In the UK: Available on Netflix
It’s usually right-wing European ideologies that hark back to their historic, home-grown paganism in order to foment nationalism. Greece’s Golden Dawn used to be fervent proponents of worshipping the gods of Olympus, while you only have to look at Der Pass to see how Woden and Krampus are being used in Austria and Germany for similarly unpleasant ends.
Which makes Ragnarok‘s new youth-oriented Norwegian original an interesting exception to the rule, being a left-wing call for the youth of Norway to channel the viking gods and protect the environment from capitalists.
The show sees David Stakston playing Magne, a young dyslexic, not especially bright man who moves with his mum back to their home town, Edda, in the remote wilds of West Norway. The last place to be Christianised in Norway, it’s now the home of Jutul industry and its super-rich family of Jutuls, who also run the school and most of the companies in Edda.
However, there are concerns about pollution, with the glaciers defrosting and the drinking water more than a bit suspect. Yet nothing happens, because the Jutuls own everything, including the police.
But when Magne shows kindness to an old, one-eyed man, he suddenly finds himself a changed man. He no longer needs glasses, he can run faster than the world’s best athletes, he can smell different kinds of blood, he’s nearly indestructible – and boy, can he throw a hammer.
How will Magne use his new abilities? And are the Jutuls quite what they seem?
Norwegian with a Danish accent
One of the most popular ever posts on TMINE was in answer to the question raised by classic Swedish-Danish TV show Bron/Broen (The Bridge): “Can Swedes and Danes understand each other?” Ragnarok, which is actually made by a Danish production and is the brainchild of Borgen creator Adam Price, poses a similar question: “Do Danes understand Norwegians?”
Because despite an obvious shared heritage, there is a certain etic perspective to the show. One can certainly quibble about the accents if one is Norwegian, since everyone’s clearly from East Norway (apparently), but the show certainly feels moodier and more depressed than the standard Norwegian show – and far less passive than the home-grown likes of Okkupert (Occupied), for example.
Similarly, everything’s very much on the nose in terms of naming and parallels. A town called Edda? A one-eyed old man? A family called Jutuls? An ambiguously aligned son of the Jutuls? A company dripping poison into the sea?
The parallels are not the subtlest and in a town such as Edda, you’d imagine the giants might want to try to hide themselves a little harder – particularly as they’re immortal and don’t age.
Combined with the non-stop environmental activism in every episode, all of this makes Ragnarok feel like it’s hitting you, not just the ice giants, with a sledgehammer. It’s hard to imagine Norwegians needing to be quite so unsubtle with one another, but this is a show aimed at younger viewers after all.
But Ragnarok is trying to energise kids into wanting to fight a war: they are the young gods with the power to change and protect the world; the capitalists and polluters (who give everyone jobs) are the ones trying to destroy it. It’s time for a Ragnarok rematch. And that needs a simple narrative without too many complications.
Which is what Ragnarok is – and to be fair, what most of the eddas were, too. This is The Almighty Johnsons but made by Danes/Norwegians for younger viewer, rather than New Zealanders for slightly more cynical adults.
Stakston’s Thor is a man of simple needs and wants – friendships, love, justice – and this short six-episode season is as much as superhero origin story as it is a call to action. We watch as Stakston slowly wake up to his new powers, test them and then use them against a Big Bad. And like Spider-man, rather than Thor, he hangs out at High School, has a crush on a girl who isn’t much interested in him, and has a beef with the school bullies.
Who’s Thor are you?
All the same, while it’s not 100% Norwegian – is there some sort of Netflix VPN ban stopping Danes from watching Norwegian TV? – Ragnarok is clearly something that also has an emic perspective. This isn’t the standard view of either the gods or the giants that you see in English-language shows. This Thor may well drink mead but he’s as much a berserker who can rip a wolf’s head open with his bare hands as he is a man with a hammer who can summon lightning.
And although it’s not the subtlest of shows – if you’re going to be a Greta Thunberg-inspired bit of enviro agitprop, probably best not to name-check her – and there’s a decided chilliness around all the characters that makes it hard to warm to them, it is at least enjoyable and fun, with copious superhero ‘cool moments’. It also has a stonking soundtrack that made me have to Shazam every five minutes.
Most importantly of all, it’s just the beginning. There is a climactic fight, but the show has clearly been building to something much more by that point, with various mysteries still unresolved by the end.
Why so Thor?
I did enjoy Ragnarok, I must admit, and there were enough innovations and surprises in an otherwise standard ‘High School Outsider Trying to Fit In’ plotline that I was entertained throughout. There are enough seeds here, too, for a second season to easily build on and surpass this one.
All this same, guys, dial down the obviousness next time and maybe let Thor have a good time for a change. That might make be an enviro-activist god look a tad more appealing to the yoof, too.