Ragnarok (show) is rated TV-MA by Netflix
It’s officially the fall edition season here at The City Voice, and that means it’s time to cue the summer reviews. Since Maya’s covering Disney+’s Loki this week, I think it’s the perfect opportunity to revisit Netflix’s less popular but no less interesting take on the eternally charming trickster and his earnest brother.
The creatively named Ragnarok’s greatest strength, and greatest weakness, is that it’s Norwegian. I don’t just mean that it’s filmed in Norway, although it is, in a town called Odda, but more importantly that the show was written and produced in Norway and in the Norwegian language. If, like me, you don’t speak Norwegian, you’ll have to watch the show either dubbed into English or with English subtitles, which I admit takes some getting used to. But it’s worth it for the sheer authenticity and attention to detail Ragnarok has to offer. Unlike Marvel, which has taken, shall we say, a loose approach to adapting the ancient Norse myths, Ragnarok is meticulous in crafting a tale that is flexibly but fiercely loyal to the source material.
Loki is, as always, scheming
That’s not to say that the show requires an extensive knowledge of Norse mythology to enjoy, far from it, but by putting the spotlight on the ancient tales instead of on the spectacle Ragnarok gives itself space for clever storytelling that remains gripping with every episode.
That story starts slow, with teenager Magne and his brother Laurits moving back to the hamlet town of Edda, where their father died under mysterious circumstances a decade before. Their story as the new kids in town is far from unexpected, with Laurits falling in with the popular kids and Magne befriending misfit activist Isolde. It is, to all appearances, a stereotypical high school story, except that Magne is Thor. And the world is ending. Take that for a twist.
Even Thor has to do homework sometimes
Yet despite the undeniable appeal of Ragnarok’s epic fantasy leanings, the show really finds its strength in its more mundane moments. Like much of the best speculative fiction (see NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy and Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House) Ragnarok builds its magic, and horror, up from a core of real experience. In this telling Loki isn’t a charming, wily Asgardian, he’s a popular kid who knows where all the best parties are, while Thor is an honest, trustworthy, and sometimes painfully awkward kid who excels at sports but struggles to overcome his dyslexia. The giants, meanwhile, transform from towering villains in the stories of gods to become rich kids who tempt Loki not with power but with promises of popularity.
Perhaps most innovative of all, the show’s titular apocalypse becomes not a great battle, as in the ancient texts, but climate change. The giants of today don’t bother to battle gods or take over the world, why should they? The gods are dead, for now, and all they need to rule the world is money, money they make by burning fossil fuels and polluting the water supply. To save the world, Thor doesn’t need to take on a flaming CGI supervillain, he needs to convince a corrupt system to change.
Nothing out of the ordinary to see here
And that’s what really makes Ragnarok work, because by staying small it also stays real. Don’t get me wrong, I find watching Chris Hemsworth hit stuff with a hammer pretty entertaining, but it doesn’t resonate with real fears and real triumphs the way Ragnarok does. We normal human teenagers don’t know what it’s like to travel the bifrost (most of us, at least), but I think we do know what it’s like to be afraid of growing up on a dying world. We know what it’s like to be too young to be listened to, we know what it’s like to be scared of not fitting in, and we’ve seen the rich and powerful get away with murder. We can cry when these characters lose and cheer when they win because, the thin varnish of magic aside, they’re our losses, our victories. By wrapping the stories of gods and giants in modern fears, modern dreams, Ragnarok finds something new to say in stories that have been told for more than 800 years.
Ragnarok seasons 1 and 2 are now available on Netflix.