You know it’s a good show when you are already frantically web searching to find out when the next season is being released and you’re only a few episodes into the first season.
Occupied (Okkupert) is a Norwegian political thriller, centered around the conflicts that arise as the elected government follows through on promises to halt oil production in favour of environmentally sustainable alternatives. As the halt in oil production throws Europe into crisis, at the request of the European Union, Russia quietly asserts itself within Norway to restart oil production. The question then becomes, will the Russians leave when they achieve this? And what will the reaction of the people of Norway be to being occupied by foreign forces? The description for this series is unfortunately boring, but let me assure you, the show is anything but.
Being from the makers of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and touted as the most expensive Norwegian production to date, set up high expectations for this series. And as far as I am concerned it has absolutely met those expectations. As the first episode began with opening shots of a suited man stumbling shocked through bloody snow, I actually said the words ‘this is going to be good,’ out loud. And there is just something about foreign films that makes you feel smart… probably all the reading.
The series is fast paced, and the production value is evident, from the police car chasing a helicopter in the first episode, to the ultra-innovative modern government buildings. The scale of this show feels both big and small. Big in its scale of the settings, the suspended disbelief provided by convincing special effects and the massive leap to claim Russia as an enemy, however fictional. While at the same time, it still feels small. There are a manageable number of characters to follow, understand and decide whether to like or dislike. Within only ten episodes, this series provides twists, shocks, changing motives and considered and crafted character development. I think what also makes the scale feel smaller, is the complete lack of American bravado. Russia may again be in it’s traditional role as villain, but this feels like something totally fresh, and different.
While the stereotypical characters are still there, the Prime Minister, the honorable bodyguard, the head of security, the journalist, they each feel very human, real and flawed. No one ever believes they are the bad guy, and this is very true of these characters. As a viewer you can’t help but empathize with, or at least understand each character’s motives. Prime Minister Jesper Berg (Henrik Mestad) is much more timid than the typical national leader is portrayed. At times frustratingly submissive, but also very clearly wanting to do the right thing, this is a character I am particularly interested to see develop further into season two. Norwegian policeman Hans Martin Djupvik (Eldar Skar) fulfils the role of honorable bodyguard, but without following blind patriotism. Instead the character is lead by personal morals, rather than the stereotypically American, us verses them mentality. And journalist Thomas Eriksen (Vegar Hoel), is what is expected of an investigative journalist, but his relationships with his family, his editor, his sources, all feel very real. The plot in and of itself, Russia invading Norway, is far fetched, but the three-dimensional characters lends plausibility to the story. And perhaps one of my favourite reasons to love the design of these characters is how many strong female characters there are. Having women in positions of power, like a strong Russian ambassador, Chief of Norwegian Police Security Service, and restaurant owner, at no point feels like a gimmick. It just is.
For a split second, at the beginning of the season I questioned whether the acting was good. I think this was just not recognizing the actors, not understanding the cultural nuances and how the tone of voice was translating to the subtitles. It really was just a passing thought though, and quickly forgotten.
It’s not often that I watch something, and think I could immediately re-watch it all over again. And it’s a serious temptation each time I’ve scrolled past it on Netflix since. I have recommended it to anyone I’ve spoken to since. Ten out of ten, two thumbs up and a cherry on top. I mean, I don’t want to tell you what to do…but watch it.
By Samantha Weston