Scenic rural sights. Teenagers with a secret. A crime that’ll change lives and scandalise a close-knit community. Starting with an unexpected act of violence and charting the aftermath amidst an atmosphere of small-town unease, Norwegian series Eyewitness opens with a dose of the familiar.
Indeed, fans of Scandinavian crime drama can be forgiven for thinking that they’re in recognisable territory as the first episode gets underway, particularly when the police swoop in to investigate — and uncover a web of deceit and corruption in the process. With 15-year-olds Philip (Axel Bøyum) and Henning (Odin Waage) sitting at the centre of the action, however, there’s more to the six-part series than it might appear.
An intimate coming-of-age tale
In the thick of sharing a stolen intimate moment together in a quarry shack on the edge of their hometown of Mysen, the high schoolers bear witness to a shootout between gun-toting thugs — and gain another topic of conversation that they dare not broach with anyone but each other. Philip and Henning are accustomed to keeping their attraction from their family and classmates, but the weight of the incident tests their bond, as well as their character. Watching as the duo grapple with forging not only their relationship but also their identities as their secrets collide helps provide the emotional spark that kicks the series into gear.
Personal privacy versus the greater good
How far would you go to protect your own personal status quo? Would you choose your own privacy over helping others or solving a crime, particularly when lives — including your own — might be at risk? It’s a train of thought powers into focus from the show’s first moments, remaining pertinent as Philip and Henning decide to keep quiet to protect their burgeoning sexuality, and weaving itself through the series’ other narrative threads. Eyewitness handles the boys’ reticence to reveal their romantic connection with sensitivity, illustrating the taunting response they already face at school, while highlighting the costs of their silence.
The remake factor
It should come as no surprise that, like fellow Nordic noir efforts such as Millennium, Wallander, The Killing and The Bridge before it, Eyewitness has received the English-language remake treatment. It should similarly come as no surprise that the original exceeds the American television adaptation, though the ten-part effort is well-regarded in its own right. Still, there’s a reason that US film and television keeps being drawn to Scandinavian fare — no one does thrilling crime mysteries with the same level of darkness and contemplation.
Viewing crime from the outside
“It’s criminals killing other criminals. Nothing to do with ordinary people,” Philip is told by his foster father over breakfast at the beginning of Eyewitness’ second episode. It’s the kind of statement designed to remind viewers that the teenager knows more than he’s able to share; however, it also hints at the juxtaposition that drives the show. Where many of its Scandinavian crime counterparts — and crime shows in general — focus on the two obvious sides of the law and order divide, Eyewitness peers beyond the perpetrators and the folks charged with bringing them to justice. Here, the consequences of underworld acts upon innocent bystanders are placed front and centre, heightening the stakes and the intrigue.
A whodunnit with a twist
“Who killed Nanna Birk Larsen?” The Killing asked — as many a small town-set murder mystery has since Twin Peaks pondered “who killed Laura Palmer?”. With Philip and Henning and audiences seeing the events that spark the drama, the question driving Eyewitness isn’t who, but why? While giving viewers and selected characters more information than the on-screen investigators isn’t a new tactic, it successfully maintains the tension until more leads and players emerge, and the plot thickens. That Philip’s foster mother, Helen Sikkeland (Anneke von der Lippe), is a former cop turned Mysen’s sheriff who is leading the local quest for answers, adds an extra layer of complications.
The original Scandi Noir series Eyewitness is streaming now on SBS On Demand: