Occupied, the most expensive Norwegian TV series ever produced, has landed on American shores with a bang (and a technical hiccup), and it is worth every binge-watching minute.
Had it not been for the technical glitch that disallowed Netflix US subscribers from accessing Episodes 7 and 8 of the 10-part, 90-million-kroner ($10.1 million/€9.3M/£7.1M) series, I would have binge-watched Occupied from start to finish, in one sitting, after it premiered on Friday. As it happened, it took two days to get things sorted.
Now that the entire season is up, I can only hope there will be a follow-up, because… dang! Occupied (Okkupert) is one of the most brilliant Nordic dramas on telly today.
And if it weren’t for the fact that it’s January, and there are many more Euro TV series premiering on both sides of the pond in 2016, I’d say Occupied is the best new Euro TV drama of the year. We shall see if it stays in the top spot come December. Moving on.
Based on an idea by bestselling Norwegian author Jo Nesbø (“Harry Hole” novels), Occupied is set in the near future, in the eight-month aftermath of Norway’s Green Party government’s shutdown of the country’s oil and gas production due to climate change.
Occupied opens in April. Countries in the European Union are hurting; they’re in a recession because of the energy crisis brought on by no energy supplies from Norway, the Middle East, or America. Meanwhile, Jesper Berg (Henrik Mestad, Lilyhammer), the prime minister of Norway, is promoting thorium for “sustainable, climate-friendly energy.” The thing is, production of thorium energy is years away, and the EU wants the energy it needs now.
The EU’s solution: Send Russia into Norway to get oil and gas production restarted and back up to previous levels, and distributed once again to EU countries. Prime Minister Berg has no choice but to agree to the demands, in order to avoid military action being taken against Norway. Berg’s cabinet members, though, see his cooperation as ruining their political party.
Elsewhere in Norway, life goes on as usual for most citizens. For some, it’s slightly different. Journalist Thomas Eriksen (Vegar Hoel, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) is reporting solely on the prime minister and the Russians, while his wife Bente Norum (Ane Dahl Torp, Codename Hunter) becomes a Russian sympathizer of sorts, owing to the influx Russian business that saves her restaurant from closure. And those who are furious about their sovereign nation being occupied by Russians become insurgents, joining resistance groups and taking extreme measures to force the Russians to withdraw from Norway.
Following kidnappings, assassination attempts, bombings, and murders, both Berg and Russian Ambassador Irina Sidorova (Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė, Wallander) rely on Norwegian Security Services officer Hans Martin Djupvik (Eldar Skar, Mammon) to help maintain diplomatic relations between the two countries and prevent a full-scale war from breaking out — a war that Norway cannot and will not win.
Yet by December…
Occupied starts off slowly, but quickly amps up to be one heckuva heart-pounding, nail-biter of a thriller, one that clearly demonstrates that there is no simple solution when economic and energy needs, national freedom and pride, and political negotiations and musts are at stake and seemingly at cross purposes. It all depends on one’s point of view.
Not one country, political party, or nationalist group comes out smelling like roses in Occupied. Not Norway, Russia, or the United States. Not the EU as a whole. Not pro-environment politicians or country-loving extremists.
It’s easy to see why the Russian government took umbrage at its portrayal as the aggressor in the series. Sidorova is a stone-cold, emasculating character, and the actions taken by her and other Russians on behalf of their country and the EU appear to be anything but friendly and trustworthy. (Not to mention the dialogue regarding Russia’s treatment of Chechens.)
Actions taken (or not taken, as it were) by the European Union, as indicated by the French EU Commissioner (Hippolyte Girardot, Dolmen) in Occupied, portray this bloc of nations as a bunch of lying, manipulative, heavy-handed bullies. And the United States, as represented by the gay American ambassador (Nigel Whitmey, The Fifth Estate), is depicted as a smug world power only out to protect its own interests, no matter what it takes. (Whether each is or isn’t in reality are altogether different topics.)
As for Norway, one cannot say what it is or isn’t in just one way or another, as the country is represented by various Norwegian characters and regarded from the perspective of each viewer of Occupied. So, depending on one’s viewpoint, Norway is a peace-loving yet weak and bully-able nation, a country whose eco-friendly but narrow-minded politicians can’t see the forest through the trees, one whose nationalists are prone to taking militant action, and/or a nation like any other whose population runs the gamut, from law-abiding citizens to criminal extremists. What is unarguable is that, in Occupied, Norway is utterly alone.
And Occupied is utterly riveting, a serious must-watch of 2016.
When presenting the series with the New Creators Award in October, the Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival jury hailed Occupied as “one of the most compelling series in terms of storytelling and intensity… incredibly well written, directed and cast… thrilling from the get-go…”
Henrik Mestad gives a tour-de-force performance as Jesper Berg — registering every moment of incredulity, every attack, every horror on his face, in his eyes — as alone in his efforts to protect Norway as Norway is in the world of the series. Kudos, too, go to Ragnhild Gudbrandsen (Mammon), whose performance as Wenche Arnesen, the head of Norway’s security service, evokes myriad emotions, from sympathy to disgust (again, depending on one’s point of view).
The series is written by co-creators Erik Skjoldbjærg and Karianne Lund, and directed by John Andreas Andersen (Headhunters), Erik Skjoldbjærg (Insomnia), Pål Sletaune (The Monitor), Erik Richter Strand (Valkyrien), and Eva Sørhaug (90 Minutes). It is a production of Yellow Bird (Annika Bengtzon, Irene Huss, Millennium Trilogy, Wallander) and GTV (Blood on the Docks, Dolmen, Versailles).