Since Stieg Larsson died before he could write a fourth Salander book, and the upcoming “sequel” by another author seems shaky at best and mercenary at worst, I looked to the trilogy to see where Larsson and Lisbeth might go, and thought about the weight of the dragon tattoo.
Metaphorically the dragon tattoo has Lisbeth’s back; it protects her from her enemies. Literally the tattoo is a reminder that she has enemies so powerful that she needs a dragon’s power to defeat them. The tattoo is a constant warning, imprinted on her skin, to be wary, to watch out for those who can sneak up behind her, to be on the lookout for betrayal.
Lisbeth seems to regard her own feelings for Blomkvist in this light, as a kind of self-betrayal, since she let down her guard long enough to imagine a romantic future with him. Blomkvist saves her life at the end of book 2, fights for her acquittal throughout book 3, and she avoids him. For some reason this makes for a more interesting story — maybe because Blomkvist works better as Lisbeth’s sidekick, her friendly neighborhood investigative reporter, than as a love interest.
At the very end of the third film Lisbeth is floating in her bathtub, mostly underwater and contemplative, having just brought down the last of her enemies without even implicating herself. The doorbell rings, she answers it dripping wet, thanks Blomkvist for all his help, and sends him on his way with the muttered “see you” that is a promise of renewed friendship. Her immersion in water looks like a cleansing and a rebirth, now that she is finally free. She no longer needs to fear her enemies and she feels only friendship for Blomkvist, which frees her of that other fear, as well. Where is she headed in a human sense?
Larsson left indications. In the books Lisbeth also stopped seeing her friend Miriam Wu, in this case out of guilt for putting Mimmi in harm’s way when Niedermann, looking for Lisbeth, nearly killed Mimmi. In the 2nd film Lisbeth sneaks into the hospital to see Mimmi before going after the men who hurt her friend. In the books Lisbeth is so upset by what she has unwittingly done that she stays away from Mimmi until months after her own trial and acquittal. At the end of book 3 Lisbeth is visiting Gibraltar when her crooked lawyer MacMillan asks her, greatly daring, what is upsetting her. Surprisingly, Lisbeth answers, telling him that Mimmi was hurt because of her, adding that she isn’t “in love” with Mimmi, but they are friends and the sex was good — as if to denigrate her feelings, whatever they are, since they don’t fit the conventions. But MacMillan argues that “friendship is the commonest form of love”, and Lisbeth flies to Paris to see Mimmi. In a funny, stilted, just-the-facts conversation, Lisbeth struggles to tell Mimmi what their friendship means to her, beginning with “I’m not in love with you, but…” Mimmi thinks Lisbeth is funny, and says the feeling is mutual.
In book 2 Lisbeth tries something similar with her old boss Armansky, showing up to say hello after a year away, but unlike Mimmi Armansky feels taken for granted at Lisbeth’s long silence and abrupt return; and Lisbeth gets distracted when Armansky says that her ex-guardian Holger Palmgren is still alive, recovering from his stroke. Armansky doesn’t know that Lisbeth has been watching over his business from afar (having hacked his computer), and prevented one of his employees from wrongdoing; and Lisbeth never enlightens him.
Holger Palmgren, more than anyone, understands how frightening it is for Lisbeth to care for someone, and gives her the space to show her affection however she can. He accepts her completely and has her whole-hearted trust in return. In the films we see Lisbeth feeding Palmgren, even joking with him, and so enlivened in the presence of the one person she doesn’t need armor with that she appears both older and younger than usual.
What we can glean from all this is that Lisbeth will continue to take those risks in the name of friendship, “the commonest form of love”, that may result in rejection or misunderstanding. This means enduring pain without recourse to vengeance, since rejection and misunderstandings come with the territory. As does empathy — if your friends are hurt, you hurt with them, and the cause of their pain may not be anyone’s fault, no psycho-killer to take down. Although the slow, awkward steps that can lead to closer connections with the people she cares about don’t add up to an idyll, the willingness to reach out, to let the dragon sleep, looks like Lisbeth’s path to redemption.