New Netflix Series ‘Borderliner’ Is the Perfect Scandinavian Noir Gateway Drug

borderliner-scandinavian-noir-netflix-original-series
Lars and Nikolai check out a body in 'Borderliner.' Netflix

The new Netflix series Borderliner is the perfect introduction to Scandinavian noir, which has otherwise failed to establish itself as trend on this side of the Atlantic, maybe because of recent cinematic efforts like the bizarre, fragmented The Snowman (“Hello Mister Police”). It’s really a better genre for TV anyway.

The Norwegian Borderliner begins with supercop Nikolai (Tobias Santelmann), who’s pressured into taking time off and leaving the city to avoid the swirling chaos of the police scandal he instigated by busting his own partner for a murder. But when Nikolai visits his hometown he soon finds himself helping his little brother Lars (Benjamin Helstad), an undistinguished local cop, with a suicide investigation that turns out to be something more. A lot more.

After Anniken (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), a dogged homicide detective, Nikolai finds himself back on the job, though he doesn’t like where the case leads him.

netflix-original-series-borderliner Anniken is right to be suspicious of Nikolai. Netflix

Really minor spoiler for the first episode here: Lars committed the murder and tried to dress up as a suicide and it sure looks like there’s more to it than the drunken accident Lars first describes.

Nikolai makes the fateful decision to help cover up the crime and begins the delicate work of simultaneously investigating a murder and deceiving his partner—plant a little evidence here, coerce a witness into lying there. Despite all his training and vaunted reputation as a hero cop, things quickly spin out of control for Nikolai. And the conspiracy around the fake suicide of a layabout drunk soon expands through the town and even across the border into Sweden.

The Scandinavians have been enjoying their own flavor of noir for decades, but didn’t think to share it with us until The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It’s different than either Hollywood’s private eye and sleazeball populated noir of the 40-50s or the referential stylization of later decades’ neo-noir. Instead, Scandinavian noir is more akin to a high-pressure police procedural, with the investigation often becoming deeply personal for the investigator. Rather than stylized, Scandinavian noir is spare, laying out complicated plots with a satisfying efficiency.

Borderliner has all the key ingredients, including reserved leads with roiling interiors, stark Norwegian snowfields, dark forests and a grim outlook. Much like Blue Velvet or other American films about chaos just under the suburban surface, Borderliner is about the dark secrets connecting the people of Nikolai’s small hometown, binding otherwise simple lives together in a despair-inducing complicity. The case quickly sprawls out from a single event and Borderliner wisely strays from the facts of the mystery to examine its tragic consequences. People talk about themselves through talking about the dead and the social consequences of murder become just as important as the case.

At eight episodes, Borderliner is long enough to feel really invested, but short enough to be a minor commitment. And should this whole Scandinavian noir thing be your flavor, there’s plenty more to check out, like Wallander (not the Kenneth Branagh one, please), The Bridge, The Break and Lava Field.

Join the Discussion