What is Miu? On both a metaphorical and a literal level, this is the big question asked by Copenhagen Cowboy’s penultimate episode. As a physical matter, we learn that she may not actually be human — that she survived the freezing cold as a child, that being breastfed killed the woman who breastfed her, that her powers are not only real but enough to strike terror into the heart of an aged mob consigliere. But beyond that, she may function as an avatar of vengeance against the wicked, or perhaps simply a Two-Face style toss of the coin, deciding the fates of those close to her simply by existing in their proximity.
I suppose which side of the debate you come down on depends on how you think Nicolas Winding Refn himself thinks about his violent characters. Across his career, he has both glorified and mercilessly criticized his vigilante protagonists and antagonists.
And Miu doesn’t make it easy for you either. Obviously, her devotion to Mother Hulda and her determination to rescue her daughter Ai (Emilie Xin Tong Han) are noble, as is her instinctive distaste for gangsters and pimps of all kinds. At the same time, what are we to make of the way she treats her erstwhile mentor Danny when he gets shot by assassins during the gang war currently rocking Copenhagen? After killing all the attackers, she steps on his injured wrist until he succumbs to his wounds. Is this a mercy killing of some kind? Or is it punishment for his callous treatment of her now that a gang war is upon them and friendship matters less than blind loyalty? I can’t quite take the measure of it.
But there’s a lot of that going around. I figured that when Miu made off with the eight kilos of cocaine she and Danny had been tasked to transport and took it to Mr. Chiang in payment of her debt, that would be the end of it, and she’d spend the rest of the series battling with the Danish mob for this transgression. But we discover that Chiang is one of those legendary mob bosses who eschews hard drug sales, and goes so far as to pour this fortune in yayo down the drain. The delivery buys Miu some time, but that’s all; to buy Ai’s freedom, she must now kill a man on Chiang’s orders.
That man is Dusan (Slavko Labovic), the right-hand man, bodyguard, and best friend of Miroslav. So Miu pays a visit to the old man first, during which he convinces himself she’s out for revenge against him. He winds up on his hands and knees, expressing his regret for…whatever it is he did to her back in the day — begging her forgiveness, begging her not to put a curse on him. She agrees not to, though she demands an account of her origin. Miroslav eventually delivers one, while psychedelic images of her practicing her martial arts play out onscreen.
It’s a tremendous sequence: the Gordon Willis-esque lighting of Miroslav’s office, Zlatko Buric’s pitiful, whole-body performance as Miroslav — at one point the camera literally sinks down to the floor with him — and the 100% pure and uncut NWR vibe of Miu’s hallucinogenic dance.
And it leads to another sequence of sumptuous images: Miu poised Norman Bates-style against the wings of a bird of prey; a Texas Chain Saw Massacre climax-style silhouette of Miu and Dusan against the sun, a composition echoed when Miu calls Miroslav to give him the news of his friend’s demise.
But there’s more! The whole episode builds to an extended sequence in which the disfigured and hobbled Nicklas attempts to revive the preserved corpse of his magic-powered sister Rakel (Lola Corfixen, Refn’s real-life daughter) with the blood of their mother. The beauty of this final scene is how opaque it is. We never see the wounded Nicklas actually wield his sword against his mother, who bares her chest to him after hiking up her skirt in the most explicitly incestuous erotic image the show has yet served up.
In fact, the version of Nicklas we do see wielding the blade is whole and healthy and bathed in surreal purple light, not the natural real-life light of the mansion setting. Yet his crippled self does indeed dribble blood down his sword into his sister’s mouth, and she does indeed come back to life. So you tell me.
There’s only one hour to go in this series — or season? — and Miu still has a lot of business to attend to: Chiang, Miroslav, the gang war, Nicklas and his family, you name it. (Even my pet favorite loose end, André, makes an appearance this episode via his pop song music video.) Given the relative simplicity of the story and subject matter compared to Too Old to Die Young or even The Neon Demon and Only God Forgives, I don’t anticipate world-shaking explosions. But you know what? Fireworks will do just fine.
Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.