This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a banging synth track. Ragnarok, Netflix’s new six-part Norwegian series which launched this week, opens to the strains of M83’s ‘Midnight City’ – the most instantly recognisable but hardest-to-Google song of the early 2010s.
You couldn’t ask for a clearer signal of the show’s genre – although it’s pitched as a modern spin on Norse mythology it is, at heart, a classic coming-of-age story in the vein of The O.C. or Skins. Teens with improbable jawlines drink and dance, 25-year-olds playing 17-year-olds square up in front of the school lockers, and a million small dramas play out in the canteen.
The cliches don’t end there. It’s as if someone looked through a list of the most successful entertainment properties of the last ten years and tried to check them off one by one. Ragnarok (which, in a boon for subtitle fans, is entirely in Norwegian) was written by Adam Price, the creator of the hit Scandi detective show Borgen. (Nordic Noir, check).
It is set in the fictional town of Edda – supposedly the last place in Scandinavia to worship the old Norse gods before being subsumed by the rising tide of Christianity. As Marvel fans will know, the show’s title (which is surely a deliberate swing at Disney+) refers to the Norse myth about the end of the world – as the opening title card explains, it “begins with natural disasters, and culminates in the great battle between the gods and the giants”.
The series begins with brothers Magne and Laurits moving back to Edda with their mother after leaving years earlier when their father died in a mysterious accident. They’re classic opposites. Magne is dorky, awkward and wearing glasses, obviously, while his sardonic younger sibling shares the aesthetics and worldview of the audience at a My Chemical Romance reunion show.
Their new/old home is in a beautiful setting – on the shores of a lake, and ringed with snow-dusted mountains. But there’s something rotten at the heart of Edda. Climate change threatens to destroy the community. The water isn’t safe to drink, and dead fish are washing up on the shores of the lake – atop the nearby mountains, a glacier is receding at a dramatic pace.
In the first episode, we’re introduced to Isolde, a YouTube environmentalist – blue hair, piercings, sitting alone in the corner of the lunch room – who rails against the powerful Jutul family, who own a local mining operation, and whose impossibly beautiful children are the darlings of the school, and whose mother is the headteacher.
There is a convenient degree of overlap between the worlds of the adults and the slightly younger adults who play their children. Isolde’s father is a teacher at the school, Magne and Laurits’ harried mother takes a job with the Jutul family, the local police officer is the parent of another student. The show has a very small town feel, and news of Magne and Laurits’ arrival soon spreads. After an encounter with a strange woman who works in a local supermarket, Magne starts to develop some unusual powers – his moods seem to influence the weather, and he stops needing his glasses to see.
At the same time, there are some serious Twilight vibes among the Jutul family. At a school dance, siblings Saxa and Fjior dance in slow motion to what I’m pretty sure was a Rammstein track, eyes glowing yellow in the darkness. The first episode ends with their father standing naked on a rocky outcrop overlooking the valley, blood dripping from his mouth, synths and guitars rising to a crescendo. It’s all a little ridiculous.
Where the show does break new-ish ground is in its treatment of the environment. Like recently released anime Weathering With You, Ragnarok ties the fate of our melting, burning planet to the supernatural, with the gods on our side against the forces of evil.
All over the world, these myths originated from people’s desire to understand and explain natural phenomenon – maybe that’s why, in this increasingly uncertain time, we’re turning to them again. Or maybe it’s just another cliche.
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