Monday, May 02, 2016

Why You Need to Watch Occupied on Netflix

I've recommended the Norwegian mini-series, Occupied, a few times to those who follow me on twitter, but I wanted to bring it over here for discussion.

By reading some of the descriptions, including this one from Netflix, I could see where some in the natsec chatterati might give it a pass, but let me outline why you should give it a watch. As most in the entertainment press are clueless about and have little curiosity to understand military and diplomatic history, practices, or methods - the fact that they miss the forest for the trees in this series is not shocking.

Ignore them - listen to the Salamander.

The acting and sets are very well done with almost none of the usual fluff and cheese one would find if this was done in the USA. Let's get that out of the way. As it is Norwegian, it has a Scandinavian crispness to it that especially those who lived in Northern Europe for any period of time will recognize and enjoy.

The series takes place the near future in Norway. The premise of the series has a few entering arguments that are interesting to watch play out on the screen. The writers are just about pitch perfect in some areas, and certain parts strike Americans in ways an European audience wouldn't understand.

Here are a few of the bold-faced items that play out of the screen that I found the most interesting.

1. The Green Party of the Euro-left: regardless of what Slate and others say, this series is not about "climate change." If anything, it is about overreaction to weather and a political party's new religion taking normal events as signs from their gods that enable self-destructive behavior. Green parties and rabid environmentalists are well known to be relatively clueless about how the real world works, international relations, and economics. When you give such people power, they can make incredibly bad policy. Bad policy can have unexpected 2nd and 3rd order effects. That is what starts this story going. It isn't "climate change," it is neo-paganism meets useful idiots.

2. The Perfidy of the EU: any student of European history will tell you that Central Asia and Africa have nothing on the Europeans when it comes to petty tribalism and mercantilistic self-interest. They will sell you the rope to hang them with if they get the right price, and they will sell a friend down the river if it gets them a small advantage.

3. The nature of Russia and her relative power: Russian is not a Western nation. She is not an Asian nation. She is not an Eastern or Central European nation. She is Russia. I haven't figured her out, and neither have you. If you are trying to put her in a box you've made and understand, then you will subject yourself to shocks, as Russia does what Russia always does; confound. If you stop trying to understand any motive but self-interest and opportunity flavored with insecurity and respect for power, you might do a bit better. The way Russia plays out in this series is masterful.

4. America as an enabling habit: for reasons not fleshed out in detail, the USA has left NATO and has generally left Europe to her own devices. Even then, especially ironic for a Scandinavian Green, there is an assumption that the USA will be there, willing to fight to repair European mistakes to the last American. The Greens will bluff and preen, but assume that if they go too far that it will be OK; Uncle Sam will come back and protect them. The subtle and very precise 19th Century American neutrality as played by the American Ambassador is pitch perfect. The actor who plays the Norwegian PM when he finally realized that America really is neutral does a superb, "The scales have fallen from my eyes" expression. Given Trump and Sanders's statements this election cycle, there only need to be a card or two more pulled from the deck to make this a possibility.

5. Nationalism vs. the political class: another pitch-perfect outline is how in spite of what the political class is doing, the people may have their own ideas. Large events are shaped by individual action. Individual action will drive large movements in directions they were not originally going.

6. People are neither purely good nor purely evil: every character, especially those you would think would be written as black-and-white/good-or-bad are well rounded characters. In a very efficient manner, "bad" characters are shown to have good sides or good motivations. Likewise, "good" characters are shown to perhaps not have the most clear or well meaning motivations. Some in the middle, you just don't know.

7. Reliance on other nations for your own security is for fools: the assumptions the Green PM makes about what drives the EU, NATO, and the USA are very well played out on the screen and fun to watch, if not so pathetic.

Finally, when watching you have to keep in mind that on the edges of living memory, Norway was an occupied country with a fighting underground and collaborators. Quisling was Norwegian after all. As such, there are some Norwegian specific sub-plots and messages going on that most non-Norwegians may not get, but I don't think that gets in the way. If you are student of history, you may get one or two of them - but just take them as Easter Eggs and don't worry about looking for them.

Season 1 is available and Season 2, rumor has it, is in the works.

As a side-note; the series is in Norwegian with English subtitles. That's OK, as all the conversations between the Norwegians and Russians/Americans/Europeans are done in English as the universal language. Nice.

You also have to understand that Norwegian police and criminal justice procedures are incredibly hands off and lax. In a couple of episodes, Mrs. Salamander gave me "the look" as I kept saying annoying things like, "Oh come on! In American they would have shot that guy immediately! Why are they chasing him and talking to him?" - "What, they released that guy? In that were here, they would have ... oh ... yes dear, I'll be quiet."

I don't make recommendations often, but this series gets a solid thumbs up.

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