John C Adams Reviews 'Occupied'
This fascinating fictional political thriller portrays the aftermath of a Russian invasion of Norway. I stumbled upon it on Netflix, which offers me quite a few political thriller shows one way or another, and was quickly hooked. I then bought it on DVD, too, which if you know what a cheapskate I am means I really, really loved it.
As tensions rise over a Norwegian law banning gas exploration on climate change grounds, the Russians exert influence in the region (including persuading the European Union) to solve the energy crisis without success. The Russians finally invade the country to keep the gas production going, apparently with EU acquiescence. Responses in Norway vary from forming guerilla units under the name 'Free Norway' to harass and defeat the Russian so that they leave to, at the other end of the spectrum, attempts at political accommodation. The Green Party is in government under PM Jesper Berg, so they have to toe a difficult line between political realism given the unequal power between Norway and Russia and their natural inclination to treat their response to the unusual situation as a question of principle.
The series focused upon the family of Hans Martin Djupvik, a bodyguard who becomes one of the main points of contact with the occupying regime, and his wife Hilde who is a judge tasked with implementing new laws to legitimise the Russian invasion. She struggles to protect essential human rights and the rule of law in the face of an illegitimate regime bent on frightening people into submission. The judiciary is naturally horrified by the developments. Hans Martin is forced to come into contact with Russians daily and to provide advice on keeping them safe from attacks, which makes his response more complex and sometimes more personal.
The main face of the Russian political process is the character Irina Sidorova who is stuck in between Moscow's demands and an increasingly uncooperative array of Norwegian public figures. As the series progressed her complexity as a character grew. I liked that. The armed resistance builds until Free Norway assassinates a high-ranking Russian general, which is taken as an act of war. From now on the aggression on both sides will be more overt in nature. Others, such as restaurateur Bente Norum, collaborate with the Russians in business ventures and profit from the invasion.
'Occupied' is broadcast every other year and had its third season in 2019. The scenario is one of immense tension physically and psychologically, both for the Norwegian nation as a whole and the individual characters. There is considerable plot and character development during the three seasons, so I always felt as if the story was going somewhere new.
In reality, Norway and Russia have enjoyed quite tense relations. This is in part over environmental concerns such as emissions from Russia that affect Norway, a territorial dispute over the Barents Sea and also both countries' presence in Svalbard in the Arctic. As late as 2017, a Kremlin maritime threat assessment identified Norway as a perceived threat to Russia. So with this in mind I wasn't too surprised that Russia was the chosen invader for 'Occupied', but the portrayal of the European Union in failing to confront an invasion of one of its associate members did take me by surprise.
This is an excellent TV drama, grounded in current events but taking the audience to a near future in which pretty much everything we think we can take for granted about international alliances has been turned on its head. It still has much more to give dramatically in future seasons, and I would highly recommend it.
Many thanks to Michael Fousert and Brady Rogers for providing the images for this blog via Unsplash.
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See you on Monday.