Jo Nesbo’s first TV show, a Norwegian thriller about Russia occupying Norway with the EU’s backing is one which shouldn’t be missed, especially not for anyone deeply fascinated / horrified at the way the world is heading. This is a show so controversial that, in real life, Russia condemned Norway for airing it and suggested that they should appreciate their geographical neighbours more.
Starring Henrik Mestad as the Norwegian Prime Minister Jesper Berg, this show documents Berg’s fall, from being a well-meaning ecosocialist with dreams to change the world to having 100% eco-friendly energy, to a filthy, morally corrupt human being. At the start, however, it is hard to not feel sorry for him. As Norway announces that it is switching its energy supply to thorium, the European Union becomes concerned about the energy supply of its citizens. In an incredible improvement of EU-Russia relations (possible, but at the same time, very unlikely), Russia offers to occupy Norway in order to restore the fossil fuel powered gas and electric to Central Europe: and the EU supports them.
While the initial premise of the show may seem implausible, events of the occupation have drawn comparison to that of Russia claiming Crimea in Ukraine as its own territory since 2014. ‘Occupied’ is not afraid to also cover other politically relevant topics; throughout its three-season run, it tackles home-grown terrorism, Russian interference in elections, LGBT+ rights in Eastern Europe, the cyber-security of national governments, the spread of fake news using social media and robots. I could go on. But this isn’t the only reason you should watch it.
The character depth is extraordinary. ‘Occupied’ had me sympathising with the ‘Free Norway’ terrorists which attacked their own country in protest at the Russian occupation. While showing Thomas, a journalist desperate to uncover the lies of his native government and show that Berg is a weak leader, they also make him extremely unlikeable, and show both him and his wife, Bente, neglecting their daughter Maja. Wenche Arnesen, the security chief of Season 1, has an especially morally ambiguous plot: how is she going to save her country from Russia’s influence?
Although having main focusses on Jesper Berg throughout the show, and Anita Rygh (one of my two favourite characters of them all), especially in Season 2, it is an ensemble-style show. Bente Norum, a restaurant owner in Oslo who becomes a magnet for Russian businessmen, and later on, pro-Norwegian hatred, has an outstanding development from struggling restaurant owner, with a husband who doesn’t treat her how she deserves, to a successful businesswoman with a man who would give her the world. And she adapts brilliantly to the changing world; Maja may disagree, as may the rest of her family, but everything she does is to build a life for herself and her daughter.
Irina Sidorova is the Russian Ambassador to Norway. Despite appearing to be a cold, heartless b**** for the majority of the show, you come to realise that she actually isn’t the mouthpiece which we, nor Moscow, expect her to be. And, although I loved her from the beginning, her final season plot is one of the most emotionally engaging I’ve ever seen. Hans Martin Djupvik is the man from the Secret Service who saves her life very early on in the show (that’s less of a spoiler than you think); he later becomes the only person on the Norwegian side who the Russians can trust. Remember Richard Madden from Bodyguard? Think of him, his character, even down to the costume. Just don’t think of the plot from that awful show…. I sense that Bodyguard’s creators were inspired by Djupvik. His wife, Hilde, also has an increasingly crucial position in the show’s development.
Brilliantly acted, and brilliantly shot, ‘Occupied’ is binge-worthy television. It says a lot when I watch 24 episodes in less than two weeks. It seems to follow the pattern of a few other shows from Norway that I’ve watched. Season 1 could easily be self-contained: it has a brilliant concept, a few killer twists and a very satisfying conclusion. Seasons 2 and 3 are both shorter, and builds on the concept. They’re the right length; the ending leaves you wanting more episodes, but you’re grateful that you haven’t got them. It knows when to end. The last 2 seasons also have points where the writers clearly had a bit of fun in creating the most dramatic, borderline ridiculous twists possible to heighten the drama; however, they only add to the charm of ‘Occupied’. I’d give this show a solid 9/10; just don’t watch it if you have any deadlines, social encounters or important things to do – you won’t be able to pull yourself away.
All 24 episodes of ‘Occupied’ are available to stream on Netflix worldwide. The show has finished following season 3, so there will be no new episodes. The episodes are in a mix of Norwegian, Russian and English: subtitles will be needed.