Valkyrien distills the anxieties of contemporary Europe into riveting crime drama. Set in the forgotten places of the modern city, it tells the story of two men from vastly different worlds, brought together through circumstance, each unaware of the potentially dangerous secret life the other lives.
Far from the prying eyes of the surveillance state, Valkyrien explores the hidden world under our feet, and the uncertainty of modern existence.
What we do in the shadows
Valkyrien takes place in a network of abandoned bomb shelters, hidden in the Oslo underground. Opening on rogue medical scientist Ravn’s lab, tucked away from authorities in one such shelter, the world of the show is quickly established as one of secret spaces and secret affairs.
The hidden places amongst the underground provide an easy visual shorthand for where the show lives - the fringes of society, and the fringes of science. Ravn’s lab in particular plays to this theme to great effect: it’s no abandoned bomb shelter; it’s a secret lair. There he runs experiments deemed too dangerous by his medical superiors. By no means a supervillain, Ravn is instead driven by a desire to finish his comatose wife’s work, and cure her condition. It’s a fun inversion of what we’ve come to expect from secret subterranean labs, switching out the mad scientist for desperate husband, though he may be no less dangerous.
Modern life is rubbish
Ravn’s lab is maintained by Leif, a public servant whose sole responsibility is maintaining the bomb shelters. Leif acts as a cypher for every apocalyptic anxiety of modern living. Far from a reactionary populist, Leif dismisses the general fears of Islamic extremism, giving us instead a list of the twelve greatest threats facing civilisation today. It’s his manifesto, and it should seem awfully familiar to most people watching: climate change, species extinction, energy shortages - these are the real threats to humanity. Larger that ideological differences, they’re the true catastrophes awaiting us, and even one could spell the end of the human race.
Establishing a partnership with Ravn, one is left wondering after this moment, if Leif hasn’t invited a thirteenth potential catastrophe to the shelters underneath Oslo.
In order to maintain his lab in Leif’s bomb shelter network, Ravn is enlisted to aid Leif’s fringe-dwelling compatriots.
In the first episode, there’s a particularly Batman-esque sequence where Leif, having comes across a seriously injured bank robbing associate, arrives at Ravn’s wife’s funeral, dragging the other man into his truck and then speeding through the network of secret tunnels and roadways that lead to Ravn’s lab. This is life for Ravn now, the Faustian pact he’s made with a loosely affiliated network of fringe-dwellers in order to continue his dangerous experimentation.
I want to believe
Leif, we discover, is something of a survivalist and conspiracy theorist. He’s affiliated with a larger network of anarchists and others, using his position as a public servant to share information with the police force - a wholly one-sided affair in Leif’s favour. Conspiracy theories and future apocalypses have seen a resurgence in recent years, and Valkyrien taps this societal anxiety well. At the end of the first episode, you’re left wondering if Leif sees himself as a deliverer from the collapse he sees on the horizon, or actively working to hasten its arrival. However, from the self-interested medical board to the supervillainous connotations around Ravn’s work, Leif’s worldview seems completely reasonable within the world of the show.
Valkyrien is a show that reflects our modern times, as distressing as that truth might be.
Valkyrien is streaming now on SBS On Demand: