It’s reasonable assumption that if you are a nervous nerdy high schooler, newly-arrived in town, and the wife of the old man you stop to help across the street touches your forehead and your eyes flash with lightning, that you might more than “new kid” syndrome to deal with.
Throughout the long car ride into the mysterious town of Edda, Norway, the last town to be converted to Christianity and yes the place where paganistic beliefs in gods and giants (the former good, the latter as evil as they come) reigns the strongest, Magne (David Stakston) looks deeply worried anyway.
Returning to his mother Turid’s (Henriette Steenstrup) hometown with younger cheekier and prone to partying brother Laurits (Jonas Strand Gravli), Magne is, like any kid his age would be, worried about what lies ahead.
But as Ragnarok cranks into slow-burning high gear and we discover that strange women manifesting lightning in your eyes is the least of your troubles, it becomes readily apparent that Magne has a great to be concerned about.
In two short, sometimes overwrought, episodes – think the end of the world meets a high school drama – Magne begins to suspect that the checkout lady’s pronouncements of the arrival of gods and looming battle may have more to it than the desire to relieve boredom in her tedious job.
Actually, it’s far more than just “suspect”; Magne finds out in a grief-filled rage one night – quite why is best left to the viewing but suffice to say the gods vs. giants body count kicks off nice and early and with suitable gigantic antipathy to the good guys – that he can throw a Thor-like hammer 541 metres (the record is 86 metres in case you’re interested) and that the glasses he has always needed are suddenly dispensable.
He is, in other words, manifesting all kinds of powers, the sort that, oh I don’t know, a god might manifest.
Subtle Ragnarok is not, and as it draws on old Norwegian lore about Thor and Loki, and the giants they fought, you do at times feel like you are in some sort of pulpy CW castoff.
The looks between characters, like those between Magne and new similarly outcast and Greenpeace activist friend Isolde (Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin), are either existentially intense or hilariously bemused and it is clear from Magne’s near-constant trouble face that there is something seriously off in the wacko town of Edda.
Indeed there is, and much of it comes down to local industrialists, the Jutuls – slickly-dressed industrialist dad Vidar (Gísli Örn Garðarsson), school principal mum Ran (Synnøve Macody Lund) and creepy but super popular at school kids son Fjor (Herman Tømmeraas) and daughter Saxa (Theresa Frostad Eggesbø) – who looked sensational, dance really incestuously to weird thumping rock music and have a thing for raw elk hearts. (MMMM, tasty).
By any measure, they are cartoon villains writ large, every move made drenched in menacing meaning and malicious intent, or if you’re Ran at the school dance, improper foreplay with senior high school students – G-rated this is not – and yet, for all the campness, there is a brooding quality to the Danish-produced show that actually works in a divertingly fun way.
It helps that the landscape is brittle, striking and beautiful, all hard cut fjords and soaring mountains and ice-cold water and that the mountain next to the town, the glaciers of which activist Isolde is trying to save, seems to possess potent energy and enough secrets to fuel a thousand conspiracy theories.
It is, like the Jutul kids and Ragnarok makes a good deal of what it could all mean.
While the building of atmosphere is layered and nuanced, well as layered and nuanced as Ragnarok gets, and Magne’s journey to realising he’s not an ordinary boy is only getting going in the first two episodes, the evilness of the Jutuls is obvious from the word go.
They are seriously bad, immortal people, save for Saxa who might have a conscience and a heart, sneeringly looking down on humanity as being barely worth their time.
Every gesture is stylised and over the top, even if broodingly so, and the sense that these are people whose immortality has warped any humanity they may have once possessed is palpable.
As previously remarked upon, Ragnarok is not subtle, possessed of an time cartoon-ish soul and a soap opera aesthetic; even so, there is something about the lurking sense that Something Big and Bad is coming that sucks you in, drawing you into the idea that while we may not believe in gods and giants anymore, that doesn’t mean they’e gone away.
Or that they don’t want a big cataclysmic end of the world battle – the meaning of Ragnarok is indeed a civilisation-ending one – with humanity as the ones stuck messily in the middle.
In the case of the Norwegian drama, which didn’t attract a great deal of critical loving at home, the humans in the firing line are high schoolers, principally Magne and Loki who are quite clearly meant to face down the Jutuls in some kind of looming battle.
While the pace has been relatively languid in the first two episodes (save for a few shocks), expect things to heat up in the four remaining episodes as angsty would-be gods and giants highschoolers prepare to not only navigate the perils of dances and dating but also to square off in a battle that may mean there is no school tomorrow … or frankly, forevermore.