By Bruce A. Smith
For those who like well-written dramatic TV series with excellent production values, I recommend two recent additions at Netflix: “Occupied,” and “Nobel.” Both are made by Norwegian TV outfits, and both are sub-titled. But English is used as the common language on screen when characters interact with non-Norwegians. It works, trust me.
“Occupied” is a political action thriller, and it takes place about 15 years in the future. Global warming is recognized as a real threat as coastlines are flooding. As a result, Norway elects a “Green” Prime Minister, overturning the two prevailing parties that had shared political power in Norway for decades. The Green Party, as a move to push back on carbon emissions, shuts down all oil production in the North Sea and in in turn begins to invest in Thorium, which is a real mineral that has radioactive properties that could be used in safe “nuclear” reactors and replace oil as an energy source. That’s not science fiction.
However, the Norwegian economy goes into a tailspin without the oil revenues, and worldwide oil interests are furious. More importantly, climate change has disrupted the world economies along with unreliable energy production, so world stability plummets and poverty erupts everywhere. France is utterly broke and borrowing money from Germany to say afloat, while everyone is catering to Russia with its oil and natural gas resources. In addition, “Occupied’s” script anticipates Trump and Brexit (production began in 2015), and the USA has left NATO while the UK has left the EU. Thus the EU is the only functioning international organization and it seeks to stabilize Europe. Against this backdrop Norway and its Green Party are intractable, so France and Germany convince the EU to convince Russia to invade Norway and get the pumps running again. Russian is a willing partner to the EU’s betrayal of Norway’s sovereignty – remember, Russia is not part of the EU. Russia stages a “soft” coup in Norway by sending in Russian commandos by helicopter to kidnap the Norwegian PM and convince him at the point of a gun to accept Russian oil workers at the shut-down oil fields. The Russians will thereby start the oil production back up and send it off to energy-starved Europe, preventing economic collapse. The deal is: Norwegians will run Norway, but Russia will run Norway’s oil fields. In reality, though it’s Russian oligarchs and their thugs running the whole operation and the bosses get incredibly wealthy at Norway’s expense.
Key elements of the show revolve around the drama that some Norwegians want their independence at any cost and become Resistance fighters, while others understand the predicament and want the best outcome for all with the least amount of bloodshed. The show is an exceptionally thoughtful description of how climate change might play out, along with a keen look at “Power” in all its forms – economic, personal, political, militarily – as it is all done in a subtle manner. Everybody wants to stabilize the world’s growing chaos, but most of all they want the best for themselves.
There are two seasons of “Occupied” available and they have eight episodes each.
“Nobel” is quite different as it revolves around the realities of the War in Afghanistan, an underdeveloped plot line in American TV. Specifically, “Nobel” views the conflict through the lens of the role of Norwegian Special Forces. Although “Nobel” is dramatic fiction, it is the most real, authentic, and truthful portrayal of war and the men (and some women) who fight it. But it is not a documentary, group therapy, or a homage to warriors. Rather, it examines all of the political, economic and cultural forces that create war. “Nobel” has all of the tensions that “Occupied” carries, but it’s all different, too. Oddly, the title, “Nobel,” stems from a side issue of who will be the Nobel Peace Prize winner, which we learn through the course of many episodes is one element motivating some of the characters.
Nevertheless, the key forces behind the overt and covert operations of the Norwegian Special Forces are the interplay between the Foreign Minister of Norway (who is a prime candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize), Norway’s Prime Minster and his ‘base’ who don’t want the war at all, corrupt media personalities, oil interests in Norway, Afghanistan, and China who are looking to make oil deals with anybody they can, various factions of the Taliban and the whole Afghani population with all of its competing cultural dramas. Secret deals, competing deals, power plays and political deception all come home to roost as they fall into the laps of the Special Forces who have to do the heavy lifting – either protecting officials or eliminating bad guys – or neutralizing competing individuals who seek to kibosh whatever deal doesn’t suit them.
It’s complex TV watching, but it is never overwhelming. I found both shows to be utterly fascinating.
Lt. Erling Riiser, here shown in undercover garb, is the lead in “Nobel.” Photo courtesy of NRK productions under “Fair Use” agreement.
Promotional poster for “Occupied.” Clockwise, top left, Special Agent Hans Martin Djupvik is the lead, Russian helicopters descent on Norway’s oil platforms in the North Sea, Norway’s PM, Jesper Berg, is held hostage. Photo courtesy of Norwegian Film, via fair use agreement.