In the evolution of the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth, Stieg Larsson ended each book with a different scene that could have been drawn out of the Marxist dialectic of history’s progression: Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. What follows is drawn from an essay by Dan Burstein in Chapter 11 of The Tattooed Girl.
SPOILER ALERT: READ NO FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED THE BOOKS AND DON’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT CERTAIN EVENTS AND CONCLUSIONS.
ACT I: THESIS
At the end of Tattoo, Lisbeth, who has developed an emotional attachment and a sexual relationship with Blomkvist, has made the very difficult decision to communicate her loving feelings to him. On her way to doing so, with one of the first ever holiday gifts she has ever bought for anyone in hand, Lisbeth sees Mikael with Erika Berger, laughing and kissing outside Kaffebar. Having never before had this kind of emotional attachment, she now finds herself with other never-before experienced sensations of pain and jealousy. She wants to use the sharp edge of her gift for Mikael to “cleave Berger’s head in two.” She calms down and takes no action. But she has determined she will never allow Mikael into her life again. Act I of the Millennium Trilogy ends with Lisbeth forcing the demon of her love for Mikael out of her heart, mind, and world.
ACT II: ANTITHESIS
Lisbeth manages to keep Mikael out of her life for almost all of Fire, despite the fact that he is trying mightily to communicate with her and to help her when she is framed for triple homicide. He has no idea that she saw him with Erika, or even that she would care, given her hard-hearted, steely emotional persona. He also cannot understand why she won’t communicate with him. Several reviewers have commented on Larsson’s ability to use thoughts, dialogue, and email to keep the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth going for most of Fire. Emblematic of the increasingly virtual world we all live in–and unlike Nick and Nora Charles in the Dashiell Hammett novels Larsson loved, or Watson and Holmes, or any other sleuthing pair–Lisbeth and Mikael have most of their “conversations” over email. Yet at the very end of Fire, on literally the last page, he chivalrously rescues her from certain death at the farmhouse in Gosseberga where Zalachenko and Niedermann have tried to kill her. His heads-up thinking (taping her brain and skull together with duct tape and calling the ambulance) will save her life. So Act II ends with events having finally pulled Mikael and Lisbeth physically together again.
ACT III: SYNTHESIS
Their relationship will move through a high speed roller coaster of dangers, deaths, conspiratorial cabals, and plot twists throughout Hornet’s Nest. But in the end, Mikael will ring Lisbeth’s doorbell, and she will let him in, with his bagels and espresso, and the promise that he will show her how to use her expensive Jura Impressa X7 espresso machine. So Act III ends with resolution of a kind–they will be good friends. But it is not crystal clear that she no longer has “those kinds of feelings” for him, as she thinks to herself. Or whether the more important point is that, “standing on her doorstep , he was still fucking attractive. And he knew her secrets just as she knew all of his.”
We won’t know for sure what happens until we see the currently AWOL Act IV of the mysterious fourth book manuscript. But while the very last published line of the last book of the Trilogy can be interpreted any way you want, the suggestion of future intimacy seems palpable: “She opened the door wide and let him into her life again.”