In a world that is equally dominated by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (our beloved MCU) and the frequent live-action adaptation of young adult fantasy dramas like The Vampire Diary or Teen Wolf, Netflix’s original Norwegian series Ragnarok is bound to meet with initial skepticism. After all, the show centers on the gods and goddesses of the Norse pantheon namely: Thor, Loki, Odin, Jotuns, and others. Names we are all too familiar with, thanks to the MCU and its multiple installments of the Thor movies. At the same time, Ragnarok’s heavy homage to other teen fantasy series is sure to make many audiences find some other alternative.
However, Netflix’s Ragnarok still manages to stand out in more than one account. When you are launching a series with plot points people are already familiar with, there is really very little that you can do to improve your storytelling. But series’s creator Adam Price, instead of looking at it as an obstacle, uses this as an opportunity to delve deeper into the idea of godhood and human psychology.
Let’s start breaking it down.
Synopsis of the Plot
Ragnarok follows teenage brother Magne and Laurits Seier, and their mother Turid relocating back to their fictional hometown Edda in Hordaland, Western Norway. From the very first minute, it is made clear that Edda is plagued by climate change and industrial pollution. It is caused by its local factories, owned by the rich Jutul family. An absolute no-brainer for anyone familiar with Norse mythology is that the Jotuls is a wordplay on Jötner or the infamous frost giants. It is quite rightfully so.
The Jotuns, in reality, are the last four Jötners who survived the Great War and remained under the guise of a human family to avoid detection – papa Vidar, mama Ran, son Fjor, and daughter Saxa. As the series progresses, Magne finds himself to be the embodiment of the Norse god of thunder Thor. Thereafter, he challenges the Jotuls for their dirty deeds. Magne also finds unexpected allies along the way, be it the Seeress Wenche, or modern-day manifestations of Loki, Odin, Freya, and Tyr.
Beyond the Metaphors (Ragnarok)
What makes Ragnarok an interesting watch is the intertwining of real-world issues with a fantasy narrative. As soon as Magne moves to Edda, he befriends a socially recluse green activist Isolde Eidsvoll. The character of Isolde serves as the anchoring point of the series in many aspects. One, for the most part of the first episode, Ragnarok focuses on Isolde and her green campaigns. She frequently visits the otherwise picturesque mountains around Edda only to measure the receding sizes of glaciers. Isolde is also the one who finds traces of toxic chemicals in Edda’s drinking water. Consequentially, she continues to raise public awareness.
However, her activism is cut short when she accidentally stumbles across the main source of water pollution. This includes thousands of barrels of toxic waste hidden in a mountain tunnel. Who do the barrels belong to? None other than the Jotul Corporation, the only corporation, and employer in Edda. Vidar soon kills Isolde to hide his tracks. Interestingly, this is also the point where Ragnarok – as a series – finally takes off with climate change as its backdrop.
Sustainability v/s Industrialisation (Ragnarok)
Over the next episodes, we come across different philosophical takes on religion and godhood in the general society. For example, at one point Vidar explains that Jotners were the original Gods of the Nordic region before Odin and his successors came along. Jotners were the ones responsible for human prosperity against timely sacrifices. At another point, Saxa also voices the same sentiment in front of her entire class. She claims that Jotners were the true Gods of this region. The new Gods had banished them from their rightful place. In a close parallel, Jotuls are the only corporation in Edda.
They not only own every factory but the high school too, making them sole providers for the citizens of Edda. In return, the people of the town shower them with the utmost respect by often offering freebies and free services. But this is eventually threatened by Isolde’s green crusade and Magne taking up her unfinished business. One can say it closely inspects the amenities real-world corporations like Amazon and Tesla enjoy. Their regular tax evasions, and their god-like social status nonetheless. At the same time, Ragnarok reasons why corporates fear individuals like Thunberg. They see environmental concerns as a ploy to shut their businesses down.
Another key moment in Ragnarok is when Fjor joins the green activists following Isolde’s death and takes the mic up against his family. This is possibly one scene where the creative team of Ragnarok moves beyond metaphors. The scene clearly establishes a parallel between the perceived godhood of modern-day corporates and the fictional godhood of the Jotuls. Visiting the green activists outside his father’s business, we can see Fjor finally aligning himself with the new generation. Even if millionaires think that they are immortals, they would be living a lonely life, if everyone around them dies. It resembles the age-old paradox where greed ends and altruism finally takes over.
Let’s close this article with one last scene from Ragnarok. It comes in season two when Magne is trying to make peace with a murder he commits a few episodes earlier. Around this time, Magne is also given a school assignment on the Great War between Gods and Giants. Magne soon finds himself asking the obvious moral questions around good and evil. Reflecting on the recent killing, Magne questions the intention of good if it also demands bloodshed, or worse enough, death. Can we then really differentiate between good and evil that easily?
Well, to find an answer to this question or to know Price’s take on this connundrum, we need to wait for the third season of Ragnarok.