Beforeigners, on HBO, is a sci-fi procedural that examines what would happen if refugees from other time periods appeared in modern society. In Oslo, Norway, mysterious flashes in the ocean bring people through a time hole from either the Stone Age, the Viking era, or the 19th century to the present day. They become known pejoratively as “beforeigners”, and their integration into society is not smooth. The story picks up 7 years later with the first “multi-temporal” police detective, Alfhildr Enginsdottir, a former Viking shieldmaiden (warrior), arriving to work. When a beforeigner’s body is discovered on the beach, Alfhildr (Krista Kosonen) is partnered with Lars Haaland (Nicolai Cleve Broch), a veteran detective who is on half duty for medical reasons, to check out the situation.

A New World

In Beforeigners, the body on the beach is a MacGuffin, with the real story being the integration of these other-worldly people into today’s society. While we certainly see the chaos and despair of the refugee experience such as overwhelmed facilities, quarantines and poverty, the focus is more on the humor of integration. When we see the art museum, the featured exhibition is “New Voices in Cave Paintings”. There is one character, Navn (Oddgeir Thune), an always-naked hunter from the Stone Age, who is married to a blogger that has built a wildly successful brand as “Caveman’s Wife”. And there is a hilarious scene with a “trans-temporal” support group that I won’t ruin for you here. Creators Anne Bjørnstad and Eilif Skodvin (Lilyhammer) have built a delightful world that is fully formed, complete with authentic-as-possible languages for all three eras. (There is a fascinating article about how they recreated the languages here.)  I wasn’t ready to leave it after 6 episodes.

Lars and Alfhildr

When we meet Lars, he is on half duty because of some mysterious illness. “I’m sick,” he says. But what he really is, is addicted to temproxat, a euphoria-inducing drug in the form of eye drops. He’s not fooling Alfhildr, who literally sniffs out his secret. Meanwhile, Alfhildr is struggling with modern day civility. When she runs into a Viking era man who used to rape her, she gives him a violent beating, only remembering her new found police status after Lars pulls them apart. While the other detectives take bets on how long Alfhildr will last on the force, Lars realizes that her Viking skills combined with her utter fearlessness make her a better detective than any of them. The actress playing Afhildr, Krista Kosonen, really shines. She is actually Finnish, and had to learn both modern day Norwegian AND Old Norse to play Afhildr. You might wonder why the creators would cast someone who had such hurdles, but when you see Ms. Kosonen at work, it’s clear that her combination of vulnerability and strength are unbeatable.

Norwegian Lore

One thing that is helpful to know is that before Christianity, the Norwegian god was Odin, and in the Viking era, followers of Odin, led by Thore Hund, waged a brutal war against followers of Olaf the Stout (or St. Olaf, legendary King of Norway), who is widely credited with bringing Christianity and its “White Christ” to Norway. Turns out Alfhildr was a shieldmaiden to Thore, and she believes he timeigrated to modern day as well. She and her fellow shieldmaiden Urd are looking for Thore. When they eventually find him in the form of Tommy, a sad sack food deliveryman with a wife and two kids, Afhildr and Urd remind him of who he really is. By the end of season 1, the set-up is in for a modern day confrontation between Thore and Olaf.

I can’t say enough about how much I loved Beforeigners. It’s funny, touching and thought-provoking with an intriguing sci-fi set up and a compelling mystery. It will definitely be one of our favorites of 2020.

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