The Mystery Begins in Afghanistan

Admittedly, Americans wouldn’t usually think about how Norwegian special forces participate in foreign conflicts like the one in Afghanistan, but Netflix’ excellent political thriller Nobel puts that issue front and center. The action starts with a familiar scene-snipers on a roof in the middle east. Lieutenant Erling Riiser, a paratrooper commander, is forced to make the difficult decision whether or not a young boy is in fact a suicide bomber. He shoots, and fortunately (or unfortunately), he was correct-the boy was wearing a vest. What’s interesting about this scene is that one of the troops remarks that if they were American, they would shoot first and ask questions later. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Regardless, when the Muslim mother comes flying in, wailing, Erling accidentally touches her while trying to keep her away from the child. Soon, the woman’s husband appears and beats his wife for allowing herself to be touched by a man.

 And Continues in Norway

Flash forward 13 weeks, and we are following Erling as he arrives home for a few months’ break. We find out that his wife is a big wig in the Norwegian Foreign Minister’s office (Secretary of State). While they are at a political event, Erling gets a call that the Muslim woman’s husband is in Norway and has found his wife, who, it turns out, the Norwegians rescued in Afghanistan and brought to Norway. Erling runs over to the safe house, comes upon the husband attacking his wife and he kills the husband. Meanwhile, Erling’s wife just that day had been in a meeting that identified the (now dead) Muslim man as Sharif Zamani, a wealthy and brutal landowner in Afghanistan that is blocking the Norwegians’ forward motion on an oil deal. Coincidence? I think not. And this is just the first episode.

 Dirty Laundry

Scandinavia seems like such a Boy Scout-y place, but if you are a fan of Nordic noir, you will know that it has some dirty laundry. In Nobel we see Norwegian politics at its worst, and it’s kind of shocking. If you watched Borgen, about Denmark’s prime minister, parliament and the press (one of our top 10!), you will like Nobel. What is different here is the action. Throughout the season we return in flashback to Afghanistan with the paratroopers, where tense, dramatic scenes reveal more of the mystery about Zamani and how he fits into Norwegian politics. As with all good dramas, there are subplots in Nobel, one of the most interesting being the friendship between Erling and his fellow commander Jon-Petter, as well as a less satisfying one about Erling’s junkie dad. This has been in my queue for literally years, and I’m sorry I didn’t watch it sooner. Nobel was a hit in Norway and it is an excellent selection on Netflix for the rest of us.

Looking for more of the best in foreign TV?  Don’t miss our other great reviews HERE!