At a cabin by a lake in Norway three women gather to watch their husbands leave on a fishing trip. When the boat with the three men on board explodes the wives toast the explosion with glasses of wine.
Johanne (Synnøve Macody Lund), Rebeka (Cecilia Forss) and Kyra (Beate Bille, from Wallander), friends since their days as au pairs in Paris, murder their husbands by planting a bomb on their fishing boat. The police investigate the triple murder, which is complicated by the three victims being from Sweden, Norway and Denmark respectively. Well meaning Norwegian policeman Peter Wesselø (Kyrre Hellum, from Lilyhammer) investigates but is repeatedly frustrated by Swedish police commissioner Folke Lundgren (Peter Stormare of Fargo and Midnight Sun). As the women try to avoid suspicion they must deal with their late husbands' dodgy business affairs, a blackmail attempt and the unexpected appearance of a bag containing millions of euros.
Visually Black Widows is beautiful to watch, from the opening sequence, which cleverly subverts the viewer's expectations by showing what appears to be women's hands baking, then to them building a bomb, then to the scenes of the Norwegian countryside near the lake house.
It could have been difficult to sympathise with three murderers as the main characters, but in the little time they spend on screen the three husbands give an impression of being abusive, violent men. Johanne's husband Svein throws her phone into the bushes and tells her dismissively to "go fetch", while Rebeka fears for her daughter's safety since her husband Jesper brought a gun into their home, leaving it loaded. Voice over snippets of telephone conversations between the women give an insight into what their lives have become like with these men. The women come across as realistic, flawed people, and I found myself wanting them to get away with the crime, whether it was justified or not. At the same time I wanted Peter to succeed in his investigation despite the roadblocks put in his path by the Swedish police.
Black Widows is in part a gripping thriller, but it is much lighter fare than other Scandinavian shows like Millenium. The drama and suspense is balanced with comic moments, such as the Swedish Police Department's IT man awkwardly demonstrating how to get a recalcitrant vending machine to cooperate. Much of the humour comes from the long suffering good cop Peter Wesselø (Kyrre Hellum), who is like a Norwegian Steve Buscemi, and Kyra (Beate Bille) as she deals with her train wreck of a life, forced to share a flat with her twenty-something unemployed nephew who plays virtual reality tennis in his underpants and offers her unsolicited advice on personal hygiene.
There is plenty of suspense as well as humour, with tension rising towards a cliffhanger at the end of the first season. I for one will be eager to find out what happens next. Season One of Black Widows is currently streaming on SBS On Demand.