I loved the first two seasons of Danish crime drama Follow the Money. It was different, it was involving, the characters were fun but believable. So when I saw, a few weeks back, that season three was coming to BBC4, I could hardly wait. But in the end, it was a disappointment.
What was so great about the original series was that it broke the mould. Almost every crime drama these days starts with a murder, and some kind of detective – professional or otherwise – investigating it. Follow the Money steered clear of that in favour of crime of a different kind: fraud. In season one, it was corporate skulduggery involving multiple ‘shell’ companies in the green energy sector. In season two, the rich seam of rogue bankers was mined. There were deaths, but they were only ever the fallout of the monetary crime and were treated as an intrinsic part of the ongoing investigation.
The detectives weren’t from Homicide, but from the Danish equivalent of the UK’s Serious Fraud Squad. Mads was the senior officer, vastly experienced but with a tendency to ditch protocol and rush off on his own. Alf (rather charmingly pronounced ‘elf’ in Danish) was his by-the-book assistant, brought in by his bosses to temper his impetuous approach with dull but effective methods like trawling through company accounts or CCTV footage for hours. They worked brilliantly as a team, each using different skills but each getting results. Suspicious at first, they gradually gained each other’s respect and friendship, bickering, bantering and helping each other out of a variety of crises at work and in their personal lives. They seemed like genuine people that we could really care about.
In addition to the cops, Follow the Money introduced a variety of criminals ranging from crooked executives, via the menacing character of ‘The Swede’, to bumbling wide boys Nicky and Bimse, two young mechanics drawn into a life of petty crime. Whilst the main ‘baddie’ changed between seasons one and two, the latter three became a recurring theme, as The Swede took Nicky under his wing and groomed him into something a good deal more sinister.
Season three picked up on this, as Nicky returned from time away in Spain to set himself up as a major drug dealer. However, much of the rest of Follow the Money‘s carefully-established fabric had disappeared. Some of this was unavoidable as previous characters had already been written out, but other bits felt like they’d been ditched or altered for no good reason. Chief of these was the loss of main character Mads. Presumably the actor, Thomas Bo Larson, was unavailable, but he left a massive gap. The writers did their best to fill it by promoting Alf, but clearly felt his meticulous approach was too dull for prime-time drama, so had him suffer from PTSD after being shot in season two. This might have worked on paper, but was less believable on screen. His personality changed completely and he was so unstable it’s a wonder he could still hold down a professional job. And the very skills that had made him so good in previous seasons were cast aside in favour of shocking decision-making and lots of rushing about.
The plot, too, had suffered. Gone were the complex, multi-layered money trails I’d come to know and love. In their place, the storyline focussed heavily on the conflict between Alf and Nicky, who’d been a suspect in past investigations but who’d always got away. The early episodes showed Nicky setting up his drug smuggling business, and laundering the proceeds via dodgy Bureaux d’Exchange with the help of a bored-housewife-style bank employee called Anna. The writers presumably hoped this would provide enough money-following interest, but although Anna became a major character in her own right, the thread was ultimately overshadowed by the Alf vs Nicky stuff.
There was some good cat-and-mouse psychology between these two (particularly in the scenes involving Nicky’s heavily-defended apartment) but the whole thing turned into too much of a standard psychological thriller, with elements of soap opera involving Anna’s marriage, Alf’s on-off relationship with a colleague, and Nicky’s equally on-off relationships with his neglected son and a Palestinian woman he met at a party. So much time was devoted to these romantic entanglements that the main plot got a bit lost and too many loose ends remained untied. For starters, the first episode featured the macabre discovery of several Romanian refugees dead in a cellar, but it was never fully explained who they were or why they’d been killed. And while I get that Nicky’s impression of himself as a master criminal might not have matched up to reality, I still don’t understand why his impressive criminal ‘field craft’ deserted him just when he needed it most.
I won’t reveal details about the ending in case anyone hasn’t seen the series yet, but it was so bleak it left me wondering what the point of the whole thing had been. I can’t find any information on whether there’ll be another season of the drama, and in a way I hope there won’t. Unless they bring back Mads, find some way for Alf to recover from his over-done PTSD thing, and get back to what they’re good at, which is unravelling the threads of complex corporate fraud. In other words, following the money, dammit!