A tough-as-nails cop. A missing friend. A fractured family relationship. A hint of a conspiracy. Before We Die (Innan vi dör) bears all the hallmarks we’ve come to expect from Scandi noir, but wrapped up in a bundle that feels thrillingly closer to home.
The series, created by Wilhelm Behrman and Niklas Rockström, follows Hanna Svensson (Marie Richardson), a veteran of Stockholm’s police department. In fact, she might be too much of a veteran for their liking: as we begin, they’re trying to put her out to pasture. Of course, if they’re hoping for an early retirement, they’ve got the wrong person: that’s clear from the opening scene, which sees Svensson bust a party where her son (sympathetically played by Adam Pålsson) is enjoying himself, and promptly arrests him for dealing drugs. She does so dispassionately, almost triumphantly, even if she does show a brief hint of regret later in private.
In short, she’s precisely the kind of person you’d want on your side if you went missing. Which, funnily enough, is precisely what happens to her former partner, Sven. A cute exchange between them makes it obvious they’re having an affair, but any sense of happiness is cut short, when he is apparently kidnapped. And so Hanna begins an investigation into his disappearance, all the while juggling a reconciliation with her son, who’s now out of prison (two years after that arrest) and, of course, trying to get into a rhythm with her new partner, Bjorn (Magnus Krepper).
The show, though, has no such problem: it finds its groove within a slick opening hour that rattles along at just the right pace, giving Richardson enough room to bring shades of grey to her tough surface but never dawdling or waiting to unveil the next twist. And so we find ourselves thrown not into a frosty-laked mystery or a serial killer game of cat and mouse, but into the world of gangs – specifically, biker gangs. Stockholm, it turns out, belongs to the Mobsters and their enemies, the Delincuentos, and their heated rivalry seems to have something to do with Sven’s vanishing – he was putting his toes into their waters with his own investigation.
But what was he trying to find exactly? And why does the word “Krajina” keep coming up? And who is Sven’s elusive contact, Inez, who seems to still be in contact with him?
These are all the kinds of questions you want from the opening of a series, but Before We Die serves them up with the urgency of its title – and that impressively determined approach, and the premise’s unusual context, make for a grippingly different viewing experience: more Sons of Scandinarchy than The Killing, gone are the rural communities and misty forests, replaced by nocturnal urban streets, teeming with pressure, their own form of claustrophobia, and a more breakneck sense of speed. Even in the first hour alone, we get an exciting car chase that climaxes with an impressive little stunt. As the strands slowly begin to come together, and Svensson no doubt decides to invest more personal stakes in bringing down an organised crime ring, Before We Die swiftly sets itself up as a compelling addition to Sweden’s telly canon, not least because it’s so unlike the rest of them. “How do you like financial crime?” asks Bjorn, at one point. Svensson shrugs: “I persevere.” Something tells us persevering with this box set won’t be a problem.
Before We Die premieres at 11pm on Channel 4, kicking off a weekly broadcast every Tuesday. The whole box set will be available on Walter Presents as soon as Episode 1 lands.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.