Contains spoilers for Wallander
Bearing in mind that at the moment I’m attempting to outline a 60 minute detective TV pilot (effectively an attempt to resuscitate my sadly flatlined Red Planet script), I tuned into Wallander on Sunday for some inspiration: how does our eponymous hero keep the narrative moving? Given that even most basic screenwriting ‘advice’ states that your protagonist should be above all else proactive, how does the genre address this when all your hero is doing is essentially reacting to events? Notebook in hand, I settled down on my chaise longue with my novelty pipe and deerstalker.
Wallander is an anomaly in detective fiction inasmuch as the protagonist doesn’t really do anything you could readily describe as Poirot-like 'pure' detection. He follows up leads, interviews witnesses, talks to people, tits about with his PC, mopes around his house, forgets to shave, and glares intently at the odd corpse or four. Even Wallander’s modus operandi consists of following a series of leads that tend to go nowhere. In fact, it was this bit of the narrative make-up that I was most interested in: if you’re heading down a potential dead end lead-wise, how do you make the protagonist do a swift 180 about face, i.e., how do you make him take control of proceedings, instead of being sidelined by a bunch of unreliable witnesses and his uneventful personal life?
Uh, you don’t. And I’m not entirely sure that you need to.
If you’re looking for a detective with a serious case of the smarts, Kurt Wallander is not your man. An internet date quizzes him on details of his current investigation, and he’s more than happy to tell her what he knows – which isn’t a lot, but still. Just to rub it in, the grand conclusion to Wallander’s case comes by way of a flash of intuitive realisation; nothing to do with any elegant piece of deduction or intelligence on Wallander’s behalf.
So, all in all, Wallander didn’t really give me what I was looking for. In fact, the detective work it features is probably a lot like real life detective work: dull, time consuming, occasionally random, plagued by elementary mistakes and IT disasters – which is of course the whole point. And with that in mind, Wallander was by far and away the best thing I’ve seen on TV for a while. I wasn’t massively enamoured with last week’s episode, but Sunday’s was a real improvement on a series that’s shaping up to being a right little cracker by doing everything you’d least expect.
And my script? Back to the drawing board with it. At the risk of upsetting Paul Abbot, perhaps I need a maverick cop after all.