Norse By Norsemen

The complete ‘Ragnarok,’ a non-Marvel mythology show that’s actually from Norway

As hard as it may be to imagine sometimes, the Norse Gods of Thor, Loki, and Odin and others aren’t the exclusive dominion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They derive from Norse mythology, but we just sort of take it for granted that the highly anglicized versions of the MCU are basically the same thing because we’re all just white people. The return of the Norwegian show Ragnarok in its third season on Netflix, with a now very bingeable slate of 18 episodes, are a stark reminder of how closer fidelity to myth, rather than comic-book interpretations, allow for much weirder occult storytelling.

Ragnarok stars David Stakston as Magne, a high school student awakened to his reincarnated form as Thor when he moves with his mother and brother to the small town of Edda, which is closely under the thumb of the Jutul family. The Jutuls are a corporate family who have used their immortality and general disregard for human life to build a powerful industrial empire. The reconceptualization of giants as financial powerhouses is a clever one. It makes their threat to Magne credible even as his hammer has given him a fully superior position. We, as well as the other Norse reincarnations, understand that the war only ends with the literal destruction of the Jutuls.

But the third season takes an interesting approach. Magne starts to swing the hammer around like a bully, making idle threats to the Jutuls while still fairly effectively terrorizing them. As it only slowly starts to dawn on the Jutuls that Magne is still a teenage boy, they start to tempt him, both with their worldly luxuries as well as the note that as divine beings, the giants will have common cause with Thor that he can never have with normal humans.

Ragnarok is awkward and bizarre at its best, but most crucially, it maintains the same level of awkward bizarre construction that’s all so common in actual Norse myths. Magne’s brother Laurits, played by Jonas Strand Gravli, the reincarnation of  Loki, is mischievous as expected, but also genuinely weird, playing ambiguously off his gender, even giving birth to a sea monster. His schemes often mask a lack of confidence. He’s ambiguously evil mainly because he doesn’t really know what he wants, doesn’t care much about society at large, and clings to the idea of family, wherever he might find it.

This is most of what Ragnarok has going for it. The young characters in this show actually feel genuinely angry in a way that’s appropriate for youth, particularly in terms of the kinds of problem youths these days face. The fundamental impossibility of challenging the Jutul corporation without the aid of the hammer frustrates Magne so much that he starts swinging it around to the alarm of his allies as well as his enemies. This also contrasts surprisingly well with Fjor and Saxa, giants maquerading as teenage students played by young actors who nonetheless consistently sound like crotchety boomers in their passionate defense of the political system as it exists right now and especially in their mean-spirited attacks on anyone they consider to be beneath them.

 All of this works together to create a genuine enraged vibe, a plot driven more by impulsive emotional reactions than particularly clear actions. Which again, is pretty much how all the old Norse myths went anyway. They were complex, petty pranks gone horribly wrong. A giant mocking a woman for being overweight, and then feeding her to a sea monster is completely on brand for these kinds of epic stories, even if Ragnarok also manages to be fairly convincing in its actual fights, where even gods sustain injuries that they can’t just walk off.

I don’t want to oversell Ragnarok too much. The basic reason to watch this show is just curiosity about how actual Norwegians interpret Norse myths. It’s weird that in this era where cultural appropriation is supposedly the worst thing that can be done to a culture, no one seems very interested in their input. It’s quite easy to lose track of lot of the show’s plot points. I cannot, for the life of me, remember anything about Magne and Laurits’ mother about having a love interest. But now that the series is finished, and not even that long, it’s much easier to traverse the massive two-year gap between seasons.

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William Schwartz

William Schwartz is a reporter and film critic based in Seoul, South Korea. He writes primarily for HanCinema, the world's largest and most popular English language database for South Korean television dramas and films.

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