Follow TV Tropes


Series / Wallander

Go To
This is Wallander on a good day.

Nobody deserves to die.
Kurt Wallander, Sidetracked

Swedish author Henning Mankell's Nordic Noir series of crime novels follow Kurt Wallander, a middle-aged, diabetic inspector who is often up against both criminals and his own demons. In the novels Mankell explores social and political issues affecting modern-day Sweden, as well as providing the reader with plenty of mystery and suspense.

The novels became the basis of several film and TV adaptations: a Swedish televised film series for SVT starring Rolf Lassgård as the titular character, a Swedish television series for TV4 starring Krister Henriksson, and most recently an English-language adaptation starring Kenneth Branagh. All three have now concluded their runs.

The English adaptation is unusual in its use of Translation Convention. Filmed in Ystad, the Swedish setting of the novels, it renders all spoken dialogue into English (complete with idioms like "done time"), but keeps all on-screen written text in Swedish (with the exception of the screen of Wallander's phone on occasions).

In 2020, Netflix released Young Wallander, a prequel of Wallander on what happens to him after he graduates from the Swedish National Police Academy and is in on the first few days of job as a uniformed officer.

This series contains examples of:

  • Action Girl:
    • Wallander's daughter Linda, who chooses to join the police like her father.
    • Wallander's colleague Ann-Britt Höglund.
    • Isabelle Melin in the Swedish series.

  • Actor Allusion: In one of the Swedish episodes, Wallander is talking to the coroner Karin Linder about the possibility that the victim may have drunk himself to death, and gives her a sly look as he refers to death by alcohol poisoning as "Finnish suicide". Stina Ekblad, who plays Karin, is a Swedish-speaking Finn.

  • Adaptation Name Change: Wallander's father — named Henning in the novels — is named Povel in the BBC series
    • An interesting case with the same character in the Lassgård films: Wallander's father is still named Henning (as in the novels) in his first appearances in Faceless Killers, The Dogs of Riga, and The White Lioness (as played by Ernst Günther), but when he turns up again in The Fifth Woman (as played by Keve Hjelm), his name is briefly mentioned to be "Karl."
  • Affably Evil:
    • Lothar Kraftczyk. While he's a murderous kidnapper and torturer who mentally breaks everyone, he seems to be a genuinely good to the people he likes and isn't assholes. Besides, the only reason he's the villain anyway is that his daughter committed suicide.
    • Solomon from Firewall is affable to the people who work with him. He's also a vicious military mercenary who will kill anyone who comes in his way.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • Elvira from Firewall. She may have manipulated Wallander throughout the movie for her cause, but when she dies she hints that she genuinely liked him despite everything and tells him to take care.
    • Anders from the military's death in The Revenge is very sad. While he's a terrorist who has murdered many people, he looks so broken and sad after all of the shit he has been forced into going through that it's almost impossible not to feel sad when he realizes that he is going to have to be put in prison, which leads him into committing suicide. Even Wallander looks extremely saddened by it.
    • Göran's brother in Byfånen does his best in order to reunite with Göran. He then gets killed in cold blood just after trying to reunite with David, his father's new child.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Gender-Flipped. The rule breaking Isabelle/ Rebecca, who has a gangster past, has a relationship with Pontus, who is, in Wallander's own words, the colleague that everyone wants.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Not the most extreme example, but in One Step Behind, Louise was in love with Svedberg and claims that Svedberg was in love with Wallander, who never noticed and is also presumably straight.
  • Anti-Villain: Almost an Anti-Hero. Oskar Ung is an old friend of Linda's who has apparently helped her alot. He may have robbed a bank once, and may have tried killing one of Roger Riis men, but not only is Roger Riis alot more evil, but he is genuinely nice to everyone and is more down to earth than the protagonists themselves. His death is heartbreaking as well. He grabs the gun and aims at Roger Riis, who is right behind Linda, preparing to kill her, and shoots Roger. Linda, in the mental state she is in, obviously doesn't understand that Oskar is tring to kill Roger, not her, and thinks that he was trying to shoot her but missed. So she shoots Oskar.
  • Asshole Victim: Pretty frequently. Pretty much all of the victims in The Fifth Woman, for example, were themselves horrible criminals who had been Karma Houdinis up to that point. Sidetracked is also full of these, from the ex-justice minister with a dark secret to the murderer's father who was abusive to his family.
    • Another example is the taxi driver from Firewall who is robbed and murdered by one of his passengers. It is later revealed that he was a rapist and the passenger was one of his victims.
  • Ate His Gun:
    • Happens in the Swedish episode The Secret.
    • In the final episode of the Henriksson version, Wallander himself almost does this after his Alzheimer's is exposed, which will end his career, literally loading his pistol and putting it in his mouth. He is however unable to pull the trigger.
    • Zoran absolutely swallows the gun before Wallander is able to stop him.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Many of the scenes between Wallander and his daughter Linda turn out this way. Although they have the unerring knack of infuriating each other and often argue, they still care very deeply for each other.
  • Ax-Crazy: A crime-thriller series, it has A LOT of them.
    • The Debt Collector has the sickest, most mentally ill villain in the entire series. Leo Lippowski is a COMPLETE maniac who apparently even shocked his psychopathic brother Patrik with how crazy he was. According to Isabelle, he has tried convincing Patrik multiple times to rape her and murder her, which Patrik would never do.
    • Roffe Liljeberg just loves killing everyone from friends to innocent children while smiling and saying in a hammy voice "DEATH! DEATH! DEATH!".
    • Anna Westin has a terrifying arua around her after it is revealed that she has joined a group of christian fanatics, and for good reason.
    • Eric Leike constantly abuses his wife and has even raped his previous one. One time he even hit his new wife so hard that she got a huge scar on her arm, something that Stefan becomes furious about and rants the next five minutes about how he will catch Leike.
    • Zoran kills two people in a goddamn... what the hell is that thing even? He uses a truck to do it... anyway. When the person he kills' little sister sees Zoran do this, Zoran becomes angry at her for preparing to tell the police about him, and chases the innocent little girl with every chance he gets around the city. No surprise, since Thomas Hanzon has played all types of maniacs. Hell, he has even voiced Shen in the Swedish dub of Kung Fu Panda 2!
    • The finnish gangster from The Sniper is shown to be quite unstable.
    • Tommy the Arsonist used to be this before he got out of jail. He still has the instinct left though...
    • Erik Wredin is a rare heroic example... well, not really a hero, just a good guy. He's very obviously extremely emotionally stale, almost ghost-like, and behaves like an emotionless sociopath. However, when he goes off, he becomes absolutely maniacal.
    • Amanda Wredin, Erik's daughter, is shown to be also very emotionally strange. She constantly looks slightly angry or sad and killed her own mother due to her saying that she didn't fit her boyfriend. Who the hell kills for that?
  • Big Damn Heroes: Martinsson in the Branagh version of One Step Behind, who follows Kurt to his house, and shoots Åke before he can shoot Linda.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Some of the written Swedish in the British version. For example, when Wallander checks his inbox, viewers are treated to a bunch of annoying emails from Tom Hiddleston's character Magnus Martinsson, with headlines like "Vem stängde inte av kaffebryggaren?" ("Who left the coffee maker on?") and "Glöm inte möte med Martinsson!" ("Don't forget meeting with Martinsson!").
  • Big Bad:
    • Håkan von Enke is the closest thing the British series really ever gets to a consistent big bad, and he appears in two episodes.
    • The main villain in The Sad Bird, the final episode in the Henriksson series, is an official who Wallander seems to have befriended throughout the series. In actuality, he's a corrupt official who has blackmailed multiple people just to grow a drug empire and get more wealth.
  • Blood from the Mouth:
    • In Firewall, this is how you can tell that Ella's not going to make it. Indeed she seems to have been shot in the gut. Averted in The Man who smiled, although it would have been fatal without Wallander's prompt intervention.
    • Used at the end of the Swedish episode Blodsband to show that Oskar Ung has been fatally shot.
  • Buffy Speak: Kenneth Branagh's Wallander is really good at muttering half cut off, incomprehensible words when he is distracted.
  • Bury Your Gays: Svedberg in One Step Behind ends being this, killed by one of the men he was involved with, who ended up having been a mass murderer who preyed on happy people. He killed Svedberg because he was too close to discovering his secret. Averted with the others in the novel.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Wallander can't even go out to eat without the universe abusing him. In one episode, Nyberg forgets his wallet and Kurt's card is out of date, so they come off looking like bums and get yelled at by an angry waitress. He also survives an assassination attempt because he trips over a rug.
    • In the Swedish films starring Krister Henriksson, Officer Svartman is undoubtedly also a Butt Monkey. He gets shot at, beaten by thugs, has something horrendous done to a sensitive part of his body and has his car shot to pieces by mooks.
  • Casting Gag: Wallander's father in the Lassgård adaptation of The Fifth Woman is portrayed by Keve Hjelm, the first actor to play Wallander's spiritual predecessor, Martin Beck.
  • Cult: Wallander investigates one in Before the Frost.
  • Corrupt Politician: In Sidetracked, a former Minister of Justice is murdered because of his shady past and using his influence to cover up what he had really been up to.
  • Da Chief: Otto Björk and later Lisa Holgersson.
  • Dead Person Conversation: The final scene of The Troubled Man features one between Wallander and his father, who consoles Wallander about his memory loss.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Nyberg.
  • Defective Detective: Wallander is divorced, has a rough relationship with his daughter, and has to deal daily with violence and the other darker aspects of life. He has an uneasy relationship with alcohol and frequently feels lost and lonely.
  • Depraved Homosexual: One Step Behind has Åke/Louise, a homosexual male transvestite who goes on a killing spree, motivated by his resentment of other people's happiness.
  • Deus Angst Machina:
    • While True Art Is Angsty, the Branagh adaptations could possibly be called "Wallander's Horrible Life".
    • In the novels, Wallander is often generally unsatisfied with his life, with no idea how to improve it. In The Dogs of Riga, he's so fed up with life that he experiences chest pains and nearly quits police work to take up a much less stressful job in security instead. That said, in the novels he does have some happy experiences, especially when he's spending time with Linda or his Latvian girlfriend Baiba.
  • Dirty Communists: Deconstructed. The second volume, The Dogs of Riga, mostly takes place in the then-totalitarian state of Latvia, which was in the process of falling apart in the time frame of the series (it had fallen apart the year before the novel was written, although it wasn't entirely clear what would be happening to the country at that point). It is quite clear that Mankell, while sympathetic to the ideals communism was avowedly intended to serve, strongly detests the Soviet system. Most of the sympathetic characters in the novel at some point criticise the Soviet system for failing to uphold those ideals, and the disparity between incomes of corrupt "public servants" and the rest of the country is a rather notable theme of the book (not to mention the complete lack of any semblance of civil liberties).
  • Disappeared Dad: Erik Westin in Before The Frost, who left his daughter Anna when she was quite young. Unfortunately he turns up again.
  • Driven to Suicide: Happens to Stefan in the Swedish episode The Secret.
    • Håkan von Enke in The Troubled Man.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Wallander's. Let's see: Kurt's estranged from his father and his new wife, can't cope with his father's dementia, and forgets his birthday. His daughter Linda has a hard time dealing with her dad always forgetting their dates and never checking his messages, and has to take his place at his father's side. Kurt's wife left him and he can't stand the thought that she may love someone else. There's genuine affection between him and Linda, despite all this.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Håkan von Enke in The Troubled Man is a traitor who murders his wife as part of a plan to flee the country, but he genuinely loves both his severely disabled daughter and his granddaughter Klara. One of the reasons he has engineered the coverup is so that Klara's future won't be tainted by association.
    • Most of the villains in the series are this, in fact.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Wilson, Håkan von Enke's American contact in The Troubled Man is fine with undermining the Swedish government in the early 1980s and threatening Wallander's family. But Håkan murdering Louise? That's going too far, and Wilson abandons Håkan to Wallander instead of helping him escape.
    • A downplayed example. When Zoran is about to kill Natalia, he says in a saddened voice "I'm sorry...".
  • Fair Cop:
    • Ann-Britt Höglund.
    • Linda Wallander as played by Johanna Sällström probably counts as this.
    • Isabelle Melin from season two of the Swedish films.
    • The BBC Magnus is improbably young and improbably pretty, and was played by pre-Hollywood-fame Tom Hiddleston.
  • Heroes Love Dogs:
    • In the novels, Wallander spends years yearning for a pet dog and a house by the sea. In The Troubled Man, the final book in the series, he finally gets his wish.
    • The second season of the Swedish series starring Krister Henriksson also shows Wallander with his pet labrador, Jussi, who he clearly adores.
    • A couple of episodes of the Swedish series show him taking care of other people's dogs and loving it.
    • Branagh's Wallander gets his house and dog in the third season.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Rolf from The Secret at first looks like a helpful former cop who helps the cops find the pedophile that killed the young boy named Johannes. Turns out, he was not only the one who killed Johannes all along but also the one who drove Stefan into committing suicide. Also turns out that he has been doing this for ages and has gotten away with it by also capturing other pedophiles himself.
  • Heroic BSoD: In The White Lioness Wallander shoots and kills a Russian assassin (and sees another one burn to death) and suffers this as a consequence. It's so bad that for a long time he considers quitting the police force, until he gets drawn in to the events of The Man Who Smiled and changes his mind.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Discussed and then played straight in the Branagh version of The Dogs of Riga.
    • Played with again in The Troubled Man, where Håkan's plot requires Wallander to find the book.
    • Played straight with Lothar in Mastermind, who is the cleaner at the police station.
  • Homage: In Dogs Of Riga, our protagonist travels to a foreign country, and the first thing he does there is to attend the funeral of an acquaintance involved in mafia, corruption and black marketeering. There, he meets the late acquaintance's girlfriend and a very suspicious-looking local chief of police. I can't believe it's not The Third Man. (Bonus points for taking a stroll with said girlfriend on a rather long stretch of cemetery lane.)
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Ebba, the police station receptionist, can find out just about any information Wallander needs on anything, is a top-class organiser and can even track down such obscure items as a tofu pie to feed a vegan witness. In the Henriksson series, she's also shown to have a decent singing voice (her actress, Marianne Mörck, is also a stage and opera singer).
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: How Wallander finally figures out who the main villain is in The Dogs of Riga.
  • Inherently Funny Words: In the first Branagh series, Wallander's doctor tells him that he has an illness called HONK. Even he gets a laugh out of it.
  • Instant Drama, Just Add Tracheotomy: Performed by Branagh's Kurt Wallander with a kitchen knife and a pen.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: in One Step Behind, Wallander pulls this on himself: after the trauma of shooting a dangerous suspect dead, he removes the bullets from his clip. Then the psycho suspect takes his daughter Linda hostage at gunpoint.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: Happens in the Mastermind film in the first season of the Swedish films. The Big Bad does it to keep tabs on the investigation and gather information on how he can further harm Wallander and Martinsson.
  • Karmic Death: Böhle, despite being very much a magnificent bastard, and possibly the biggest criminal mastermind in the entire series, gets blown up the same way he was planning on blowing up his victims.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: The killer for every episode usually ends up getting killed him/herself towards the ending. There are a few exeptions, though.
  • Last-Name Basis: Most of the Ystad police department go by this; Svedberg's first name is Karl, nickamed 'Kalle,' Björk's first name is Otto, and Nyberg's first name is Sven, though the latter isn't mentioned much.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: in The Man Who Smiled, the father of a friend of Wallander's is killed in this manner after he discovers too much about his employer's involvement in organ trafficking.
  • The Mafiya: They are smuggling drugs from Lativa to Sweden in the Branagh adaptation of The Dogs of Riga.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Martinsson is given a first name in each series of adaptations: Magnus in the Branagh series, Tomas in the Lassgård series, and Jan in the Henriksson series.
  • Never One Murder: The population of Ystad must be about 8 by now considering the amount of murders that happen in such a small town. In fact a The BBC radio show called More or Less discovered that the Ystad in fiction was the second deadliest place to live after a certain town in Maine.
  • Norse by Norsewest: Averted in the Branagh version — even the Fair Cop has black hair. Though Magnus, Linda and Wallander all have light hair and eyes, brunettes abound. The Swedish productions avert this, of course, being... Swedish productions.
  • One-Steve Limit: Technically averted, as two significant minor characters go by "Louise" and two of the cops have Magnus as given names, though only one goes by it (it's Svedberg's middle name).
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The first time we see Branagh's Wallander clean-shaven is when he is getting ready to attend Povel's funeral. May also count as a distant early warning of his own health problems, as we see him more-or-less clean shaven for the remainder of the series.
  • Prequel: The Pyramid, the ninth published Wallander book, which is a collection of short stories and novellas, explores Wallander's backstory prior to the events of the first novel Faceless Killers. Among other things, it reveals Wallander's first case as a criminal investigator, the beginning and end of his relationship with his wife Mona, his partnership with close colleague and mentor Rydberg, and his turbulent relationship with his father. The books ends with a retelling of the first scene from Faceless Killers
  • Protagonist Title
  • Red Shirt: Pontus from the Henriksson films, if only through his lack of fear of danger...
  • Running Gag: in the Swedish version, Wallander never seems to finish his physical checkup.
  • Scenery Porn: In all TV and film adaptations. Skåne is an exceptionally beautiful place which appears to be in permanent spring or summer, so you can't blame them really.
    • Although in the final episode, in which Wallander learns he has a degenerative disease that will kill him in five years, the setting is Skåne in late autumn: gloomy, stark and wintry.
  • Self-Immolation:
    • at the beginning of Sidetracked a teenage girl does this in the middle of a field, apparently out of fear of Wallander. Later it's discovered that she wanted to die because she had been trafficked into Sweden and was being forced to work as a prostitute.
    • A cultist also does this in the Branagh adaptation of Before the Frost.
  • Serial-Killer Killer: A rare female example in The Fifth Woman.
  • Sounding It Out: Wallander reads out an email that we see written in Swedish in English for the audience's benefit
  • Translation Convention: The English-language Branagh version anglicized several place names, for instance, Ystad's pronunciation is altered (from "ee-stad" to "eah-stad"). Wallander's name is pronounced "Wall-and-er", while the Swedish pronunciation is "Val-and-air". One notable case in Firewall in which the on-screen status data of a computer specialist is in English, but it's entirely plausible for someone in a country where English is a second language of most of the population to do that. Combined with Swedish not always being a good option when it comes to computer programs (due to bad or nonexistent translations), it might not have been this trope, but exactly what it looked like: English.
  • Tender Tears:
    • Count it up in the Branagh adaptation, and Wallander cries in literally four out of the six episodes that have been produced. There's a borderline case of shining eyes in 2x01, which could make it five out of six. But it's because he's so empathetic; he almost never cries for himself.
    • In the novels Wallander doesn't cry as often, but in Before The Frost Linda notes the tears in his eyes when he hears about the death of an old friend.
    • In The White Lioness Wallander is shown to be extremely empathetic towards those people suffering through no fault of their own, several times getting a lump in his throat as he deals with a murder victim and her family.
    • In the Swedish episode The Secret Wallander breaks down and cries when he realises that Stefan had committed suicide because he had been abused as a child and that he could have helped, but chose not to listen to him.
  • Title Drop: An unusual visual title drop with some hostile, barking police dogs in the Branagh adaptation of The Dogs of Riga.
  • Trauma Conga Line:
    • Sometimes it seems that if Wallander ever felt real happiness, the world would probably end or something.
    • The novel The White Lioness has a Trauma Conga Line that leads to Wallander's Heroic BSoD and almost causes him to quit the force.
  • Truth in Television: The controversy surrounding the submarines in The Troubled Man is based on actual events.
  • Vomiting Cop: In the Swedish series, Isabelle vomits at a gruesome murder scene made worse by the oppressive heat wave. She blames it on the stench.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain:
    • In the Branagh adaptation of The Man Who Smiled Wallander is impressed by Harderberg's philanthropic work for impoverished children in Africa. He clearly feels that the man is a ray of goodness in an all-too-grim world. He even smiles a bit! And then it turns out Harderberg's foundation is a front for black market organ dealing, and he's probably had some of those adorable kids in the photos slaughtered for parts. Yeah.
    • In the Swedish Mannen som log, during a rough patch with his girlfriend, he meets a beautiful, sympathetic woman in a bar as he's drowning his sorrows. They have sex. Then she wants her money.

Alternative Title(s): Kurt Wallander