I, For One, Welcome Our New Eurasian Overlords
What would you do if you started to suspect that your country was slowly being swallowed by a foreign power? What would you do if you were the Prime Minister, having to deal with this outside pressure? What if maintaining peace, and protecting the lives of your people, meant betraying the very policies that got you elected?
This is Occupied, a Norwegian television show, now streaming on Netflix. The premise: The Green Party is swept into power where it promises to shut down Norway’s surprisingly large oil production industry. The EU and Russia are not happy about this, so Russia uses every trick in the book to insert itself on Norwegian soil, ostensibly to restart oil production. The show is not a huge time commitment, it’s only ten episodes. (It also has a kick-ass theme song.) It suffers, though, from too many coincidences.
The characters represent Norwegians from many walks of life- politicians, government administrators, regular people, yet are all connected through the events of the story. David Bordwell might call this a network narrative, which focuses on the ways seemingly unrelated individuals can affect each others’ lives.[ref]Think Crash or Babel for some not great, but well-known examples.[/ref]
The problem is that it makes the world of the story feel too small. It’s an odd coincidence that Bente is married to Thomas Erikson, a journalist with special access to the PM, whose body guard, Djupvik, tries to get information from the Russian embassy, which is right across the street from Bente’s restaurant, which is seemingly the only place to grab a bite in Oslo. The show is too small to show the swath of society I think it wants to- that might require a doorstopper of a novel.
It would be interesting to have someone like Bente completely isolated from the other plot threads: she’s a Norwegian whose business prospers with the increased Russian presence. This could happen to anyone- we could still see her isolation from other Norwegians and consequences for being a “collaborator.” Still, I understand the urge to have as many of your characters interact as possible. Her presence does flesh out Thomas’s character, too. It’s a dramatic conceit that we have to suspend our disbelief for.
I enjoyed the insidiousness of the “invasion,” which doesn’t involve tanks and troops marching up the streets of Oslo. Many people aren’t even aware of what is happening. A second season is already in the works, and I fear that this angle might be pushed aside in favor of a more straightforward plucky insurgent resistance plotline.
Prime Minister Jesper Berg is the most frustrating character for me- I understand his dilemma, but I still wanted to see him push back against Russian pressure, at least a little bit. Perhaps this is my outsiders’ perspective: I’m used to seeing the American military take on everyone from Nazi Germany to space aliens. Nobody bosses us around!
I was pleased to see text messages and computer screens being shown on screen and not in insert shots. Items on computers were handled especially well- instead of seeing an entire email window, we just get a narrow line of text that tells us what we need. Perhaps doing it this way still feels “futuristic” for viewers. The show is set Twenty Minutes Into the Future, and fits in well here.[ref]Unfortunately, I can't read Norwegian, so I don't know how this was handled in the script.[/ref]
Lastly, I’m curious about something. The show doesn’t seem to make much of the disparity in daylight Norway gets in the summer versus the winter. Let The Right One In, from nearby Sweden, used the winter’s almost perpetual darkness to great effect. Oslo still has day and night cycles, even near the solstices, but they might only be a few hours long. I wonder if other local movies and TV shows try to be consistent about this. Do audiences care? Or is it too difficult logistically for a production to keep track of things like this?