In OCCUPIED (2015), a Norwegian TV series now available on Netflix (created by bestselling author Jo Nesbø), Russia undertakes an “iron hand in a silk glove” (soft in appearance but ruthless in reality) invasion of Norway, resulting in an amazing political thriller that had me on the edge of my seat.
Several years in the future, turmoil in the Middle East reduces oil production. The United States achieves energy independence and withdraws from its commitments there as well as NATO. In Norway, a green party, headed by Prime Minister Jesper Berg, ceases all oil and gas production after a hurricane devastates the country and causes a movement to halt climate change. The country is switching to a thorium-based energy source and hopes Europe will do the same. Desperate for energy and unable to switch in time, the European Union gives Russia the green light to seize Norway’s oilfields in the North Sea and impose other demands on the country. (No wonder this show upset the Kremlin.)
In this turmoil, we follow a number of engaging characters. Jesper Berg, the prime minister, tries to collaborate with the Russians to get them to leave, compromising his government and its platform in the process. One layer of the show is the politics inside the government and Berg trying to outsmart the Europeans and the Russians in a diplomatic cat and mouse game. Djupvik, one of his bodyguards, rises to become an important player in both Norwegian and Russian intelligence, producing another layer that functions as a spy thriller. Thomas Eriksen, a journalist, takes on Berg, the Russians, and the growing Free Norway underground, while his wife’s flagging restaurant revives due to patronage by Russian officials, marking her as a collaborator. Then we have the Free Norway underground, which grows steadily in popularity until it’s functioning as a full-fledged terrorist movement.
In each episode, these characters are increasingly put through the wringer as the occupation challenges their principles, puts them into no-win situations, and steadily raises the stakes as the first season nails a riveting climax. A lot of the time, you’re not even sure who’s a hero or villain in all this, who is trustworthy to whom, and if what they’re saying is true. The result is an intense story that operates simultaneously as a political, international, spy, and police thriller, with frequent unexpected surprises. The main premise may seem a stretch, but everything that happens is realistic, the characters in particular are endearing and realistic, even the minor ones, and the pacing and dialogue are terrific. Highly recommended, and I’ll be keeping my eye out for season 2, which has already aired in Norway and other countries.
(On a side note, the show is spoken in Norwegian with a little English and Russian. The Norwegian language is wonderful, and so are the people, all of them attractive and living in what seems to be an orderly, clean, and caring society. Unintentionally, the show acted as a tourism commercial for me, I’d love to visit some day. The only really odd note for me is the song that opens each show. The lyrics are great if you tune in, but the tone is really off.)