Valkyrien review: A Scandi drama where men live in fear of women
The latest TV import is a dark moral satire about what desperate people will do – but don’t let that stop you from digging in
When they open up an underground clinic for criminals and odd bods, it hardly seems coincidental that most of it takes place in a green-grey light
There’s a neat moment a few episodes into Valkyrien (All 4, now streaming), when a group of conspicuously dreadful film students begin shooting a movie in the subterranean tunnels of an Oslo underground station. Asked to describe their project, one ventures, “it’s an action film,” before another adds, “with an underlying love theme”. Aren’t they all?
The wry joke in Erik Richter Strand’s absorbing drama, the latest Anglophone infatuation with Scandinavian television, is that this is a serviceable précis of Valkyrien itself.
It begins with a bank heist gone wrong (from which one hapless criminal, Teo, escapes with all of the money and a price on his head), and resolves in an underground bunker where a surgeon Ravn (Sven Nordin, a Nordic dead ringer for Game of Thrones’ Khaleesi-whisperer Iain Glen) tends secretly to his comatose wife – believed dead – sheltered by a doomsday paranoiac with a working knowledge of Oslo’s bomb shelters.
As is the case with some of the best television dramas, and certainly most of the worst ones, the premise does sounds daft, but on a par with, say, a terminally-ill chemistry teacher becoming a drugs kingpin. The similarity it bears to Breaking Bad, however, is more than surface deep.
When they open up an underground clinic for criminals and odd bods, it becomes another dark moral satire about what desperate people will do. It hardly seems coincidental that most of it takes place in a green-grey light, several stories beneath the city. In these pessimistic times, even more sober minds will worry about what’s going on below.
One might think that, after the Anders Breivik atrocity, Norway would shy from indulging the darker ruminations of malcontents. But in Leif (the excellent Pål Sverre Hagan), our bunker master, doomsday blogger and member of the Civil Defence Unit, Valkyrien provides a fascinating depiction of a threatened mind in an otherwise unthreatening package. Leif is not a far-right fomenter – his list of apocalyptic dangers are overpopulation, climate change, deforestation, overfishing and so on – yet his methods aren’t dissimilar to its tech-savvy, survivalist delusions.
The weirdest thing about the show is how intoxicating it finds him: most episodes conclude with his paranoid, persuasive voice-over, as though he had hijacked the perspective of the programme; another Travis Bickle, Tyler Durden or Eliot Alderson.
Valkyrien is not without female characters: Unn (Ellen-Brigitte Winther) is a medical colleague who becomes Ravn accomplice, and his stepdaughter Liv (Ameli Isungset Agbota) prods at the unconvincing story behind her mother’s disappearance. But when the most significant female figure (Pia Halvorsen’s scientist Vilma) is kept in a coma, it hardly shakes off the appearance of blokey preoccupations; of men bunkered down and breaking poorly, neurotically self-sufficient and ready for the worst.
The title, however, may be wise to them, alluding to female influence beyond their control, just as the credits sequence, a totemic depiction of beehive drones, invokes the dominance of a queen. It’s a show about buried fear and the uses of fear – which serve people well, says Ravn, as long as they believe them. At root, then, it isn’t hard to guess what these men are most afraid of.