Maintaining quality in a tv-show about a family is tough to do. Because, while we all know that families can be filled with conflicts and drama, those conflicts don’t lend itself to the structure of televisual story-telling with conflict->resolution->repeat. Family conflicts stay unresolved for years or decades, which makes for less than great television. That is why The Sopranos had the mafia-stories, or Six Feet Under had the undertaker firm. In it’s first season, The Legacy had a great plot generator, as the death of matriarch Veronika Grønnegård, and the ensuing squabbles about inheritance, forced every secret and every dormant conflict into the light of day. But that story couldn’t even last one whole season, as most of it was resolved in episode seven, leaving three more episodes which all of a sudden felt less coherent and more like soap opera.
This is also where we find the show at the start of season two. The season finds all of the characters off in their own little story. Eldest daughter Gro (Trine Dyrholm) is making fake artworks and presenting them as lost works of Veronika, but gets into trouble when a piece creates too much interest. Eldest son Frederik (Carsten Bjørklund) has moved into a new house, but the marriage issues that surfaced last season remain unresolved. Youngest daughter Signe Larsen (Marie Bach Hansen), who only learned who her mother really was last season, is trying to turn the family’s old estate into a hemp farm, and is getting back into the dating world after the breakup with her boyfriend last season. Gro’s father Thomas (Jesper Christensen) has a new family with their own problems. And, soapiest of all, youngest son Emil (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) remains in a prison in Thailand, for drug related crimes.
None of those plot-strands connect to each other, and the story about Emil is so serious, with such high stakes, that it threatens to engulf the rest of the show. But weirdly enough, it is by allowing that to happen, that the quality improves. As Emil’s case worsens, the stress caused to the rest of the family, and the actions they are forced to undertake, brings buried misgivings and aggressions to light, creating one of the very best episodes the show has ever done in episode three. And as the family implodes in one corner of the show, the ripples force Signe to once again reconsider her identity. If the first season was her coming to terms with the legacy of being a Grønnegård, the second season, after a faltering start, becomes exciting once it takes a closer look at exactly what being a Grønnegård means. And whether or not it is a good thing.
The production values continue to be to the highest of standards. The acting, led by veterans Trine Dyrholm and Jesper Christensen, is second to none on Danish television. In his big showcase episode, Carsten Bjørklund creates a frightening portrait of anger, fear and despair, that could quite conceivably have won him the Emmy, had the show been American. Marie Bach Hansen continues to have a tougher job than the rest of her cast-mates, as her character Signe Larsen is still defining herself as a character, and is prone to making stupid and immature decisions, but in later episodes she’s allowed to be as dominant as the rest of the cast, and Bach Hansen rises to the occasion. The series keeps following the visual template laid down at the start of season one by actress-turned-director Pernilla August, with handheld camera and expressive, wordless sequences. The many dialogue scenes are punctuated with beautiful images of fires burning, cars driving at night, and people playing, creating, doing something new with their hands. Actor Jesper Christensen directs the first three episodes, and does a really great job.
The series main writer continues to be Maya Ilsøe, and the crew continues to involve more women than is perhaps usual. And the large amount of women creatively involved is easy to see on screen. The story involves the legacy of a great female artist, and the two characters with the most struggles continue to be Gro and Signe. They have to fight for their positions, not just as creative persons, but as creative women. The breakdown of Frederik centrally involves his unresolved feelings toward women – due to his very problematic relationship with his mother – and at the fringes of the show, older male characters often patronize the younger women, at times without they themselves knowing it. It is never showed in a finger-pointing way, it is just written into the fabric of the show. The women aren’t superheroes, and the men aren’t scum. Every person on this show is flawed, and has to fight his or her own flaws. But the show never forgets, that even the flaws inside us at times relate to gendered patterns in society.
With amazing acting and great visuals, the show could survive for quite a while even if the plot succumbed completely to the allure of the soap opera. But after a shaky start, the second season comes into it’s own as a worthy follow up to season one, continuing and developing the questions that were asked by those episodes. With two episodes still to come, and rumours of a third, concluding season to follow, it remains to be seen how much more the show has up its sleeves.