When Netflix debuted its new take on detective Kurt Wallander back in 2020, most reviewers were less than kind.
Some were perturbed by the setting and timeline. The reboot chose to place the character in contemporary Sweden, instead of taking us back to the 1970s to fit with the timeline of the original Henning Mankell novels.
On top of that, showrunner Ben Harris had shifted the setting to present-day Malmö, rather than the tiny town of Ystad where Mankell based his character.
Others questioned who the drama was for, arguing that it fell between two stools – not impressing a younger audience who might yearn for something edgier, and not paying enough homage to the character’s origins to win over longtime fans. Others just flat-out hated it.
But, for me, the show had a darkness and a drive that’s rare in detective dramas. At a bracing six episodes, it was lean and mean, with no time to be anything other than direct with the narrative.
We motored alongside a naive young detective as he battled to untangle a nasty conspiracy. We weren't seeing the originals of a chin-stroking super sleuth, every twist and turn was a gut punch, and the young detective was often too late.
Pleasingly, the show also avoided a pet peeve of mine, something that can befall any property that originates somewhere other than Britain or the USA. The show is set in Sweden and star Adam Pålsson is a native Swede, but the rest of the mostly British cast speak in their own accents. There’s no fake Swedish lilt on English dialogue; we’re just trusted to suspend disbelief.
I’m delighted that Netflix has given the show a second run – Young Wallander: Killer’s Shadow, which arrives on Netflix today (February 17). Below, I've run the rule over the sequel, but first, some background…
Who is Kurt Wallander?
Though he’d enjoyed a distinguished life on Swedish television and on the pages of millions of books, most of us weren’t introduced to Kurt Wallander until 2008, when the downbeat, permanently troubled, but brilliant detective was brought to the small screen by the BBC.
With Kenneth Branagh in the title role, the show was sold around the world, and introduced a new generation of viewers to the character. Branagh played Wallander across four seasons, assisted by a young Tom Hiddleston in his first major role.
Branagh’s Wallander was a brooding presence with a whole load of vices and struggles: he drank too much, ate the wrong things, was dismissive of his colleagues and struggled to maintain his relationship with both his daughter and his father.
He’d have been more trouble than he was worth, save for his remarkable determination and incredible knack for solving the most complex of cases. Isn’t that always the way with TV cops?
The 2008 series was a critical and commercial success, and sparked a new interest in Mankell’s novels and the earlier Swedish-language versions of the story, which were being broadcast outside of the country for the first time.
Mankell sadly died in 2015, just a few months before the BBC broadcast a two-episode adaptation of his final Wallander novel, The Troubled Man. Branagh, who’d just made Cinderella for Disney and was booked to direct and star in a lavish new take on Murder On The Orient Express, had made it clear he was stepping down from the role, and it seemed that might be the last we saw of Kurt Wallander.
In 2019, Netflix announced that it would be reviving the detective for a new prequel, which would track the young detective as a young man. The streaming giant’s take on the young detective was billed as a prequel to the books, which begin with Wallander already in his early 40s, but is set in contemporary Sweden, rather than taking us back to the 1970s.
Adam Pålsson took on the role of the young Kurt Wallander, the only Swede in a cast that also included Richard Dillane, Leanne Best, Ellise Chappell and Yasen Atour.
As I've outlined above, the show didn’t do terribly well with critics, but it was enough of a hit with the viewing public for Netflix to give it a second run. Pålsson, Best, Chappell and Atour are all back to reprise their roles, with Tomiwa Edun joining the cast.
So is it any good? Well, let me fill you in...
Young Wallander season two – what’s going on?
Be warned, spoilers for the first season of Young Wallander follow.
When we left Kurt Wallander at the end of season one, he’d turned his back on the police force after the tragic death of Superintendent Josef Hemberg, his boss and mentor.
Along with Leanne Best’s Detective Rask, Wallander and Hemberg had helped to uncover a tangled conspiracy that began with the murder of Malmo teenager Hugo Lundgren. While investigating the case, Wallander was beaten up, stabbed and nearly blown to bits in the explosion that killed Hemberg.
Ultimately, the man he believed was responsible for the death of both Hemberg and Lundgren escaped justice, and a disillusioned Wallander handed in his notice, leaving Rusk alone with her grief.
As we begin Young Wallander: Killer’s Shadow, Wallander is still, effectively, a civilian – although as we quickly discover when he and Rusk meet up at Hemberg’s grave, she has yet to actually hand in his letter of resignation.
Eventually he’s tempted to return to work – much to the chagrin of girlfriend Mona, who he’s now moved in with – and begins to try and work out a relationship with the job that isn’t driving him to an early grave.
Rusk, meanwhile, has been passed over for promotion to head of the Major Crimes Unit, and is coming to terms with life under a new boss, Edun’s Superintendent Osei, who has orders to bring the department’s officers, who had more than a taste for going rogue, back under strict police protocol.
The case that draws Wallander back involves the murder of a young man in what appears to be a hit and run accident. Quickly though, it becomes apparent that not only was it very much not an accident, but the young man who died is not who he said he was. Intrigued? You certainly should be…
Young Wallander: Killer’s Shadow is compelling viewing. At just six episodes, the second season of Young Wallander motors through more story and plotlines than some shows manage in 22. The pace is relentless, and there’s a thrilling drive to every episode.
Pålsson anchors the series superbly, using Wallander’s youth to drag you along with him. He’s too emotional, too trusting and far too naive, but that makes him an endearing presence and someone you quickly come to care for.
There’s no Sherlock-esque chin stroking, just a young detective doggedly pursuing a case that always feels like it’s slipping away from him. Everything is on the line here for Wallander: Osei, the hardass new superintendent wants him gone, his relationship with Rusk has become fractured, and his relationship with Mona is in trouble as the demands of the case push him harder and harder.
The case itself, meanwhile, takes all kinds of unexpected twists and turns – and you’ll be gripped until the very final moments. We sincerely hope this isn’t the last we see of young Kurt Wallander.
Young Wallander is out now on Netflix.
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Tom Goodwyn was formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor. He's now a freelancer writing about TV shows, documentaries and movies across streaming services, theaters and beyond. Based in East London, he loves nothing more than spending all day in a movie theater, well, he did before he had two small children…