🇸🇪 Before We Die ~ Spoiler Review 🇸🇪
by Gina Meardon
Before We Die (2017-)– also known as Innan vi dör – is a Swedish Crime Drama/Thriller set in Stockholm. 2 Seasons of 18 x 1hr episodes. Language: Swedish with subtitles. Available on Walter Presents (All4) UK, PBS Masterpiece USA
“Before We Die pitches a Croatian crime family head-to-head with Stockholm’s Serious Crimes Unit with deadly consequences.”
Writers: Niklas Rockström, Wilhelm Behrman, Gunnar Nilsson (S2)
Marie Richardson ~ Hanna
Adam Pålsson ~ Christian
Alexej Manvelov ~ Davor
Magnus Krepper ~ Björn
Malgorzata Pieczynska ~ Dubravka
Sandra Redlaff ~ Blanka
Peshang Rad ~ Stefan
Sofia Ledarp ~ Tina
Kalled Mustonen ~ Pawel
Richard Forsgren ~Magnus
Christian Hillborg ~ Petter
Maria Sundbom Lörelius ~ Lena
Stefan Sauk ~ Jan
Before the creative writing team of Niklas Rockström and Wilhelm Behrman brought us Caliphate their genius created the equally impressive 2-season crime thriller Before We Die.
Before We Die is a stylish, fast-paced rollercoaster ride full of sharp turns, twists, double bluffs and intrigue. It keeps you on your toes with its use, and threat of, violence and it pulls no punches. Viewers are left guessing, not just with season finales, but often episode by episode, just what the hell is going to happen next. The viewing audience feel the pressure alongside the characters they are watching.
The official synopsis for Before We Die doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, so here is my offering. Imagine a crime family – the Mimicas – ruthless, smart and held together by the shared horrors of escaping war in their native Croatia, which saw half the family massacred. They are driven by power and led by the charismatic surviving son, Davor, who demands loyalty to the family above all else and is ruthless with betrayal. Their money is made through the trafficking of drugs, using the family restaurant, the Villa Modena, as a front. So successful have they become they even have a mole within the Stockholm Organised Crimes Unit. The police are utterly unaware of this powerful, ‘invisible’ family… or at least they were…
Hanna Svensson is a divorced ‘career cop’ facing early retirement. Her career nose-dived when she decided to have her only son Christian arrested for drug dealing, knowing full well he would get a prison sentence. Her high-morals and principles drove her ‘tough-love’ approach to parenting, and even though Christian served 2 years in prison, Hanna never once visited him. Not surprisingly they are estranged and their relationship is non-existent. Hanna does have a married lover (yes, her morals weren’t quite so high here), his name is Sven, he is also a cop and he is still working within the Organised Crimes Unit. Unbeknown to her he has a mole, “Inez”, who has infiltrated the Mimica Family. Unfortunately Sven has also chosen to work alone and his team are completely unaware, only he knows who “Inez” is.
When Sven disappears the morning after a night with Hanna, all she and his team have to go on is a brief conversation she had with him about meeting someone called “Inez”, his “mole”. A search for Sven finds only his mobile phone in a Stockholm gutter, the name “Inez” and a folder of notes on a Croatian massacre in the region of Krajina.
Christian left prison with a new best friend in a Croatian drug dealer/foot soldier, Stefan Vargic, who had been taken into the Mimica family as a child following the massacre that saw his entire family wiped out. It is Stefan who introduces Christian to Davor, who then offers him work with the family (clearly Davor must have seen something in Christian to have been so accommodating). Just to add to the mix, Christian is close to Sven, ‘The only cop he trusts’. He has left prison with an idea to infiltrate the family and regain the respect of Sven (but not his mother). If only ideas were that simple…
These then are the opening bars of season 1 of Before We Die. Hanna has no idea her son “Inez” is the mole she ends up handling after she works her way onto the case. Christian too is completely unaware that the mother he despises is the cop to whom he is now entrusting his life. Neither she, Christian or Stockholm’s finest, are prepared for ‘Operation Krajina’ which Davor unleashes upon them in his bid to destroy the police and flood Scandinavia with cheap heroin from Turkey. All this in order to ensure his position as Number 1 in the criminal underworld.
Davor is a complex, multi-layered character. Seemingly mild-mannered, he is good looking, oozing both charm and charisma. He is also gay (a secret kept hidden from his entire family, maybe because they wouldn’t understand but more likely it might be leverage his enemies could use against him). He is smart, focused and driven, always one step ahead of the game but keeping his cards close to his chest – even his mother, who adores him, knows only what he chooses to tell her at any given time. He instills fear with just a look, or even silence, and yet he is capable of love and affection, especially with his mother and Markus, his secret lover, for whom he is prepared to take risks to try and lead a ‘normal’ life away from the “day job”. But don’t be fooled, Davor is deadly…….
Season 1 builds at a fast pace. There are some incredibly violent and disturbing scenes involving murders and male rape. And just when you think you have the whole thing figured out, there is yet another twist to leave you gasping with shock. The season finale will leave you impatient for more.
Season 2 introduces some new characters and has a different flow and feel, initially, to season 1. To be honest it took me a while to get into the second season, probably because I was still reeling from the end of season 1! However a very brutal, chilling murder in the opening episode awakens the viewer to the fact that season 2 will offer no compromises, and the violence and pace from season 1 is still apparent. I will say at this point that the timeline is an issue for me here as it is set only 6 months on from the end of season 1, but so much would have had to have happened in that short space of time that I don’t see how that is feasible. I think a year’s difference would have made more sense.
There are new ‘bad boys on the block’. A secret organisation of dirty cops who are skimming drugs and cash from their busts. Called “The Circle” they are run by husband and wife, Jan and Lena, and have clearly been operating successfully for a long time. They have grown rich running this ‘Pyramid Scheme’ where everyone hides behind false identities known only to them. It is a lucrative business.
The Mimicas are seemingly not the force they were following Davor’s death at the end of Season 1. They are now headed by his mother, Dubravka, who is determined to find Christian at all costs, seeking revenge for the death of her beloved son. She would also like to get her hands on her absent daughter, Blanka, who fled with Christian, breaking with her family. Dubravka has sold the family restaurant and bought a pizzeria as a front. She now buys the family’s drugs from “The Circle”.
Here lies another anomaly: Operation Krajina brought Davor 100 kilos of pure heroin from Turkey, where is it? Why would Dubravka need a new supplier? How come super-smart Davor was unaware of the Circle’s existence just a few short months before, when they had clearly been operating for years?
These issues aside Season 2 of Before We Die does gain momentum. Christian returns, unexpectedly (and alone) from Costa Rica, even though he knows the Mimicas are determined to find him. He comes back even more emotionally damaged than when he left. Was it 6 months of Blanka that took their toll? Or events that unfolded in Costa Rica? As the season progresses so Christian’s mental state worsens and he turns increasingly to cocaine use, which further fuels his anxiety.
Once more Christian infiltrates a criminal gang. This time it’s The Circle, at Hanna’s request. Hasn’t she put her poor son through enough? She is after the name of the police informant who worked for the Mimicas and the word is he has been sold by Dubravka to “The Circle”. Again Christian finds he is treading a fine line whilst trying to protect his identity, find the name of the informant and bring the gang down. However add to the mix the return of a now pregnant and “dumped” Blanka, an unexpected love affair with Lena (of all people) and the Mimicas, determined to seek revenge on just about everybody, and you just know it’s just not going to end well.
Certainly, yet again, Hanna underestimates the task facing them. A shocking and unexpected twist at the end of episode 5 really sets the cat amongst the pigeons, when all of Christian’s worst fears are realised… Davor har återvänt från de döda! The machiavellian mobster survived being shot, and drowned, by Hanna and Björn. Amazing what a Kevlar vest and a sympathetic water current can do!
I won’t give away the final three episodes except to say there are enough loose threads for a possible Season 3, although nothing as yet has been confirmed by the writers. Personally I was pleased with the ending and the way the characters all played out. Overall I thought season 1 had the edge and was more gripping than season 2 but that is just my personal opinion. My only real criticisms, as stated above, were the timeline of 6 months from the end of season 1 to the start of season 2 and the missing 100 kilos of heroin. I think, realistically, it would have taken much longer for events to unfold and develop and for Davor to have planned what he did in season 2, and to have recovered his health.
Excellent acting performances from Adam Pålsson as the troubled Christian. He won the 2017 Kristallen ‘Best Actor’ award for his portrayal of the character. Marie Richardson also for playing Hanna, as quite possibly the worse mother ever, with zero connection with, or understanding of, her damaged son. Magnus Krepper as Björn was the excellent foil for Hanna, the “lone wolf’” cop, ex-special forces, with an unconventional “bohemian lifestyle” who found himself saddled with an “ice partner”. Finally the portrayal of Davor by Alexej Manvelov was outstanding. For me he stole every scene he was in and his screen presence is magnetic, underplaying Davor with implied menace as opposed to hands on, dirty force. Yet the side of Davor that was gentle and forgiving was also glimpsed. The internal conflict and desire to leave the life he had created becoming more evident by the end of season 2.
Davor became the ‘anti-hero’ of the series, the character you take away with you. The final scene he and Christian share together speaks volumes, I feel.
IMDB gives Before We Die a solid 7.8 rating. Interestingly Season 1 ratings were consistently higher, up to or over 8 for most of the 10 episodes, so season 2 does seem to have lowered the rating. I would give it a good 8.2 for edge-of-your-seat-what-happens-next… and just how much smarter can Davor get?
TV binge watching at its best, Before We Die is a crime drama you would be mad to miss.
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Walter Presents Trailer for S1:
Walter Presents Trailer for S2: