Ragnarok: Season One

“Today I was run over by a snowplow – and I didn’t even get a bruise. Have I become invincible?”

This review is about the first year (six episodes) of the Norwegian series and not any of the movies with the same name. This is a coming-of-age series as a pair of high school students arrive with their mother in a town on a fjord being polluted by a factory owned by a powerful family (the giants).

Most people who choose to watch this probably have some familiarity with Norse mythology, and will map several of the characters to those in the myths. Magne is Thor; Laurits must be Loki. An old guy on a scooter with an eye-patch is Odin (Wotan). The Jutuls are the giants.

Magne is large, generally a poor student, has even flunked classes before, a circumstance which allows him and his younger brother to be in the same classes at their new school. Ever since his arrival in Edda and his being touched on the forehead by a woman – witch? – who is also the cashier at the local supermarket, he has been changing. He can predict the weather. He was already strong, but now he seems to be getting super powers, which is extremely unsettling for him. I like how this series takes him through discovering abilities. He attempts to tell others what is happening to him, and most of them don’t believe him – which he perfectly understands.

Laurits, or Loki, is harder to read, which makes sense for the joker of Norse mythology. Is he going to be good or is he going to be bad? He’s clever and he’s observant, but he doesn’t have all the facts. He is not always supportive of his mother and his brother, but you can also sympathize with how frustrating life with them – when he is so much quicker and cooler – must be. He seems less aware of changing powers, but he is strongly moved by particular music that also moves the giants. Oddly, Laurits suffers more than others when it is cold (as the usual myth has the giants as being the frost giants and you’d think they like the cold). I hope this gets explained.

We have to assume – in the first episode we get a strong hint – that Magne and Laurits are not full brothers, but are half-brothers, with the same mother but different fathers. This is a nice twist to the usual setup, in which Loki is completely adopted.

There’s a family of giants, the Jutuls, who (especially the women) are tall and attractive. They are long-lived, but they don’t appear to be guaranteed immortality; in other words, although they will not die of old age, they can be killed. The series has many scenes with the giants, showing the situation from their point of view. They become suspicious of Magne’s abilities at the same time that he does, and even speak to him in the old language.

Besides a couple of mysterious deaths, much of the show revolves around the usual problems of being in high school, especially the challenge of being a new student. Kids (played by young adults) are growing up, dating, taking classes. One of them, Isolde, is concerned about the environment, which makes this a climate change and pollution centered series. Others, too, have noticed the pollution and some are suffering from it.

One great plus is the setting. The scenery is stunning. I love the feel of the bleak, muddy Norwegian mountains, which are colder and wetter than many other places on the planet. Despite global warming, most of the characters are wearing coats and sweaters for most of the show. There’s a starkness we don’t see in other shows. And, because of the mountains, the town of Edda, despite being a part of the nation of Norway, feels isolated with respect to the rest of the planet.

One of the features in this series – which I watched in English, because I don’t know Norwegian – is the dubbing. Most of the English dubbing appears to have been done by Norwegian actors, perhaps the original actors themselves, as I believe most people in Norway speak passable English. However, although the English is good enough so there’s no problem in understanding it, many of the voices have a strong accent. For me, this both adds to and detracts from the story experience. The accents make you feel as if you are somewhere else, enhancing the sense that you have entered a foreign world. However, sometimes the intonation and even the translation feel a little off, as if the actors are reading rather than living the scenes and the emotions. And, naturally, the lips and the words are not synced.

The series, although it treads somewhat familiar ground – the coming-of-age story of superheroes – avoids falling into several traps and tropes, which I won’t describe because that would require spoilers. I just want to say that I appreciate it. I have discovered that I am also curious about the history of other characters. Wotan, the old guy on the scooter; what is his story? What will Laurits learn about himself, and what will he choose to do with that knowledge? Then there’s a new character, Iman, who seems to have unusual insights. What's her deal? Finally, if Magne/Thor is a superhero, what exactly is his mission? Kill the giants? Or find a way to unpollute the water?

Title musings. "Ragnarok" is the title. The word means the final destruction of the world, which is why it gets chosen a lot as a title. It's also fitting as climate change and pollution are destroying the world as we know it. However, Wenche tells us it is also a beginning.

Bits and pieces

In Norway, all hospitals are funded by the national budget. However, while medical treatment is free of charge for any person younger than the age of sixteen, residents who have reached adulthood must pay a deductible each year before becoming eligible for an exemption card. It's not exactly a large deductible, either: 2000 NOK or $240 US when I wrote this. So why is Jan, Gry’s father, in so much need of money?

I like how Edda was described as the last town in Norway to become Christian. Edda, however, is fictional as a place. In Wikipedia I found the following: "Edda" (/ˈɛdə/; Old Norse Edda, plural Eddur) is an Old Norse term that has been attributed by modern scholars to the collective of two Medieval Icelandic literary works: what is now known as the Prose Edda and an older collection of poems without an original title now known as the Poetic Edda. The term historically referred only to the Prose Edda, but this since has fallen out of use because of the confusion with the other work. Both works were written down in Iceland during the 13th century in Icelandic, although they contain material from earlier traditional sources, reaching into the Viking Age. The books are the main sources of medieval skaldic tradition in Iceland and Norse mythology.

Edda may also come from the word for great-grandmother.

Vidar sure likes to rip off his own clothes.

In one scene, Ran is taking a milk bath, which is a convenient way to have her be naked without showing any naughty parts. And that got me wondering about milk baths in general, which I have never done. Is the milk warm or at room temperature? If it is warm does it form a skin? If it is room temperature, is the actor cold?

If I understand correctly, in our family of giants (and the females are impressively tall) the older pair and the younger pair switch places in being young and old over time.

My favorite bit is when Magne gets hit by a snowplow.

Note that the Norwegians also complained about the accents and the dialect of the actors. Evidently the show is set in western Norway but the actors don’t use the western Norwegian dialect.

Quotes

Magne: Today I threw a hammer 541 meters.

Wenche: The hero’s journey has begun.

Fjor: You’re not much like your brother.
Laurits: I hope not. He’s huge, dyslexic and has no friends.

Policewoman: You left Isolde on the mountain just before four o’clock; half an hour later you were here at the center of town. That usually takes at least 90 minutes. So why haven’t we investigated that you apparently move faster than anybody else?

Ran: We’ve become sloppy. They’ve begun to notice when things go wrong.

Vidar: We can’t let humans get too close to us. No more best friends. No more girlfriends. They’re not like us and we’re not like them.

Wenche: The giants are still here and they will destroy the world while the humans stand by and watch.

Laurits: Do we have to be poor and proud as well?

Wenche: Ragnarok is not the end. It is the beginning.

Overall rating

The series feels a bit off-balance, but in a way that intrigues me. The characters are not purely good or purely evil. The series is not fulfilling the usual tropes. It’s taking a little longer to tell the story, but it was so compelling that I watched the six episodes twice despite the somewhat off-putting accents (and I noticed so much more the second time around). Fortunately, the second season is dropping on Thursday of this week. Three out of four hammers.

Victoria Grossack loves math, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

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