The ultimate guide to the Swedish crime show Beck

If you’ve ever been known to binge-watch shows like Wallander or The Bridge, there’s a good chance you’ll also love the Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. These books have inspired their own television series. Beck is a brilliant show that’s been around for over 20 years. Like the novels, Beck is a police procedural that casts a critical eye on Swedish society via a hard look at its dark underbelly. But if you’ve read Sjowall and Wahloo’s 10-book series, you’ll soon realise the television version is only Beck in name. The stories aren’t really derived from the novels but the show does take their characters, setting and atmosphere.

The TV series opens with the Martin Beck you’ll recognise. Peter Haber stars as lead detective Beck of the Stockholm-based Murder Squad. He’s a lonely divorcee cop who worries about his fiercely independent daughter Inger, who in turn chides him about his hypochondria. Although mild-mannered, Beck has a strong sense of justice and shows his passion when his chief fails to support the squad’s efforts.

Beck’s partner Gunvald, played by Mikael Persbrandt, is a charismatic, well-dressed detective with a strong presence and a hair-trigger temper. He suffers no fools, often solving problems with his fists. Fans of the books will note the absence of Kollberg, Beck’s beloved philosopher-partner, who has already left the force when the show begins. Beck has no-one to talk to anymore except Grannen (Ingvar Hirdwall), his weird neighbour in the next flat who becomes a best friend. Their after hours balcony conversations serve as a mirror to Beck’s mood. Besides stalwarts Haber and Persbrandt, there are lot of personnel changes in the Murder Squad over the years. One notable early member is the late Michael Nyqvist of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fame, who plays investigator John Banck.

Beck started in 1997, penned by the exemplary team Rolf and Cilla Börjlind, who have also written screenplays for Wallander and Arne Dahl as well as their own novels. Beck is a gripping procedural with fascinating cases that will often take unexpected turns. Like Wallander, there are often parallel developments in Beck’s personal life wherein he contemplates the evils in society and his own mortality. And like Wallander, the show tackles head-on the issues that are the stock and trade of Nordic noir. The discovery of a corpse becomes a Pandora’s box for society’s ills. Issues of immigration, drugs, corporate greed, human trafficking and xenophobia all thrive where class inequity enables crime in complicated ways. Although the television show is a socially critical vehicle like the books, gone is the mordant, leftist tenor.

The Beck/Gunvald formula worked for many years until Persbrandt left the show and was replaced by the dazzlingly grizzled and appealing Kristofer Hivju, who also played a wildling warrior in A Game of Thrones. Here, he is equally unconventional as Beck’s new partner Steinar. With a new season on the horizon, we are looking forward to the developing chemistry between gloomy Beck, exhuberant Steinar, and the rest of the Murder Squad. Until series seven begins, here is your Beck season by season episode guide.

Beck Season One 1997-1998

We are introduced to the Murder Squad: Martin Beck (Peter Haber), Gunvald Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt), departmental cyber expert Lena Klingstrom (Stina Rautelin) and finally Joakim Wersen (Per Morberg), the annoying chief whose fast-track style hinders rather than helps their investigations. Beck’s cases confront issues of immigrant child welfare, drug smuggling and biological warfare. While dealing with family problems, a headstrong daughter and the death of his only son, Beck also tackles two serial killers while engaging in territorial battles with Swedish security service Säpo and the Russian embassy.
Watch season one here on Amazon

1 – The Decoy Boy

Lockpojken
Everything begins as Beck and Gunvald ruminate on the absence of Kollberg. Beck is annoyed by his inexperienced younger boss Joakim Wersen, whose quick-results attitude loses them a case. After arguing with both his daughter and ex-wife, Beck’s melancholy deepens when he learns he may have a serious illness and even his weird neighbour can’t cheer him up. The squad investigate the murder of an immigrant boy who turns out to be part of gang of rent boys who are being murdered, perhaps by a paedophile. Cyber cop Lena Klingstrom is called in to track their sleazy pimp’s Internet activity, but she may have been chosen by Wersén to spy on Beck’s maverick methods. Beck decides to disregard his boss and use the surviving boy as a decoy.

2 – The Man with the Icons

Mannen med ikonerna
The wife of Oleg Vassiljev, mortician and pious collector of iconography, is found dismembered. The homicide team learns that he is also a Russian defector. Säpo is very interested in the Russian connection but, for their own secretive reasons, likes another suspect better. Martin must negotiate with Russian security at the Embassy and solve the case before Säpo wrests it from the team. Beck glances at a parallel investigation of a Poland-based drug smuggling ring and recognises his own son Micke in surveillance photos. When Inger learns of the existence of her half-brother, she is keen to meet him.

3 – White Nights

Vita nätter
When Beck’s team closes in on a Polish amphetamine smuggling ring’s delivery van, it turns out the driver is Beck’s son Micke Sjogren, who they use as bait to trap the untouchable kingpin Gavling. When Micke is gunned down to make an example of him, Martin has a breakdown and vows to quit the force. The team soldiers on without him, but soul-searching Beck cannot resist his calling and returns. The team worries that Beck’s motivation may be vengeance. When he hunts down the killer, will he collar him, or will it be eye for an eye?

4 – An Eye for an Eye

Öga för öga
A serial killer is slaying women and taking their eyes. The team must find the link connecting the cases before the media gets wind of it and compromises their investigation. Wersen bristles when Beck goes behind his back with a reporter and leaks information to aid the investigation. Beck, who still grieves for his son, and Lena, who struggles with a break-up, become closer through mutual comfort. Beck realises the eyeless victims come from the same class and hometown, where in the past they were party to a hushed-up scandal. The race is on to protect the sole surviving member of the class and Lena’s life is put in danger when she becomes unwilling bait.

5 – The Pearl Hotel

Pensionat Pärlan
When an immigrant blows himself up in a taxicab, it seems at first to be a terrorist act. Forensic evidence later indicates a botched cesium smuggling ring orchestrated by the criminal overlord Gavling, whom the Murder Squad have long wanted to nail. Through the Chechen mafia, Gavling smuggles the explosive cesium using desperate immigrants as mules. Gunvald, while driving, accidentally hits and kills a young immigrant girl whom later nobody claims. Determined to find the dead girl’s parents, he is drawn into the world of orphanages and immigrant anchor babies and an unexpected connection to the cesium ring.

6 – The Monster

Beck’s peculiar neighbour has sustained an injury.

Monstret
In the darkest episode yet, a bomb scare near the police precinct prompts the bomb squad to destroy a suspicious suitcase from a distance, only to discover it contains instead the remains of an infant. The Murder Squad races to identify the child while Wersen frets about the press and the ensuing blame game. Beck’s personal life focuses on his love for Lena and becoming a grandfather, as Inger announces her pregnancy. When the infant’s murdered mother is found, the media’s rush to judgment labels the husband the guilty monster. Beck thinks he is innocent, but the backlash has driven the husband to desperation. The bomb squad captain returns to the station with a heavy heart and new insight into the perpetrator, but in the end there are no winners.

7 – The Money Man

Moneyman
The ominous first scene sets the tone as Beck wakes from his living nightmare of Gavling’s continuing habit of murdering innocent people, including Beck’s own son. Wersen warns Beck that his relationship with Lena could put the team in jeopardy, but Beck’s troubles are allayed upon meeting his new grandson Wilhelm. The apparent suicide of an old acquaintance in the police force named Nordmark troubles Beck, who is suspicious of the state of the body found on a park bench. Normark’s closeted gay lifestyle might hold clues or not, but Beck consults the gay community to find answers. All roads lead to Gavling, the titular Money Man, whose menacing spectre is the unifying arc tying all the episodes together. Gavling now sets his sights on his old enemy Beck and terrorises his family, culminating in a dramatic showdown.

8 – Night Vision

Spår i mörker
Someone is decapitating commuters in the Stockholm subway, sending the city into a panic. Beck and Lena’s well-deserved vacation is interrupted, and he is very resentful. When the Murder Squad doesn’t get immediate results, the investigation is taken from them, creating tension all around. As usual, the maverick Beck continues his own investigation, in hopes of catching the culprit quickly so he can focus on his failing relationship with Lena. Instead, he is drawn into a disturbing cult of Internet gamers who raise the stakes of their online role playing, bringing it into the real world of murder.

Beck Season Two 2001-2002

Cop killers, mafioso, and secret lives. The second season brings with it a new chief in the form of Margareta Oberg. Lena Klingström is out, young Alice Levander is in, and Gunvald has to deal with it…
Watch season two here on Amazon

1 – Revenge

Hämndens pris
In this thrilling episode, a routine police check on a car with a flat turns into a brutal murder. The officers are gunned down in cold blood by a group of munitions thieves led by a sadistic man with a bitter grievance towards the police. Lena Klingstrom has left for a job in Malmo (don’t worry she’ll be back), so Beck and team are joined by Sara Beijer to find the killers and figure out how they intend to use the stolen explosives. One of the victims is a close friend of Gunvald’s who was visiting his home at the time of his murder. He promises the widow and son justice, but vengeance blinds him as he strikes out on his own, harming the investigation. Amidst a diversionary bomb threat, the nail-biting finale has Beck and Gunvald both converging on what becomes a tense hostage situation.

2 – The man with no face

Mannen utan ansikte
Alarm system salesman Jorgen Beckman is stabbed to death during his routine dog walk, and when the Murder Squad arrives they learn to their horror that his face is missing.
The short-staffed squad brings in Josef Hillman (Hanns Zischler), veteran and old friend of the team, but the new chief Oberg (Marie Goranzon) wants a new woman officer to round out the team. Stina Ekblad, who would later play Wallander’s coroner, plays the distraught wife who recalls a phone call and visit from a foreigner just before the murder. It soon becomes clear that her husband had been having affairs with several clients during his housecalls. One such woman is visibly upset and her Pakistani husband is investigated in light of honour killings known as karo-kari, traditional in his hometown. Oberg introduces new investigator, Alice Levander (Malin Birgerson), and admonishes the obstinate Gunvald to behave and curb his misogynistic tendencies, or else.

3 – The Cartel

Kartellen
A Greek restaurant owner refuses the overtures of the Yugoslavian mafia, who have a stranglehold on the catering industry, and is butchered in his own restaurant. The  criminals have an insider who tips them off before governmental inspections. When the chief inspector is the next one murdered directly after a surprise re-inspection, Beck is anxious to know what he found. Gunvald arrives to work on crutches after spraining his ankle, and Levander proves her mettle as his replacement in the field. The jealous Gunvald is in no mood to appreciate her competency and his escalating tantrums threaten the harmony of the team and, as they close in on the gangsters, even the operation itself.

4 – The Recluse

Enslingen
A pensioner in a remote island community is found stabbed to death. Before Beck can get a handle on the case another body, that of a young Thai women, is found in a nearby archipelago. Her tattoo is recognised by Sven Adolfsson, an expert in sex-trafficking who is recruited by Gunvald. Adolfsson identifies her from a Thai bride website. Gunvald’s jealous tantrums continue and Oberg considers transferring him. When a videotape surfaces of the dead pensioner having sex with a Thai woman surfaces the two cases become linked and the tragic truth comes out. While Beck bristles at Gunvald’s recruiting of Adolfsson behind his back, Levander recognises him as a former co-worker who sexually harassed her during her days at the academy. Gunvald, in a sudden about face, stands by Levander, foiling Oberg’s plan to boot him.

5 – Sender Unknown

Okänd avsändare 
A nervous corporate accountant arrives at the airport with a one-way ticket to Malaysia, but is assassinated before he can reach his gate. Meanwhile, a disgraced reporter receives a diskette which points to high-level embezzlement of corporate funds and sees a chance to redeem himself with the monster scoop. As Beck’s team investigate the obvious professional hit, they narrow it down to known hitmen. The reporter receives threatening messages, but by the time Beck responds the reporter is killed by a bomb in his home and Beck realises too late the murder and the investigative article are the same story. As the wife recovers in the hospital, she identifies the hitman from her visit to a local video store. When forensics determine the bomb was embedded in her rented videotape, they can’t explain how the hitman did it.

6 – The Ad Man

Annonsmannen 
A serial rapist and murderer is luring women through for sale ads posted on bulletin boards. The latest victim is missing and feared dead. When Beck’s team links the case to the ads they are flabbergasted to realise the cell phone used belongs to one man while the caller uses the name of another known serial rapist. When both their alibis check out, the police are still in the dark because the cellphone used was in the man’s apartment the whole time while he was away fishing, and the neighbour has the only extra key. When Alice Levander later calls the cell number, surprisingly the murderer responds and sets up a meeting, so the team set up a trap that they soon regret.

7 – The boy in the glass bowl

Pojken i glaskulan
Young mother Monica Svensson is bludgeoned to death and her autistic son, covered in blood, may be the only witness, if not the actual murderer. The prosecutor decides to shelve the case and place the young boy back in an institute, but Beck has doubts about the case’s hasty resolution. Beck interviews the largely absent father, who wants custody, and Gunvald looks into the finances of the mother who only worked part time but somehow could afford the institute’s high fees. Hillman calls in sick after a mysterious date, and Beck worries about his old friend. When it’s learned Monica had been prostituting herself to pay for her son’s care, her phone log reveals that some of her sugar daddies are in the police force and the prosecutor’s office. When the boy finally breaks his silence using artwork, Beck’s team converge on the institute to prevent another murder.

8 – Blind Profit

Sista vittnet
Someone has killed a group of Latvian prostitutes and destroyed their faces with acid, but it is unclear why. One of their group, Sofia – played by Sofia Helin, later of The Bridge – survives and is on the run. Gunvald infiltrates the human sex trafficking underworld, hopefully get to Sofia first. Beck learns he has a heart condition, but at his favourite restaurant he is distracted from his gloom by the mysterious woman Lillemor Fransson (played by Gunilla Röör). Beck is smitten, but duty interrupts their budding romance. It’s learned that the Latvian women were not brought in for prostitution but as guinea pigs for an experimental AIDS drug that left them blind. The drugs company that paid the thugs for the Latvian women wanted them dead, and when surveillance on its headquarters reveals Lillemor as part of the group the brokenhearted Martin Beck soldiers on.

Beck Season Three 2006-2007

New season, new crew. An old friend joins Beck and Gunvald in the Murder Squad as they tackle domestic abuse, child murder, gambling addiction, bad corporations, art theft, teen suicide and the death of one of their own.

1 – The Scorpion

Skarpt läge
The season opener sees the staff refreshed with newcomers including Bodil Lettermark, played by Ing-Marie Carlsson of My Life as a Dog fame. One of the most riveting and heartfelt episodes, The Scorpion focuses entirely on the subject of domestic abuse. A woman trapped in an abusive relationship sees her chance to escape and flees with her kids. Soon after, a murdered man is discovered rolled up in a carpet in her home. When he’s identified as her ex-husband, Beck is surprised to learn from a woman’s shelter that the woman’s abuser was not her husband but an unknown member of the police force. What’s worse, the monster in their midst has volunteered for Beck’s own team to track her down. Gunvald agonises when he sees in the crime database his own estranged sister’s abuse report. The suspense of both cases is riveting.

2 – The Unclaimed Girl

Flickan i jordkällaren
Beck sees old flame and former Murder Squad member Lena Klingstrom at a party and Gunvald begs her to come back to the team. And just in time, because a young girl is found dead in a shack in the woods, laying in a cot almost peacefully, near an untouched plate of food. When a neighbour is found hanged and his suicide note takes responsibility for the girl the case still doesn’t make sense. The little girl had died of starvation and her identity is still unknown. A mentally disturbed man in the vicinity holds part of the answer, but the other part of the puzzle lies in Berlin, where Beck summons the help of his friend Inspector Sperling.

3 – The Vulture

Gamen
The disappearance of the sports minister, a personal friend of Oberg, is upgraded to a suspected murder case when it’s found he was a gambling addict with a huge unpaid debt to known criminals. Lena Klingstrom is back on the team, but Beck is still ambivalent about their former relationship. As Beck sorts out the timeline leading up to the minister’s disappearance, it leads along two separate paths: a low-level criminal called The Vulture and the highest offices of the Social Democrat party. Lena’s foray into the illegal gambling world puts her in danger.

4 – The Attorney

Advokaten
An attorney about to drop a bombshell concerning a multinational corporation’s malfeasance is murdered in his bed the night before his big day in court. The corporation had an obvious motive to silence him. As Beck and his team search his apartment for the damning document they unveil the grey world of the attorney’s relationships with the criminal underworld. They also investigate his terrified mistress, who shared his bed when he was stabbed to death and who escaped to the bathroom to call the cops. The key to this intriguing mystery lies in a diamond heist and the tolling of church bells.

5 – The Japanese Painting

Den japanska shungamålningen
While team building at a spa, Beck is reunited with his German colleague Hans Sperling to investigate an international art fraud ring. Someone is murdering those in the ring itself and arranging their corpses into tableaux reminiscent of works by the great masters. While Beck investigates Chagall fakes, Gunvald investigates Sperling, who is Beck’s close friend, but the detective is also an art connoisseur who encountered the first corpse.

6 – The Weak Link

Lena Klingstrom questions the suspect.

Den svaga länken
Every parents’ worse nightmare becomes reality when a couple finds their daughter raped and murdered soon after she called them from a park near their home. Beck’s team questions the man who happened upon the crime scene while Gunvald grills the cabbie who chatted her up on the street. Beck notices a pattern with other rape cases in the area, and it runs straight down the line of the subway. Beck becomes concerned for his own daughter Inger, more so because she appears smitten with Gunvald. When a person of interest is murdered, eyes turn towards his gang, and the truth is more horrifying than the Beck can imagine.

7 – The Silent Scream

Det tysta skriket
Two best friends are killed when a train runs over their prone bodies. Jiyan was being pressured by both her father and her coach to succeed as a gymnast. Moa also had a troubled life and was humiliated and menaced harassed by her former boyfriend. Maybe it was a suicide pact. Oskar, who struggles to prove his bonafides to Gunvald, tracks down the large footprints at the crime scene leading to a vagrant’s hovel. Beck struggles with a toothache while working on three suspects, all with alibis. This episode, with powerful performances, is a scathing indictment of society’s failure to protect teens from suicide, cyber predators and bullying.

8 – In the Name of God

I Guds namn
A paparazzo bludgeoned to death might be linked to a right-wing religious sect called the Brotherhood of Lot. They are led by the charismatic Erik Gindorf and are brutally targeting homosexuals. In this episode, Beck must tend to his colleagues and makes some housecalls. Gunvald holes up at home because of burnout and Oberg also calls in sick when she is affected by compromising images on the photographer’s memory stick. As she waits for Beck to visit her, she becomes the next target. Gunvald, repentant for his absence from duty, takes it personally and is on a one-way path of vengeance.

Beck Season Four 2009-2010

Beck, Gunvald, Lena and Oskar have a new support crew in a season comprised of just two episodes that are nevertheless high-quality, and very dark.

1 – The Eye of the Storm

I stormens öga
Gunvald sports a beard in the season opener, wherein he encounters old fling Kim Reeshaug, whom he spots by chance in a cafe. Soon after, she and her young son are on the run and she texts Gunvald in desperation. Gunvald arrives too late, finding only a charred corpse and no child. We learn more about her eco-terrorist ties and her relationship to Gunvald as he strikes out on his own rescue mission. Beck’s got his partner’s back, despite both Säpo and MI6 breathing down his neck, as Gunvald ‘s rescue mission might also prevent a literal nuclear meltdown.

2 – Buried Alive

Levande begravd
A sadistic hooded man kills a high profile attorney by burying her alive in a coffin. Eyes turn towards the biker gang the fearless attorney was investigating. When the head of the gang is himself tortured and similarly entombed, the MO is a confirmed match. A third victim found in a forest makes the serial killer manhunt official. Beck goes public on TV, thus endangering himself as he seeks to engage the killer in a dangerous game. It seems like they have their man halfway through, but you’re kept guessing until the end.

Beck Season Five 2015

Five years have passed, and the Murder Squad is back with a refreshed team that new viewers will recognise. Beck, Gunvald and Oskar have a slick new chief, the smartly dressed and fastidious Klas Freden (Jonas Karlsson). The silent but ambitious Jenny Bodén (Anna Asp) and brilliant technician and cyber snoop Ayda Çetin (Elmira Arikan) round out the group. What’s more, the new pathologist Gunilla is chasing the unresponsive Martin, as Gunvald’s relentless teasing continues.

1 – Room 302

Rum 302
A young lady is found murdered in the room of a hotel near Sturesplan, the popular nightlife area in Stockholm where rich kids go clubbing and then sleep it off. The room was billed to a rich, married man whose brat son used his card, but the privileged boy’s DNA was not the only profile present on the victim. Eyes turn to his other companion that night, and also to the the woman’s estranged boyfriend. Without a DNA match, the murderer remains unknown until Jenny spots a detail that brings them to the very beginning.

2 – The Family

Familjen
A known criminal is gunned down in his own living room, but apparently it was just a matter of time. The distraught wife and her father are questioned as are his accomplices in crime, who themselves are looking for the killer. The boss Klas Freden makes a decision that leads to a dangerous riot in a housing complex. Gunvald falls for the young widow but stays focused on the investigation when he finds a link within the family to known drug smugglers.

3 – Invasion

Invasionen
Anti-Islamic sentiments and xenophobia run rampant in this episode. After two murders involving Muslims and a Chechen element in a construction company Freden fears terrorism and overreacts by calling in Säpo. The only one laughing is Gunvald, who predicted it and wins a 100 kronor bet. The precarious life of immigrants is portrayed as another cleaner commits suicide. Meanwhile, their lives in danger, the Chechen murder witness and his pregnant Russian wife struggle to survive the birth of their baby, while Oskar is on call for the pending birth of his own.

4 – The Hospital Murders

Sjukhusmorden
A nurse finds her
elderly patient dead, an empty morphine needle on a tray beside her. Her distraught and angry son, who has a history of mental illness, blames the resident doctor. Soon after, this same doctor falls from the hospital’s roof. Beck’s team investigate the son, the hospital staff and the doctor’s family too. It turns out the doctor, with marital problems and an anorexic daughter, was cheating with another doctor whom he called just before his death. Were the deaths even murders? Beck nevertheless sees the effects of infidelity on families and reconsiders his feelings for Gunilla. The final, understated scene with Beck and Gunvald will break your heart.

Beck Season Six 2016

The team suffers a devastating setback when it loses one of its stalwarts, but you’ll be pleased to find they’re soon joined by an equally enigmatic character. This time they tackle right-wing fanatics, rogue cops and cop killers.

1 – Gunvald

A journalist is found in his home, tied to a chair and beaten to death. A close friend who may be his lover is questioned and so is her jealous husband. The hunt is on for a loan shark whose prints are found all over the apartment, but his link to the dead journalist has more to do with a recent a bank heist and an unpublished manuscript. Gunvald is shot while combing through the collector’s apartment. Everyone is torn up, especially Oskar, but they focus even harder after being taken off the case by Freden. Beck once again disregards his superiors to catch the killer, but it’s not who he thought it was, and a tense hostage situation ensues.

2 – Steinar

Freden recruits Norwegian hotshot Steinar Hovland without consulting Beck. Beck, still grieving for Gunvald, meets his new partner at a crime scene, where a body is found burned in a blown up caravan on a trailer park. It’s feared the body is Mercedes, a known drug user. By the time Beck interviews her father and her case worker, the body turns out to be her benefactor, retired doctor Gert Falkengren, who ran a soup kitchen in the area with his wife. But the key may lie with a stone-throwing boy who’s mother is a politician and whose uncle is vigilante.

3 – End of the Road

Vid vägs ände
Steinar develops an easy rapport with Beck’s team during a critical case: the murder of a retired police officer and his family. When an arms cache is discovered in the man’s home police corruption adds another dimension to the case, and why are the policeman’s files classified? Freden attempts to play Beck and Steinar off against each other, but the corruption soon implicates the obstructing chief himself. Beck gives him an ultimatum: face the music or quit immediately. But Freden is already in line to head the National Police Authority.

4 – The Last Day

Sista dagen
The weary Beck hands in his resignation to his new chief, but he can’t quit yet. A senseless killing of two traffic cops links to the prior murder of a school teacher. We know who the killer is, and follow him as he kills again and prepares for another crime while Beck’s team races to identify him. Steinar’s troubled daughter Lina has moved in with him, but that may not save her from danger. Beck contemplates retirement with the full support of Inger, her son, and of course, his neighbor Grannen. After a tense standoff in a church with the murderer, we are left hanging on Beck’s choice.

Read our guide to the Martin Beck novels here.

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