We’re sounding the Nordic noir alert siren. If you’re in the UK, tune in to Channel 4 at 11pm on Sunday 19 September for the first episode of When the Dust Settles. Set in Copenhagen, the series begins with an horrific terror attack in a restaurant that leaves a number of people dead or dying. However, the story is not so much about the hunt for the perpetrators as it is a look at how crimes like this come about and their effects. It’s an ambitious programme that is complex and unnerving, relying on some excellent acting to grip viewers who will try to work out what’s happening.
Everything starts off in a busy restaurant – voices, sizzling food and good cheer. We see fragments of a happy evening, with snippets of conversation, blurred a little here and there by an unsteady camera. An automatic rifle flashes onto the screen, shooting tears through the place and terror erupts. After a few seconds of audio carnage, everything goes quiet. Closeups of the scene left behind. Then a distraught man in his underwear runs into the restaurant, calling the name Albert. He seems to be looking for someone.
Then we spool back to nine days before the attack, and start picking up the stories of some of the people who were in the restaurant and others we don’t recognise. The man in his underwear is Morten Dalsgård, played by Jacob Lohmann, previously seen in Norskov. He and his wife Camilla (Julie Agnete Vang) are about to celebrate their wedding anniversary but first he has to go to work, where he’s meant to mend some leaking sinks but ends up meeting Holger, an old man in a nursing home who has given up on life.
We also meet Nikolaj (Peter Christoffersen), the chef in the restaurant during the shooting, as he uses underhanded tactics to buy out the former owner and make it his own. Working there is Albert, Morten’s teenage son, who is fired for a minor kitchen infraction. Nikolaj has provided the catering for a press event at a local prison, attended by justice minister Elizabeth Hoffman (Karen-Lise Mynster) whose father survived Auschwitz and who is trying to pass a bill that will free asylum seekers from the detention centres they are held in. She goes home to her wife Stina, who wants her to retire.
Then there’s Jamal (Arian Kashef), who comes from a Muslim family. We see him at a wedding with his overbearing brother, Chadi, a chauffeur who is furious with him for failing his driving test a fifth time. There are hints that Jamal is leading a double life. Meanwhile, 10-year-old Marie (Viola Martinsen) is on a trip to a migrant centre with her mother Louise (Filippa Suenson) to donate some clothing. When she needs to pee in the bushes, she finds some bullets and a stash of automatic weapons…
As you watch, each human story unfolds little by little, with all the ups and downs of life, relationships, achievements and disappointments gradually being teased out. There aren’t just eight storylines to follow, the timeline moves backwards and forwards as we are occasionally brought back to scenes around the attack. Suspense and suspicion grip you as connections between the characters and the event must be worked out. Led by what you see and your own assumptions, you’ll start to anticipate some of these connections. This leads to an unsettling, questioning feeling throughout. Is there a wider pattern, or some kind of butterfly effect going on, with certain actions or inactions by the players contributing to the carnage that will follow.
Attitudes around race, justice, immigration and Denmark’s history are tested, and once again certain aspects – positive and negative – of Denmark’s liberal welfare state are critiqued through what happens in the story. There’s a grey, bleak, urban feel to this Copenhagen – it’s Nordic noir but without snowy cabins, fjords and evergreens. It seems as though eating, drinking and meeting friends indoors is the only outlet people have from an otherwise dreary existence, and that’s the very setting where the attack takes place.
The acting here really is first rate, and When the Dust Settles was nominated for six different awards at ceremonies in Denmark and Sweden. It originally aired as Når støvet har lagt sig in Denmark starting in February 2020. Throughout, you’ll recognise faces from The Killing, Borgen, Norskov and other Danish TV shows. The series consists of 10 one-hour episodes. You’ll be able to stream them via Walter Presents.