Greta Thunberg, have I found the perfect partner for you! His name is Magne (pronounced “mog-neh”), he’s the main character in Netflix’s new Norwegian teen series Ragnarok, and he’s going to beat the crap out of corporations polluting the world with environmental recklessness because he’s the second coming of Thor.
That sounds like a corny premise for a TV show, but… well, actually Ragnarok is corny, but in a charming way. The six-episode series premiered on Netflix last week, and I breezily powered through it over the last few days not only because of its effort to put a new spin on YA supernatural drama, but because of its simplistic approach to doing so. To put it plainly, Ragnarok has a positive message and pounds it into your face repeatedly with all the subtlety of a singing telegram.
The drama starts when Magne (a blonde block of chiseled Nordic stone named David Stakston), his mother, and brother move back to their home of Edda, Norway, a picturesque small town on a stunning fjord. The beauty of the town is only tainted by the monolithic industrial factories that belong to the Jutul Corporation, which makes who knows what (the series probably got more specific, but all you need to know is that it’s bad) and pours God only knows into the water. Magne, who we meet as a lumbering oaf, has a chance encounter with an old woman in town who touches his forehead, and suddenly everything begins to change within him.
He doesn’t need his glasses anymore, his dyslexia no longer interferes with his schoolwork, and — in what is often considered the greatest of all physical changes in pop culture — his hair, once parted forward like a doofus, is now swept to the side. But the She’s All That makeover isn’t all that’s changed with Magne; he’s showing bursts of speed, resiliency to pain, and he can now chuck a sledgehammer a kilometer and a half, which is like a mile, or two, or three (I don’t know, I’m American, but it’s farther than I can throw one). The teases aren’t subtle (hammers and lightning!), but they’re rolled out as if they are, and it’s no surprise when the name Thor is finally invoked.
Ragnarok — named after an apocalyptic event in Norse mythology when gods are killed, the world is flooded, and the planet is reborn fresh and anew — quickly pits Magne against the Jutul family, who not only represent other figures of Norse mythology, they’re also the embodiment of corporate malfeasance and, as Norway’s fifth-wealthiest family, representative of the one percent. It’s quickly established that they’re not a normal family during one eyebrow-raising bathroom scene, and it doesn’t take Magne long to catch on to their con.
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David Stakston and Jonas Strand Gravli, Ragnarok
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But for all the supernaturalness of Ragnarok, it’s the very earthly battle that sticks out. Ragnarok is the most direct call-to-action-against-corporate-pollution TV show that has existed. The teens in the series — except the statuesque and pretty Jutul “teens” who also attend Magne’s high school — are outspoken in their dislike of Jutul, investigating mutated fish, melting ice, and cases of cancer in locals as a direct effect of Jutul’s dumping of multi-syllabic chemicals into the water. It turns the supernatural bits of the series into frosting for what is really a series about activists raising the alarm and taking corporations to task for their behavior. It’s also at times clunky and heavy-handed, but the directness of the story and the one-dimensionality of the villains is actually a blessing for Ragnarok. There’s no painting the Jutul family as more complicated than meets the eye, a refreshing decision to make the theme as clear as can be. Whereas other shows try to flesh out their bad guys to make them more complex and somewhat worthy of our compassion, Ragnarok wants you to know that everything the Jutuls are doing is bad, and there’s no defense for that.
Ragnarok is the latest entry in the relatively new genre of cli-fi (climate fiction), which fictionalizes climate disaster and includes movies like The Day After Tomorrow and Snowpiercer, and shows like The 100 or 12 Monkeys. But Ragnarok is the rare show that makes cli-fi the main premise, keeping things focused on changing what we can before it’s too late rather than showing us what happens after the point of no return. It’s hokey yet inspiring, silly and serious, and preachy but also entertaining.
At just six episodes, things move fairly quickly until the cliffhanger ending, setting up a second season that will hopefully get made if the world already isn’t a wheezing, burning fireball by the time Netflix starts production on Season 2. Call your senators.
Ragnarok is now on Netflix.
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