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PBS' 'Wallander' Comes to a Satisfying End
May 8, 2016  | By David Hinckley

Our final visit from melancholy Swedish detective Kurt Wallander proves slightly unsettling.

In a good way.

Sort of.

The last season of PBS’s Masterpiece mystery drama “Wallander” begins Sunday at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings), though calling it a “season” seems a bit overblown. It’s three hour-long episodes, each with its own, featured case.

Kenneth Branagh returns as the title character, which all by itself provides a reason to watch.

In lesser hands, “Wallander” could become just one more of the hundred damaged detectives who populate police shows. In Branagh’s hands, because he does so many little things so well, Wallander has become a splendid character, an almost tragic figure even when he busts some loathsome perp.

The personal tale that shadows this last season has Wallander starting to lose his memory and fearing he could be heading toward the Alzheimer’s disease that slowly stole away his father.

In the first episode these demons emerge slowly, almost subtly, as Wallander races to solve one crime and in the process prevent another.

He’s in South Africa for a law enforcement convention at which he is scheduled to speak. By coincidence, a Swedish woman has disappeared and the local police ask Wallander if he would speak to her distraught husband and assure him the case is being vigorously pursued.

He agrees to do so then can’t help himself from plunging into it and trying to find answers that seem to elude everyone else.

The trail leads him to some very dangerous people with no qualms about eliminating anyone who could be a threat to their ideological mission.

The story itself, oddly, feels a little formulaic, with the constant shadow of political strife and abject poverty as well as the predictable risks for an outsider trying to step in and sort things out.

But it’s engaging enough, and it lets Wallander close the episode with a brief speech about what it means to be a policeman. While he stresses the limits of their impact – he’s never been a glass-half-full kind of guy – he makes a compelling case for the value of simply being there and doing the best job possible.

His health concerns first emerge in the background, though it’s quickly clear they may not be just a passing problem.

By the second episode he’s back with his family, prominently including his supportive daughter Linda (Jeany Spark, left). He gets to know her father-in-law, who will become a focal point of the third episode.

In the second hour, however, Wallander makes an uncharacteristic mental mistake that helps convince him to see a doctor. By the third episode, it’s clear his brain is not working the way it has in the past, and he begins to feel he’s racing against time.

All this leads to an ending that’s multi-layered, and entirely appropriate for the series.

To say too much more might dilute some of the pleasure of watching Branagh navigate Wallander’s increasingly dark waters.

His final triumph, perhaps, is that we don’t leave the series feeling simply depressed, but grateful for the time we’ve had.

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