When we first heard about the new Danish series The Nurse, we thought it was about the Charles Cullen case in our home state of New Jersey. But it appears that Denmark has its own notorious serial killer nurse case, and the new series depicts the killer in a way we don’t see all that much.
THE NURSE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Scenes from a small, industrial town in Denmark. “FALSTER 2012”, a graphic indicating where and when, appears on screen.
The Gist: An older man named Arne (Jesper Hyldegaard) comes back from the bar with a bag full of beer. As he talks to his dog about all the people who were talking to him, he passes out. His brother Kenny (Dick Kaysø) comes by and finds Arne on the floor. At the hospital, he comes to and seems as cranky as ever; he wants to go home to mow the lawn. But that night, he suddenly goes into cardiac arrest and dies. We see a closeup of someone adding a drug to his IV line before that happens.
Fast forward to 2014. Pernille Larsen (Fanny Louise Bernth) has just moved to Falster to be closer to her daughter’s father. She also just finished nursing school and is getting her first nursing job in the emergency department of a local hospital. The hospital has a bad reputation around Denmark, but she’s just happy to work in the profession and is nervous as hell.
On her first day, Pernille is given a pager and instructed on what to do when someone codes. Almost immediately, a code happens. She goes to the room and sees Christina Hansen (Josephine Park), a nurse who seems to be fully in control of the situation. Christina is also the nurse that Pernille is going to shadow in order to learn the ropes.
They get along great; Christina is extremely cool under pressure and is definitely not as stodgy as the rest of the nurses. On Pernille’s first night shift, Christina helps Pernille save the life of someone who coded by singing “I Will Survive” to help Christina get the right rhythm with her compressions. When the doctor, Niels Lundén (Peter Zandersen), calls the two of them “The dream team”, Christina takes the remark and runs with it, nicknaming Pernille “Dream Team.”
There are certainly cliques in the ER, and Pernille finds herself in the clique with Christina, who likes to drink at clubs after work.
Back in 2012, the doctor who did Arne’s autopsy tells Kenny that he died from an overdose of morphine and diazepam. The only conclusion he can come up with is that Arne somehow got the meds and administered it to himself, which Kenny finds impossible on many levels.
In 2014, Pernille is a month or so into her job and is doing well. She checks on a young woman that has been in the hospital a few times. Not long after that, though, she codes, and she can’t be resuscitated. She and Christina go to their usual spot on the roof to blow off steam, and Pernille expresses that she just can’t handle seeing patients like that dying on her watch. Christina reassures her that she has all the talent to be a top “ER girl.”
Later, Pernille sees a syringe in the garbage of the dead woman’s room, one that seemed to have diazepam in it.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? While The Nurse is based on the book The Nurse: Inside Denmark’s Most Sensational Criminal Trial by Kristian Corfixen, about the real life case of Christina Hansen, it certainly has a similar narrative to The Good Nurse, which was about the real-life story of American serial killer nurse Charles Cullen.
Our Take: What we found very interesting about The Nurse, created by Kasper Barfoed, is that he isn’t interested in showing Christina Hansen as either a creep or a monster. After the first episode, we don’t even know for sure that Christina is the killer, though we know we’ll find that out eventually. We just see Christina as a dedicated nurse who’s a little wild, a bit off kilter compared to the other nurses, but dedicated to her job and still excited when she saves a life.
Again, that search for the thrill might be what motivates Christina; she stops the patients’ hearts with the drugs, then gets the rush and admiration that comes with saving the person. The risk she takes is that the patient doesn’t make it. But that seems to be an acceptable risk for her.
Park, who was so good playing another off kilter medical professional in the dramedy Baby Fever, also does a fine job here of making Christina utterly normal. She just seems to be a dynamic, fun person who loves what she does. Bernth plays Pernille as eager but skeptical, and we were glad to see that she’s already suspicious of Christina by the end of the episode. It may take another full episode for her to be truly doubtful of her friend, but at least she’s not guileless regarding what’s going on.
Sex and Skin: None in the first episode. Pernille sets up a date with Niels, the ER doctor, who seems to be a love ’em and leave ’em type. Not sure if that will lead to anything sexy.
Parting Shot: Pernille asks another nurse if diazepam was administered to the dead patient. The nurse replies “no.” Pernille stares for a second, then deposits the syringe in the sharps container before she leaves the room.
Sleeper Star: We’ll give this to Peter Zandersen as Niels Lundén, the ER doc. He has grown into the job in this downtrodden town, because he sees people with all sorts of illnesses who need his help. Will Pernille confide in him as she figures out things about Christina?
Most Pilot-y Line: Pernille and Niels banter about the night-shift sack race when they see each other at the club. Pernille says she knows all about sack race strategy because “I was sack race champion in daycare.” Banter is such a hard thing to write into a script, isn’t it?
Our Call: STREAM IT. The Nurse approaches its serial killer story by showing a killer that doesn’t fit the usual profile, and that by itself is enough to watch the four-part series.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.