In the opening episode of NOBEL, Special Forces Lieutenant Erling Risser turns to his wife and says “I’m not quite sure what happened but that was impressive”.
This sums up my feelings towards this this tense political Norwegian war thriller about a soldier whose return home from Afghanistan isn’t quite what he expected.
Nobel is not a series that leaves great first impressions. As a viewer, you’re dropped into the middle of unfamiliar terrain - surrounded by international and national politics that you’re given little explanation for, and a stoic main character who isn’t one for giving anything away. When Risser receives the text ordering him to kill a target and discovers it wasn’t actually from his commander, it triggers the main chain of events covering roughly two weeks. Unfortunately, you’re not entirely sure why you should care. I was left mildly intrigued, but also a rather bored.
I didn't realise that while I was busy trying to make sense of everything, I was being slowly drawn in. You know there’s a conspiracy going on, but you’re also led to questions about the nature of war itself and its impact on everyone involved. From the soldiers on the ground, the national politicians making choices from their comfy offices to the Norwegian public who demand answers they never truly get.
The characters interact seamlessly, and Risser (Aksel Hennie) gives a strong unwavering performance as the silent type to whom those around him either compliments (his sharp-tongued wife Johanne, played by Tuva Novotny) - or contrasts (the raw emotions of the squad leader Jon Petter Hals, played by Anders Danielsen Lie). Everyone is so human that no matter how much you try to brand them as villains or saints, you are defeated by the grey areas of war, if not life.
It’s definitely a series that must be watched as a whole to truly appreciate. What felt random at the start eventually reveals its significance. By the penultimate episode - even the opening credit highlights the answers to your questions were always staring you right in the face. Yet it doesn’t feel like that as you’re watching - Nobel’s episodes have choppy cliffhanger endings, and the questions raised in one episode are only ever half answered until several revelations later.
I didn’t realise how invested I had become until the final episode where the tension I had craved from the start was so taut it was almost suffocating. War thrillers generally aren’t my cup of tea, but this was a great introduction to Norwegian television. From the filming style to the slow pace it was a series that aimed to place you closer to the reality of Norway’s involvement in Afghanistan.
The plot is clever, but its complexity goes beyond being a good thriller - it mirrors the complexity of war itself. In a war, there are many players, multiple motives and countless outcomes. When all of those meet, no matter how much you unravel, you’re still left with the lingering sensation that something was left unanswered.
- Watched on DVD. Available at HMV.