CELL 8 Review: Death Penalty, Be Not Proud

Mimosa Willamo, Richard Lintern and Leonard Terfelt star in the tense and twisting Swedish mystery series, debuting in the U.S. and Canada on Viaplay.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
CELL 8 Review: Death Penalty, Be Not Proud

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Cell 8
The six-episode series premieres Thursday, April 13, in the U.S. and Canada, exclusively on the ViaPlay streaming service.

Based on the third in a series of Swedish-language crime novels by writing duo Roslund & Hellström -- journalist Anders Roslund and activist Börge Hellström -- and first published in 2006, Edward Finnigans upprättelse was translated into English and published in 2011 as Cell 8. The book again featured Stockholm Police Detectives Ewert Grens and Sven Sundkvist, following them as they investigated a complex case that led them to wrestle with the consequences of the death penalty imposed upon a convicted murderer in the U.S.

Dennis Magnusson, who previously worked on a televised adaptation of Roslund & Hellström's Box 21, serves as head writer for the six-episode adaptation, which features Ewert Grens and Sven Sundkvist, but more directly follows the pairing of rising detective Mariana Hermansson (Mimosa Willamo, who you might remember from Finnish slasher Lake Bodom, 2016) and her new-ish Canadian boyfriend John (Freddie Wise), a singer in a rock band who gets into a physical altercation while on a cruise ship.

The first episode is a slowly-developing whirlwind of events that don't coalesce to any comprehensible degree until the second episode, and even then all the pieces don't begin to fall into place until the conclusion of the third episode. And that is only the start, as it turns out that the overlay of criminal elements is only meant to adorn the dramatic meat of what the series is all about: the death penalty.

It's told in a fresh manner that occasionally strains credulity, set to an off-key rhythm that keeps the viewer off-balance as it moves back and forth in time from the present day back to events that happened in the past, moving from Sweden to the heart of the U.S. in the unglamorous state of Ohio, U.S., as Governor Edward Finnington (Richard Lintern) demands "justice" for the death of his beloved daughter, Alice (Sarah Stewart). As events transpire, supervising prison guard Vernon Eriksen (Leon Herbert) and civil rights attorney Hanna (Katie Brayben) become involved in a death penalty case that questions whether the death penalty should ever be imposed.

If it sounds complicated, it is, and as certain events resolve and appear to be clarified, others pop up to add tension and reintroduce confusion. Directed by Johan Brisinger, the series is never less than intriguing, and the mysteries are (mostly) resolved, even if the answers may not be to everyone's satisfaction.

From my perspective as the resident of a state (Texas) where the death penalty is often carried out, and of a nation whose national politics have become ever more divisive, I found the series to be continually fascinating and sometimes uncomfortable, since it's presenting a distinctly Swedish view of the U.S. criminal justice system, which I've never seen before.

Not that the series is any less critical of the Swedish justice system, however, or of the propensity of the Swedish government and/or politicians to bow to the wishes of the U.S. government. Beyond that, though, some of the narrative twists and turns border on the risible and ridiculous, and fail to convince entirely. Even so, I found the series compulsively easy to binge, and couldn't wait to see how things resolved.

A friend often cited the old proverb, 'many a true word is spoken in jest.' In this case, it applies to the series: 'Many an uncomfortable truth is spoken in a Swedish crime series.' Let the viewer use discernment.

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Anders RoslundBörge HellströmLeonard TerfeltMimosa WillamoRichard LinternRoslund & HellströmSwedenViaplay

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