I wondered last week whether we were being set up for the retirement of the legendary Martin Beck, and The Last Day opens with Beck telling his manager that he wants to move on. We’ve seen this kind of dramatic device before – comically, for example, by Poirot in Double Sin – and sometimes it’s there to set up the kind of plot in which our hero takes on an important case which reminds them of the meaning of their work. In theory, this could be the direction taken by The Last Day, as a front line policewoman is shot just before her retirement. The symbolism of this shooting, and the conversation immediately before it, when the victim is told by a rookie that no murder detectives could possibly lose their mojo, is particularly heavy.
We don’t, of course, know whether Beck really does hand in that crumpled resignation note. His decision possibly rests on two exchanges. After the team have potentially stopped a bloodbath, the body count is fixed and the perpetrator has killed himself, Martin is distressed.
Steinar: We did everything we could, Martin.
Beck: Why is it never enough?
Later, Inger has organised a quiet family party to celebrate what she believes to be the end of her father’s last case. Afterwards, Beck sips brandy with Grannen on their respective balconies. We’ve seen them do this so many times but for Grannen it’s a new start.
Grannen: This is going to be bloody great, Martin!
Martin seems unenthusiastic. Hanging out more with Grannen is not his idea of a great retirement. It isn’t beyond possibility that he realises that his contribution is enough, however you define it, and that retirement is not the answer to his ennui. If this is to be the end, however, I’m impressed that the series makers had the discipline to end on a relatively subtle and unemotional, if ambiguous, note, rather than try to replicate the beautiful end of The Hospital Murders.
No doubt there will be plenty of speculation. You can ask, if the series is to end, what was the point of developing Steinar as a decent new character; equally, perhaps Kristofer Hivju was available only on a short term basis. And so on.
But all that is to discount the actual episode, which is rather good. This recent series has already seen organised crime and corrupt coppers but here we look at a rather simpler situation: where a vulnerable individual is deliberately damaged by someone more powerful. The psychological background of the perpetrator is perhaps not as explored as it could have been (although we note that there is a passing resemblance to a much younger Gunvald Larsson). But what I like is the way in which some of the more humdrum issues of police procedure are seen. You feel the slow progress that they make in working out the real identity of the perpetrator, and you are frustrated by the many blind alleys the team explore. (At least we no longer have Klas Fréden tossing his weight about and getting in the way.) You tut at the incompetence of the SWAT unit, who either aren’t there to help or manage to sweep a building without noticing the suspect is there all along. You feel for the team as they deal with half-remembered fragments from witnesses; and you hope that the young traffic cop will survive his survivor’s guilt. Although it might normally not be a compliment to pick out the slower aspects of a procedural drama, these elements add to the realism and are consistent with the original Beck novels.
A good addition to the Beck canon. You could say it’s solid, like Martin Beck himself. Now, Martin, just tear up that retirement form, would you?