February 26, 2018


I took some time out from blogging and watched a couple of box set series on television.

Perfectly bilingual Germans running the UK, giving it the advantages of a European union 30 years early. I like alt-history. There was a little too much trying to be crammed into a 5-episode series. Murder, collaboration, loyalty, resistance, atomic research, House of Cards games, lust, love, betrayal, family, royalty, rivalry. And on the German side, cardboard cliche characters seen in every other British wartime series. Gripping thriller tale but ultimately quite disappointing.

What I watched instead of the rugby. "Last night I was in Spain." A true game of thrones where real heads roll. You really have to feel for the people then, afflicted by disease leading to sudden death, famine, lawlessness, poverty, and a lack of everything. And then being saddled by a class system and ruled by an intolerant religion. Nobody got a break then. Incredible acting and clever, thoughtful scripting. It's Mark Rylance's masterpiece as Cromwell, but Anton Lesser as Sir Thomas More plays him as the creepiest fundamentalist you do not want to come across. Highly recommended.

Enjoying the series "Broen" (The Bridge). Swedish is definitely far easier to understand than Danish. With these Scandi-noir series it's hard to understand how the Scandinavians manage to be ranked the happiest people on earth. But I like Saga Noren, the Swedish protagonist, especially for her refreshing attitude to sex. (She's puzzled why an occasional shag wants to take her out for dinner since she always presumed that that was a prelude to and gambit for sex, not the other way round). Highly recommended, not just for the strong story and acting but the Swedish/Danish humour, which is very droll. The language games will appeal to your inner Aspie. And it was deep into season three before they realised you can draw curtains.

Danish is pretty easy to pick up. Just mumble and they'll understand you fine. And what do I like about Denmark? The second-in-command at an army base showers with his troops in a communal bath house. When naked, the real men get sorted from the boys.

Typical Scandi-noir gruesome murder case with quirky details, such as a police academy student driving a vintage convertible Mustang - in Stockholm weather! - and a sassy gay sidekick. That was a marvellously rich and surprising story. Highly recommended.

Twin Peaks-esque Swedish mystery series, but probably a little too Catholic for Lynch fans, I think. Too much about the eternal fight between good and evil, but it has also a philosophizing police officer with a space cadet deputy, and witches and trolls (of the original Nordic kind). And pinetree woods, of course. I like a language that has the same word for 'hello' and 'bye'. Set in small town Sweden there are no traces of Ikea or H&M.

Time to take a break from Scandi-crime and move to the American dystopia of the Handmaid's Tale. The women get a rough deal, and the men aren't living in paradise either.
The politology. It's interesting to speculate how that dystopian society came about. I read the novel was written in 1986, way before the internet, cellphones and social media. It feels odd to have savvy strong female characters (before the change to the totalitarian regime) being totally unaware that a coup d'état by Christianists was in train.
The theocracy. Which religion actually rules in Gilead, and how did it get rid of its rivals? It seems a Protestant strand is dominant, not the Catholic Church. What happened to it, and how? What happened to the other sects, and other religions, and atheists? One executed prisoner wore a Star of David on his mask, so I presume Jewish people were part of the extermination, Nazi-style, alongside the gays and political resistance.
Gilead seems to have an excellent health service. How did they get there after Obamacare? Gynaecological services provided by men still?
It's mentioned that there are only two remaining states of the USA, with the capital (highly improbably, considering how Republican it is) in Alaska. I presume the other one is Hawaii. How did the Democratic east and west coasts get conquered? If Gilead covers all 48 continental states, I think this is a major flaw in the story, as the USA would have ceased to exist sooner and have split up along red/blue state lines.
The economy. Did the author seriously think the Gilead economy would not collapse when the whole female workforce was dismissed and had no access to bank services? (How do single females pay rent/mortgage/loans?) Where are the corporations and media? It is assumed they have had no power in stopping that economic suicide.
I like overthinking my dystopias. Dystopian visions are a challenge, like murder mysteries and crosswords. You want to unravel them, as a sport. All dystopian stories (like utopian and sci-fi ones) reflect the anxieties and hopes of the times they have been conceived in, be it More's anti-reformation dreams, Orwell's totalitarian nightmare in 1948, Star Trek in the hippie 1960s and beyond, and, in this case, Atwood's mid-1980s, before the Cold War ended, when digital technology still was in its infancy, and social control really needed brutal repressive force.
The gloryhole in the girls' toilet made me lol.
Aunt Lydia. She's a survivor too, just with a different strategy. She's straight out of "Mädchen in Uniform".  The overarching story is about hypocrisy: of the men, of the women, of the religion, of the ideology.

From a hysterical dystopian breakdown in the US, now on to the good old days, when capitalists were confident and communists were too. Deutschland 83, a German twinky James Bond without the gadgets but with a terrific nostalgic early 80s soundtrack. And I never knew East German girls were that easy, skinny-dipping with their boyfriends' best friends! Absolutely enjoyable rollicking ride. I remember the Reagan-era deployment of Persching missiles in Belgium too, with all the attendant protests. Also the East German atmosphere was spot on. When travelling there in 1982, the border crossing was exactly like that - the angry-looking border officers welcome, the rifling through your backpack for forbidden literature, the enforced money exchange, the crumbling houses (very picturesque though, compared to the West German garishness). Another tale of deception and hypocrisy: everybody knew the DDR was fantasyland, everybody watched West German TV, and danced to the same pop tunes. The AIDS sub-story was poignant and a great reminder how terrifying it was.

Time to brush up my Norwegian with Aber | Bergen. Thankfully they got the joke about Bergen and the rain out of the way in the first 15 minutes.

Attempt at Scottish scandi-noir, complete with inventive murder motivations, but with over-bearing DCI in hock with trendy criminal psychologists, goes on and on a bit. A serial killer obsessed with body parts, bumping off gay and bi-polar characters, and you know he's had a lousy childhood and daddy issues. Gorgeous scenery, of course, but really not in the must-have-seen-this-before-you-die category. Hot trivia bit: the PC whom the camera often lingers over a little too often and too long is playing Prince Harry in a Windsor-Markle love epic.

Back to Sweden/Sapmi, another gruesome serial killer series where the sun never sets. Written by the guys who brought us The Bridge, it has its customary cruelly inventive grisly murder scenes, police officers with issues, iron ore miners in underpants, cultural and political clashes between Swedes, French, and Sami. And best of all, five different languages spoken. The skies of Kiruna are magic. It never gets dark in the whole series, except when going down the mine. Recommended.

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