The Chestnut Man season 1, episode 1 recap – a grim, engaging opener

September 29, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 2
Netflix, TV Recaps
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The Chestnut Man season 1, episode 1 recap - a grim, engaging opener


The Chestnut Man has all the hallmarks of Nordic noir, and its grim serial killer plot is instantly engaging.

This recap of The Chestnut Man season 1, episode 1 contains spoilers.

Death, everywhere. Pigs, people. There’s a particularly macabre pleasure in starting a new crime drama, especially Nordic noir, which is cold and dark even on its good days. The Chestnut Man episode 1 starts with a policeman in 1987 stumbling onto the site of a brutal multiple murder and, one assumes, kidnapping, as a dirty little girl hides in a room full of the chestnut figurines that give the show its title. From behind, the cop is struck, blood splattering everywhere, all over the little chestnut men, arranged neatly in ominous rows. Weirdly, after that, you know as a viewer that you’re probably in good hands.

The Chestnut Man season 1, episode 1 recap

We pick up in the present day, in Copenhagen, on Tuesday, October 6, which is coincidentally the day that parliament opens up. And the focus, according to a radio broadcast, will be the minister of social affairs Rosa Hartung, who is returning to work for the first time after the murder of her daughter. We learn rather quickly that the murder was solved by the same police department that frazzled single-mother Thulin works for, though apparently not for long — she has put in for a transfer to cyber-crimes, presumably a less intensive posting, much to the annoyance of her frantic boss, Nylander. But in the meantime, she has a murder to work, and she’ll be working it with Hess, a Europol transfer who has been sent to languish there while the decision is made whether or not he’ll be fired. It’s a lot of presumably important information to take in at once, but that’s how these things are.

Rosa isn’t exactly keen to get back to work. Her husband, Steen, finds her sitting in her daughter’s old room, staring into space, already late. It’s one of those “one day at a time” things. It won’t be easy. Neither, it seems, will Thulin’s working relationship with Hess, who is deliberately enigmatic and wants to slip off in working hours to “sort out a few things” and make personal calls. That won’t help with solving the murder of Laura Kjaer, a 37-year-old dental nurse whose body has been found in a nearby playground. Her 10-year-old son “seems a bit slow”, his father died of cancer, and Laura had been seeing a new man before her death. The resident head of forensics, Genz, lays out the details of the murder itself. She was presumably sedated in her home and dragged there. She fought back until her hand was cut off, and then the rain washed away most of the evidence. Nearby, on the ground, is a little chestnut man.

When Rosa finally returns to work, she’s told by her assistant, Liv, albeit reluctantly, that she received an email threat pertaining to her daughter in some way. It included many of Kristine’s Instagram images, despite the account having been shut down a while ago, with the message, “I hope this hurts. You deserve to die.” Rosa takes it well, or at least seems to, but she immediately tries to call Steen, who doesn’t answer because he’s drunkenly dreaming about reuniting with his lost daughter. His son, Gustav, seems well aware that he’s turning to the bottle to deal with his grief, and he’s angry about it, telling his father not to pick him up anymore: “You’re not the only one that misses her.”

At the same time, Laura’s partner, Hans Henrik, returns home and seems earnestly upset by the discovery. He does play dumb about having the locks changed the previous afternoon, which Hess points out, but that’s apparently because Laura’s son, Magnus, who is being assessed for autism, keeps losing his keys. Is he protecting the boy? Himself? Did he even know the locks had been changed? He didn’t seem to.

Laura’s autopsy reveals she had received over 50 blows all over her body from a blunt, rough object — a blow to the eye eventually killed her, and the hand was amputated just before death with a battery-powered saw. It’s a grim fate, to put things mildly. And it doesn’t help that Hess is obviously uninterested, though admittedly he perks up a bit when Thulin is told that the fingerprints on the chestnut man belong to Kristine Hartung, Rosa’s daughter. Nylander refuses to allow Thulin and Hess to talk to Rosa on her big day and tells them to instead focus on the partner, but they both ignore the instruction and go straight to the Hartung home. They talk to Steen at first, but Rosa overhears and interrupts, telling them that, in the Autumn, Kristine used to sell chestnut men from the roadside. That kind of coincidence would be a bit too easy, though, don’t you think?

When Thulin returns home, her lover, Sebastien, is waiting for her, since her daughter, Le, insisted he came for dinner since she already knew he had been secretly sleeping at the house. Le’s grandfather (though no biological relation), Aksel, is a former cop himself. It’s an unusual but surprisingly open family dynamic, though it’s obvious here, as it was in the opening scene, that Thulin’s work takes precedent over her home life (hence the cyber-crime move). The fact that Le has been making chestnut men at school doesn’t help with the work-life balance, since it gives her an idea to go and speak to Magnus. When she gets there, she finds Hess has had the same idea. And, surprisingly, it’s Hess who is able to get through to the boy, framing his help as an important mission that’ll require all his skills. He shows him several photographs of the crime scene, and Magnus immediately identifies the chestnut man as not having been present when he and Laura had visited the day before. If it was put there at the time of the murder, that means this case and Kristine Hartung’s are connected. Symbolically, as Thulin and Hess argue about how to proceed, a chestnut falls on the roof of her car.

You can stream The Chestnut Man season 1, episode 1 exclusively on Netflix.

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2 thoughts on “The Chestnut Man season 1, episode 1 recap – a grim, engaging opener

  • May 17, 2022 at 7:29 am

    Thank you, I forgot who the big was and also the date the first scene was set, googled for the answer, found this really helpful.

  • January 12, 2023 at 9:43 pm

    Thank you Sue, I needed a recap to clarify the story so far, before going on to episode 2

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