Thursday, March 21, 2013


There are a great number of movies and series with the title “protector” in them, so let us recall that this TV series is Danish and called “Livvagterne” in its native language.  is an accurate review, IMHO.   The series is considered “Danish Noir” as opposed to English, Scots, Welsh, French and so on -- each with it’s own cultural twist.  Americans have their own unique style, of course, and there is a particular world view coming out of Vancouver, BC, that I would not quite label “Canadian.”  It often includes the aboriginal population.  I normally follow English styles, but they can be viciously S/M, more explicit and more interested in perversion.  Consider “Prime Suspect,” “Wire in the Blood,” “Cracker,” and the like.  Of course, the English also do “cozies” and what might be called “Oxford.”   Great preoccupation with class. The French series I tried seemed still Existentialist and cramped, bitter and authoritarian but sexy.  The Welsh central detective actor has died and I can’t remember his name.  The Scots series (“Rebus”) is called “Tartan Noir.” I’m increasingly aware of “sub-categories” of the BBC, with special attention to the industry on the Tyne.  “Detective Montalban,” an Italian series, is not available on Netflix yet.

Generic “protector” shows vary according to who is being protected and whether the emphasis is on the object of protection or the psychological toll on the protectors themselves, which was the shift that distinguished “Homicide” in the beginning.  Others have followed that pattern, even when the protectors and the vulnerable become very mixed, as in “Oz” where the chaplains and warden try to protect prisoners and each other, and some of the vulnerable must make terrifying compromises to protect themselves, like becoming the slaves of more powerful men. “The Protectors,” the Danish version, has its own focus on relationships, family, love and loyalty with a tolerant attitude toward sex, but less interest in violence, not that it’s entirely gone.

I’ve only seen two years of the series and didn’t know there was a third until just now when I checked These shows can be streamed from Netflix, one episode after the other, like reading chapters in a book, which takes a while to finish but this one has a strong through-line that holds the focus.  Quite apart from the quality of production, which is excellent, and the wonderful aerial shots of various locations (especially the city at night), the professional but unfamiliar actors quickly become transparent.  This story follows an arc from the first episode when a young Egyptian woman with cheekbones that would make a Sioux groan with envy is able to hold her own and even shine during recruitment training for these elite guardians of famous people and national leaders.  

Her cohort includes two others; they become a close threesome.  Jasmina, Islamic, bonds with the Catholic one as a friend and the other, a Jew, as a little more than that, and the three are soon tight, living in an old church with a stained glass window depicting Abraham, the father of the three Middle Eastern religions represented by the three “protectors”.  The series does not shrink away from religious issues, which are causing so much conflict among the three global descendants of Abraham.  In the window Abraham holds a knife to the throat of his son.  

The series plots take a winding labyrinth through tales that go from near-farce when a stalker takes on the persona of an actress to an on-the-scene African exploit retrieving diamonds finally found in shit -- in a body.  There were ten episodes per year, paired to follow five stories. "Leon," who is the director and nearly invisible in the beginning -- only looks up from his desk to receive, unperturbed, more news of disaster and apocalypse.  “The world is ending!” announces someone.  “Yup,” says Leon.  “I’ll deal with it.”  His lover, an Ingmar-Bergman-worthy Liv Ullman with red hair, is his safety and sanity.  They swim on the beach near their home, warm-up together nude in a sleeping bag on the sand, and are married on a sailboat.  Leon guides his people through one crisis after another, in spite of interference by a politically appointed overseer, until gradually we understand from small clues what goes on in his head and how he learned it.

By the end of the second year the limits are reached.  The honorable and sensitive man has accidentally shot a child and cannot recover.  Jasmina has watched someone very much like herself die horribly as a result of an act of terrorism.  Jonas, the cold-blooded one, has lost the woman he loved the most, but refuses to admit she is dead because he believes in the afterlife.  Yet he goes back to his wife.  Leon resigns, fed up with the incompetence of those who have exposed him -- along with all the others -- to terrible suffering, loss and death, all for political power-mongering.

The issue of protection is a major one for me, but I won’t go into psych reflections here except to say that I’m sure that it’s behind my devotion to Westerns in the Fifties.  I was not alone.  The main premise of “Gunsmoke,” “Paladin,” and even “Rawhide” (where it was supposed to be the cows who were being protected) or “Wagon Train,” was Alpha Men giving tough and skillful protection.  By the time we get to more modern protectors like the NYPD cluster and the later, even more sophisticated, “Baltimore cluster”, motives and skills become the chief suspects.

A new element in the more recent crime stories is the possibility of CCTV surveillance, constant communicating, GPI locating, data crunching, tiny nano-bugs, and so on.  Most of the plots depend upon smart phones or pulling something out of a database.  The constant under-theme is how much law enforcement is justified in invading and controlling our lives.  In addition, the internet erases boundaries, esp. for crime, so law enforcement agencies -- previously local or national -- must work together in ways not always supported by communication.  Another issue is that things like metal keys have been replaced by thumbprint locks and card IDs, which can be diverted in inventive ways.

Sifting through the Google posts about “The Protectors,” I find that there is a predecessor series by the same writers called “The Eagle: A Crime Odyssey, ” which is streamable on Netflix.  The episodes begin with an eagle’s view of the country, then pick up some ecological detail: mountains, rugged shore, small household on a bluff with clothes flapping on the line, the face of a reflective man, flashback to a child.  Right away the sense of events overwhelming people and demanding intervention comes in the dramatic form of a huge airliner takeoff aborted in order to get the protagonist off the flight to supervise a terrorist take-down, even though he was going to see his dying mother.  Those are the key terms of being this kind of protector:  choose the greater good or choose the personal desire.  Americans go for desire.   Personally.

Here’s another interesting blog about the work of the writers,  Mai Brostrom and Peter Thorsboe.    There are other predecessor series.  I appreciate the terse, oblique, can-you-get-it style. Good for subtitles.  I’m sure they have been influencing American writers for a while.  Maybe American watchers are finally ready for them.  Maybe it’s the surprising return of the ’60’s and ’70’s Ingmar Bergman factor: serious, intense, thoughtful.  

I see the villain of “The Eagle” (“Ornen”) now -- he’s Leon, the hero of “The Protectors!”  Well, that actor.  Thomas W. Gabriellson.  Makes Clint Eastwood look like a scenery chewer.

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