder to bear.

They are platonic, thank heavens. Imagine if Martin, an unabashed ladies' man, had tried anything on with her - the audience would have been appalled. And if she'd responded we'd have stopped watching, such would have been our disappointment. 

What we have here are two adults who, in their own flawed ways, share everything and need each other at the deepest emotional level. Their chats in Saga’s Porsche have always been my favourite bits, when her lack of a social filter means she readily offers observations on her sex life, his sex life and even the comparative size of his wife’s breasts. Meanwhile, Martin gently tries to guide her through the choppy waters of having a live-in boyfriend for the first time.

Theirs is such a refreshing new model of a TV partnership. Maybe it’s a sign that television is growing up and keeping its knickers on.

The Bridge concludes on Saturday at 9:00pm on BBC4. 


See Saga and Martin for yourself

So, fans of The Bridge, I’m sure you’d love to watch episode ten in a big, comfy cinema and then ask questions of its two stars, Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia, wouldn’t you? Yes? Then I’d be delighted to see you on Sunday 2 February at the Nordic Noir Nordicana festival in London, where I’ll be interviewing “Saga” and “Martin” on stage after a screening of the gripping final instalment of series two. Of course, I’ll be taking audience questions about the series and its fabulous, crucial central partnership/friendship.

The entire weekend is devoted to all things Nordic noir — TV, books, DVDs, even cuisine — so why not have a good wallow? Details can be found at nordicnoir.tv/nordicana. Tak!