“Occupied” — Norway, by Russia

Occupied is a Netflix series, a geopolitical thriller, produced in Norway. It’s terrific.

Norway is an oil-rich country. In Occupied, Jesper Berg has become prime minister, heading an environmentalist party, pledging to supplant oil with clean thorium-based nuclear power. However, Europe fears an energy crisis during the transition. Russia takes advantage of this, with a softish quasi-invasion of Norway, to force it to keep supplying oil. Berg accedes in order to avoid bloody military confrontation. But the situation becomes increasingly difficult and oppressive as it develops.

Indeed, this series’ producers succeed in sustaining remarkable dramatic tension throughout. I watch every episode with stomach clenched.

House of Cards was certainly fun to watch; but I kept turning to my wife with snide remarks about implausibility. (Like when the VP shows the President he’s still got the dead body she’d asked him to dispose of. “What does he imagine doing with it,” I said, “without implicating himself in murder?”)

Occupied is never like that. As a close observer of world politics, I find it totally realistic, with not a moment requiring suspension of disbelief.

Real life is full of ambiguity, and that’s certainly true in Occupied. Early, we’re introduced to “Free Norway,” seemingly a dark fringe terrorist group, committing atrocities. But as the picture grows more complex, one’s feelings about “Free Norway” evolve with it. Jesper Berg often seems to have a “deer-in-the-headlights” quality. In Episode 9 my wife remarked he’s acting like a fool. I didn’t agree. From the start, Berg finds himself in an impossible situation, and it progressively worsens. He struggles to deal rationally with a world where everything seems to militate against that.

One thing I did find myself questioning: where, in this story, is NATO, and America? Russia could not have screwed with Ukraine had Ukraine been in NATO — as Norway is. But it turns out Occupied is set in a near future where NATO is no more, and America has no interest in opposing Russia. The series was made in 2015!

I’m reminded of the story about Putin traveling to Finland and going through border control.

“Name?” the officer asks him.

“Vladimir Putin.”

“Nationality?”

“Russian.”

“Destination?”

“Helsinki.”

“Occupation?”

“No, just visiting.”

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