Focus

Sarah Lund's new partner, Borch, is always telling her to focus, and, jarringly, he calls her Sarah. There was, if not onomatopoeia, a consonance of sound and emotion in the exasperated exclamation "Lund!" Her boss, Brix (a patronym that seems to encompass his whole character), still says "Lund." The trainee investigator has taken after Borch, as if he's he and Lund's child. This appears to be a role he enjoys, sitting in the back seat as the three of them drive off to The End of Civilization, aka Jutland. It must be because of this infectiousness of names that in some nuclear families the mother and father actually call each other "mom" and "dad."

Danish is full of what to an American ear are wonderfully curt expressions. Even "thanks," despite having only one syllable, is padded forgivingly with sound in comparison to "tak," and next to "tak for kaffe" (silent e), "thanks for the coffee" is a windy drawl fit only for a Western. However, "Sarah" uttered by a Dane is even windier than by an American--that short A is long.

As you're probably wanting to tell me by now, breathy sibilance is hardly the point. That Borch uses her first name shows his familiarity, or his presumption of familiarity, because they once knew each other. "In the academy. We were in the same year," Lund explains to the kid in the back seat, and happily does not get a chance to answer his next question: "was he your boyfriend?" They're interrupted by the "mand" in question waking up in the passenger seat.

Distracted focus has always been a theme of the show--it is about an obsessive detective, after all--but none of her previous male partners have been as explicit or taken her obsessiveness so personally. She has always run off and disobeyed orders to pursue the investigation (or as her frustrated boss and partner might call it, her investigation), but here it has become a problem of fate. The kidnapper keeps setting up payoffs, asking specifically for Lund to make the exchange, and she keeps disobeying what the kidnapper and the police department tell her to do, which are almost the same at this point. When the exchange fails, it appears that the kidnapper may not have intended it to succeed. Brix always insists, because he is beholden to higher offices and regulations, that if Lund hadn't interfered, everything would have gone as planned. Lund insists that her derailing of the exchange was the best hope of being a step ahead of the kidnapper. The second time this happens, she rushes off to get a woman's testimony before it's too late, which it is, because the kidnapper kills her before Lund gets there. If he was trying to distract her by scheduling the exchange, he must not know her very well. On the other hand, it worked because she went along with it up until the last minute. It worked because she is part of the department, not a free agent. She gets briefly distracted by what to the department is the focus.

Borch accuses her of pulling the same last-minute stunts emotionally. "When it comes to emotions, you tend to run away." His comment alludes to the end of their previous relationship, but he's also trying to provide the emotional intelligence (like a gross Mulder, as we always knew he was) to her relationship with her son, Mark (who may also, unbeknownst to him, be genetically his son). It's hard not to notice the conflation of "your emotions" with him, Borch. More generally, her emotions are conflated with prescriptions. It's unfortunate that she and her son are not full of loving kindness for each other, I guess, but Borch has a (common) notion that because she ought to demonstrate more love, she therefore has it inside of her, she just needs to find it.

This notion is confronted again and again in her interactions with others, most awkwardly in speaking with Mark's girlfriend, Eva, who might be said to be "full" of sociable talk in the same way Sarah is "full" of feeling for her son. Eva is in fact pregnant, which is what distracts Lund from making the first exchange with the kidnapper (she glimpses Eva and Mark in the subway station). When Eva meets her, Eva tries to include her in enthusiastic talk about how the baby (her grandchild) kicks. She doesn't respond to this, though it instills a nervousness that plays out on her face throughout the conversation. They're mutually bewildered. Eva doesn't know how to be sociable with a woman who can't say the things one says, and Sarah doesn't know how to convincingly simulate the expected response, or, indeed how to be "Sarah." Both are responding to an anxiety of responsiveness. One lets loose a stream of verbiage; the other says almost nothing. The former not only provides all the material, but sets up a solipsistically hopeful world in which the other's lack of response means only that the shape demanded by her conversational material is present in the other but unexpressed. While this is very much what Borch is doing, too, he angers when Lund does not conform to his imagination, whereas Eva never outwardly acknowledges it. Her difficulty in staying within either of these two frames is one explanation of the antisocial behavior of which her difficulty is supposedly a symptom.

She comes to the hospital with Eva for an ultrasound, and Eva turns to her and says "I'm really glad you're here with me. You might just be doing it for Mark, but I'm really glad you're here." This may be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to her, while at the same time it expects her to be the person Eva is glad to have there. She smiles, weakly. Then, seeing the fetus on the ultrasound, goes out into the hall to cry.

Borch repeatedly chides her to focus, and ever since they slept together, he repeatedly tells her that "it meant something to me." This is an obvious vie for mirrored response ("oh yes, it meant something to me, too!"), but because it's a show of vulnerability, he thinks she's evading her emotions. His pushes for reciprocation eventually intensify to the point that he says "no, Sarah, I won't let you just run away again!" Which she responds to, or doesn't, by finding and going down the stairs into the basement of the warehouse they're checking out.

She goes down, and the girl they're searching for, Emilie, once had a habit of going up. Amid the show's process of dispersing evidence among its three dramatic arenas (the police, the politicians, and the family), Emilie's brother reveals to his mother that "when she got sick of hearing you and dad fighting, she went to the in-between room," which turns out to be the attic of her dad's mansion. An attic is less a room than an inevitable effect of a structure's roof and ceiling. Not to be inhabited, it is a necessary space mostly ignored by a house's inhabitants, designed to be outside the life layed out by the house's interior. In this context of a child escaping her parent's fights, "running away" takes on a valence of victimhood rather than frgidity. But what troubles Lund's talk and makes it impossible to respond to Borch seems in part to be the inevitability and limitedness of valences. Borch's wife comes to the police station to drop off her husband's stuff--"which I assume is your fault," she tells Lund. As the wife's fit of angry speech towards Lund builds, she stands there agitatedly not speaking. "What do you want from him?!" She has become a home wrecker. Frustrated, she says "I don't want any part of this," and walks off. Admittedly, it's even more troubling to be a something for a detective, for whom the world is ideally more detectable than the self.

In the eyes of everyone else, her investigation becomes distracted by an interest in what the kidnapper thinks he's avenging. Geographically, it takes the investigators all the way to what is apparently referred to as "peripheral Denmark" by Copenhagen politicians. The show itself forks into several distracting obsessions. The Prime Minister becomes distracted from his reelection campaign by an obsession with his dead son (for him Emilie is a proxy for this loss). Emilie's parents are obsessed with finding her, distracting the father from running the Zeeland corporation, and distracting the mother from her relationship with her boyfriend. Sarah Lund becomes obsessed with solving the murder of the kidnapper's daughter years ago. Which case is the distraction from the other is a matter of ideology. The police are predictably interested only in finding the kidnap victim and punishing the kidnapper. Lund's interest is, at least symbolically, in the cause of which the kidnapping is an effect.

Emilie's life is a token traded among politicians and their constituents. As well as the parallel to losing his son, the PM is interested in her fate because if she's not found alive before the election, people will blame him for it, lose faith in the government, and he'll lose. The country's feeling toward their government is invested in her: The police's competence in finding her reveals the government's decency, not its self-interest. What manifests as a sentimental issue is a political one. The PM finds himself on the negative side of this logic in the death of his son. When Lund and Borch question him about his son, they try to draw connections between his son's suicide and his trip to Jutland, where they suspect him of murdering the kidnapper's daughter. "No," he says, "they're not connected. He was depressed." His acceptance of his son's apparent feeling as the ultimate explanation ends up concealing the politics of his son's death, which was not suicide, but occurred because of a concealed effort to conceal the indicting evidence he saw while in Jutland. He is initially furious when he finds this out, but in the end, the PM accepts the lame explanation that his son died because of an accident--an explanation more meaningless than deceitful--and goes on politicking.

With similarly glazed eyes, the police has no interest in investigating the death of the kidnapper's daughter beyond appeasing him enough to lead them to Emilie. It would destroy, rather than bolster confidence. Because the murderer is the assistant of the CEO of a corporation that the the Danish economy is said to depend upon, uncovering him would be counterproductive in more than one sense.

The spectacular rescue of a female victim restores the government, the nation, the family, and the economy. The PM is no longer distracted from victory by his dead son, the nation is no longer distracted by the thought of sexual violence, Emilie's mother is no longer distracted by her problems with Emilie's father, and nobody is distracted anymore by the economically disastrous possibility of the Zeeland corporation leaving Denmark, nor by the coercion that such a union is bound by. In short, Emilie may now return to the attic.

As the kidnapper once did, the man who raped and murdered the kidnapper's daughter confidently dictates fate to Lund: he will never be held responsible. Lund kills him, gets on a plane, and leaves Denmark. Which is more than but also exactly what she has ever done--the most "distracted," the most "obsessive," the most "unfeeling" she has been, and the farthest she has "run."

18 January 2013