‘Wallander’ review: ‘The White Lioness’ is a surprisingly upbeat episode

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Kurt Wallander must have a very honest face.

Four times during ‘The White Lioness’ he is to be found alone at the scene of the crime (twice stood next to a still-fresh corpse), but not once does the finger of suspicion point in his direction.

Season 4’s opener places the Swedish detective far from home, at a conference in Cape Town.  Not just a delegate either, he is there to give a speech entitled ‘Making A Difference’; although, as the opening scenes make clear, so far the title is all he has.

One legitimate excuse for not writing his speech is presented by the local Police Colonel.  With the ‘coincidence alarm’ ringing in our ears, we learn that a Swedish expat has gone missing.  The South African police seem inclined to believe that the husband, also Swedish, is responsible – maybe, whatever the country, it’s always easiest to blame ’those damned immigrants’.

Wallander takes a different view and retracing the missing woman’s last journey soon discovers an abandoned farmstead.  There he finds her necklace… and some severed fingers, but the wrong colour (and as it turns out, the wrong gender) to belong to the missing Swede.

The fingers belong to a young man named Viktor  (“Just a boy really” as Wallander describes him later) who has been trained to shoot a local community leader, but has got cold feet – meaning that he is now the target of the man who has been training him.  Wallander and Viktor strike up a friendship of sorts (the fact that most of it is conducted at gunpoint notwithstanding) before Viktor’s pursuer catches up with him.

Very charitably, Wallander looks to empathise with young men willing to kill for money: “Can you blame them…  Considering the kinds of places they come from?”  But his ‘babysitter’, Detective Grace Mthembu (Bonnie Mbuli) came from ‘that kind of place’ herself, and she doesn’t accept the argument: “You can’t just pin it on society…  Things can get better, be made better.  By all of us.”

The selfless community attitude espoused by Grace ultimately wins out over the self-obsessed greed of the real villain.  Realising that somebody else will have been paid to take Viktor’s place, the climax sees Wallander dealing with another armed young man.  This time nobody dies, Wallander saving not just the life of the target but maybe that of the teenage gunman too.  “Just walk away from it,” Wallander pleads with him – and is vindicated when wordlessly the youth puts down his weapon and does just that.

So it’s a triumph for selfless optimism over selfish opportunism – albeit only a small triumph.  “Do we make a difference?” asks Wallander, as he finally delivers his speech.  “Maybe, sometimes, not much.  But… we should never stop trying.”

Despite being set amongst poverty-stricken ghettoes, it’s a surprisingly upbeat episode – although the trailer for the rest of this final season suggests that the tone will darken.  We’re told this is unequivocally the last run, so enjoy it while you can.

Aired at 9pm on Sunday 22 May 2016 on BBC One.

> Buy the complete Season 1-3 box set on Amazon.

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