The Investigation unfolds like a fictional story with one key omission: the name of the submarine builder, the man detained for questioning about Wall’s fate, is never mentioned. The people named and recognised by The Investigation are the victim, her parents and the team that hunted down the truth about her disappearance and endeavoured to bring the person responsible to trial.
The series opens with Moller Jensen (Soren Malling) and chief prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen (Pilou Asbaek) in court for an unrelated murder trial. Although both men believe that the accused is guilty, he escapes conviction as there’s insufficient evidence. That decision sets the framework for the series: the detective and the lawyer are frustrated that justice has not been served, and the importance of solid evidence is established.
When Wall’s disappearance is reported, a small team sets to work, their progress noted in a day-by-day diary on screen. What emerges is the sometimes frustrating and dispiriting grind of police work. What is also evident is the stoicism of the Scandinavians: there’s no shouting, no hysteria, no displays of temper. Sometimes there are quiet tears, all the more affecting for their infrequency.
This is most apparent in the portrayal of Wall’s dignified, devastated parents, Joachim (Rolf Lassgard) and Ingrid (Pernilla August), whose grief is deeply etched on their faces and in their efforts to hold themselves together.
Lindholm’s drama adopts a tone akin to Moller Jensen’s temperament: calm, considered, the antithesis of a screaming tabloid headline. Quietly compelling, The Investigation is a procedural reliant on a steady accrual of detail. There’s nothing remotely glamorous here: no maverick detective with killer instincts, although Moller Jensen has a keen eye. Instead there are determined detectives making phone calls and working on computers in colourless offices and persistent divers searching the icy waters of Koge Bay for body parts.
The series indicates that this work takes a toll. Moller Jensen has a strained relationship with his adult daughter, who believes that he’s been absent at key moments in her life because his work has taken priority. The daily dealing with ugly crime is also seen to have an impact. At one point, as detective Maibritt (Laura Christensen) sits silently at her desk, her colleague Nikolaj (Hans Henrik Clemensen), sensing a turmoil that isn’t being displayed, admits, “I’ve never had a homicide case that didn’t follow me home at night”.
With books and on TV, there’s a reliable appetite for crime stories of all kinds, especially those with the frisson of “true crime”. They enable us to sit in the safety of our homes and dip into the dark side of life, that space where evil is exposed and, ideally, punished.
As well as examining crime and its investigation, these stories can be illuminating about a society and how it operates, as a couple of notable examples from this year illustrate. As well as detailing the sexual assaults perpetrated over years by the American financier, the four-part documentary Filthy Rich: Jeffrey Epstein (Netflix) points to the latitude that money can buy. The six-part documentary I’ll be Gone in the Dark (Foxtel on Demand and Binge) focuses on a number of rapes and murders in California in the 1970s and ’80s and how the work of journalist Michelle McNamara linked the crimes where police had failed.
Its focus is on the damaged lives of victims and McNamara’s commitment to pursuing the case. But along the way, it also reveals the flaws in police department communications and how dubious assumptions about sex crimes affected the investigation.
Some true crime stories are fuelled by the thrill of the hunt and, as they recreate the chase for the perpetrator, the humanity of victims can be lost. It can be too easy to forget that these stories involve real people and events, real pain and grief. Dramatisations can sometimes be tacky, an easy, cheesy storytelling shortcut.
However, the approach adopted by Lindholm with The Investigation ensures that this won’t happen. The damage inflicted by this crime is a key focus, alongside its tribute to those who worked painstakingly to ensure that justice would be served.