This 10-part Norwegian crime drama – currently playing out on Walter Presents – gives us an interesting proposition: a hotshot financial whizz returns to his hometown of Lifjorden in Norway to help out a bankrupt solar energy company. There’s one small catch: the man, called Aksel Borgen (Nicolai Cleve Broch), was acquitted of the murder of his then-girlfriend Karine 20 years ago, and left town, making a success of his life Kuala Lumpur, marrying and having a child. But here he is, back in Lifjorden for the first time since he spent a year in jail, and naturally, not everyone is pleased to see him back. Not everyone believes he was innocent.
NB: Because this is on a streaming service, not everyone will have seen this. Please be aware there are plenty of spoilers inside.
The set up reminded me a little bit of the excellent and poignant American series Rectify (where a man re-entered his hometown community after serving a prison sentence for murder). Yes, this was a little different, but there were similar aspects to mine here – the impact of a returning character who was a catalyst for a geyser-style explosion of awful, until-now buried memories; how the character’s family and friends would react after his return; and, of course, the character himself and how he would react after so long away.
The character in question here, Aksel, was a difficult person to like. A real hot-shot financial type, he received a telephone call in his swish Kuala Lumpur office from beautiful Lifjorden, a quiet, lakeside town. The caller – the husband of Eva Hansteed, the CEO of the quickly dissolving Solar Tech – pleaded with Aksel to come back and buy the company, saving it from certain liquidation. This was a huge surprise to Aksel, because 20 years earlier he had been acquitted of the murder of William and Eva’s daughter, Karine. He hadn’t been back to the town since.
He didn’t have to go back, but he did. Why? We weren’t sure yet, but one thing was clear – Solar Tech was the lifeblood of the town, employing huge amounts of locals. The town just couldn’t afford for the company to go under.
If I haven’t talked about a crime yet, it’s because these first three episodes were mostly about Aksel, dressed in sharp suit at all times, attempting to convince the townsfolk who, two decades earlier had accused him of murder, that his Malaysian company were the ones to bail them out. Despite hostile resistance from Eva herself, Aksel got to work on convincing the rest of board to sign up to the buy-out plan. Encircled by enormous mountains and a gorgeous, tranquil fjord, Aksel went about meeting faces from his past – including old flame Tonje, a frisson still crackling between them, and his mother and brother, Erik – as well as employing silky-smooth, passive-aggressive tactics to try and persuade each board member to sell him their shares.
Slowly but surely Aksel found out how these people lived their lives after he abruptly left town, especially his emotionally damaged mother and brother Erik, both pleased to see him but also wary of his reappearance. The scenes between these three were the most watchable and resonant of the series so far. The relationship between Eva and her son, Karine’s brother, Lars was also interesting – Lars was a relaxed man, married to a strident woman and son to a strident woman, the fate of his sister somehow always overshadowing his existence.
So these first three episodes were mostly taken up by business wheeling and dealing, and human stories of broken families; but in the background was Karine. Always Karine and the crime, like a shadow. And questions: Aksel displayed flashes of anger and lashed out at both Eva and the mayor on two separate occasions. Which made me think: did Aksel really kill Karine? Is this the point of all this – he hasn’t come back to prove his innocence, but maybe, just maybe, to confirm his guilt. There was another thought: perhaps he came back to take revenge on the town; to buy the company and screw everyone.
It’s starting to bubble nicely.