Many modern storytellers use ancient mythology as a tool to give their work an interesting yet familiar flavor. It’s not uncommon for stories to put their own spin on ancient mythologies, most notably Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson novels based on the Greek legends of gods, heroes, and monsters. Earlier this year, Netflix attempted a modern take on old myths — this time, based on Norse mythology.
My grasp of Norse mythology comes only from Marvel’s Thor film franchise, as well as Riordan’s lesser-known Magnus Chase books. But, because of these prior introductions, Netflix’s new series Ragnarok caught my attention. Supposedly a modern and original take on the Norse version of the end of times, the show mixes myth with another relevant subject matter: pollution and climate change. With mythology, environmentalism, and good old teen drama, Ragnarok showed the potential of another original hit for Netflix. Unfortunately, it may have buckled under the weight of its own promise.
The show consists of six episodes, each around 40 to 50 minutes long, so it’s not a heavy watch. But six might be too short — the conclusion has no finality (no doubt to promote a second season), leaving many questions unanswered. Along with the minimal quantity and quality of the visual effects, this might signify a low production budget, which would hold back any show with such an ambitious concept. But, what Ragnarok lacks in spectacle, it makes up for in simpler things.
One aspect of the show that makes it unique is its setting. It takes place in a small fictional town in Norway called Edda. The show takes advantage of the Norwegian scenery at every opportunity, with shots that might as well be part of a tourism campaign. They serve as a deliberate juxtaposition for exploring the subject of environmental decline, and an overall theme of darkness beneath appearances. Plus, the killer soundtrack (with English and Norwegian songs) perfectly underscores the show’s idyllic setting and teenage feel.
Aside from the music and scenery, one of the show’s strengths is its actors. Some may have room for improvement, but the highlights are Theresa Frostad Eggesbø and Herman Tømmeraas, who play teenage villains Saxa and Fjor. Unfortunately, the show fails to showcase more of the actors’ talents. Most characters don’t develop much throughout the season, aside from Fjor and the main character, Magne.
By the end of the season, the show hasn’t yet really made good on its promise. As a mythological fiction, it only scratches the surface, such as the full extent of Magne’s powers or the global reach of the titular myth. It barely delves into climate change and pollution either, at best only repeatedly acknowledging that they exist. And the teenage drama mostly takes a backseat, tackling issues such as mental health and sexuality minimally.
But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t watch the show or should give up on future seasons. In its short debut season, Ragnarok shows potential — a potential it hasn’t quite lived up to yet, but displayed glimpses of from time to time. Much like how it took time for Magne to discover his powers fully, Ragnarok needs more time to become the show it promised to be.
If Ragnarok proves to become better and more popular over time, it can pave the way for more high-quality Netflix originals featuring foreign cultures and languages. Along with shows like Kingdom (Korean), Dark (German), and Money Heist (Spanish), Ragnarok demonstrates Netflix’s initiative to globalize their original content for a global audience.
As director Bong Joon-ho said in his Golden Globe speech, “once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” No doubt, this is also true for television shows. And, although Ragnarok isn’t “amazing” just yet, it certainly provides an experience different from mainstream American shows. I’ll watch out for its second season to see how it will move toward its full potential — even in a worst-case scenario, I would still be gaining more exposure to Norwegian culture in a mediocre show. If you’re curious, you should give Ragnarok a shot, too — and make sure to watch it subbed, not dubbed, for the full experience.