Even former Viking shieldmaidens inhale takeaway coffee to offset the effects of a big night out. Hang on, Vikings drinking takeaway coffee?
Welcome to Beforeigners, a Norwegian crime series with an intriguing twist: what would happen if people from the past suddenly appeared here and now?
Across the world, flashes of light start appearing in the oceans and harbours; panicked people from three eras in the past – the Stone Age, the Viking era and the late 1800s – suddenly appear in the water. No-one knows why or how this is happening, and the ‘beforeigners’ have no memory of how they got here.
Years later, with the appearances continuing but scientists no wiser as to why, burned-out Oslo police officer Lars Haaland (Norwegian actor Nicolai Cleve Broch, Acquitted) is paired with Alfhildr Enginsdottir (Krista Kosonen, Blade Runner 2049), a woman originally from the Viking Age, to investigate the murder of a woman with Stone Age tattoos. A new recruit who’s part of the police department’s integration program for “multi-temporal” officers, Alfhildr is a former Viking shieldmaiden who brings some special skills to the hunt for the killer.
Beforeigners is part crime show, part sci-fi, with a dash of comedy – not surprising given co-creators Anne Bjørnstad and Eilif Skodvin, perhaps best known outside Europe for the American–Norwegian TV series Lilyhammer, have a background in comedy writing.
The mystery is intriguing, and Kosonen and Broch are perfectly cast as the leads. The visuals, too, are fascinating, as past meets present. Goats and chickens wander alleyways between tall modern buildings. Bonneted women rub shoulders with fur-wearing former Vikings and modern-day Norwegians. A Stone Age migrant who likes to roam around the forest naked, hunting rabbits, is also a wealthy businessman. A dapper man from the 1800s drives a horse-drawn cart down the street – with headphones in his ears.
Unsurprisingly, the continuing arrival of time migrants creates social tension. Graffiti shouts “Beforeigners go home” and “Norway for nowadays people”. Time-ist prejudice rears up when there’s an incident involving temproxate, a drug used to treat new arrivals but also sold on the black market.
“The universe is an allegory of the refugee crisis and migration issues,” Anne Bjørnstad has said of the show in an interview with Variety. Skodvin has also talked about the political strand woven through the show: “It’s that picture of society; of the excitement of the different individuals who have arrived with totally different backgrounds and are co-existing with us; of the different problems and qualities they bring to our time.”
Bringing together multiple time periods so convincingly is a triumph for the entire creative team. Costumes and language (a Stone Age language was developed specifically for use in the show) had to reflect four separate eras.
Like any good crime show, though, what makes this work is not just how it looks, but the story and the people. The seemingly straight-forward death of the tattooed woman is not what it seems, and the mystery’s twists and turns keep viewers guessing. Lars, Alfhildr and others such as fellow Viking-era arrival Urd become more than a tired cop, a new recruit, a party-loving shieldmaiden.
Nicolai Cleve Broch as Lars Haaland brings to mind Billy Campbell in Cardinal. Like Campbell’s John Cardinal, Haaland’s been banged around a bit by life: a fractured family, a hand injury, the challenges of police work in a world turned upside down by the arrivals from the past. Krista Kosonen is perfect as the transplanted Alfhildr Enginsdottir, fiesty but vulnerable (“an amazing talent", says Bjørnstad, especially given the Finnish actress spoke no Norwegian when she was cast).
The show did so well on release in Europe that it’s already been renewed for a second season, which will see Paul Kaye (Game of Thrones), Ann Akin (Strike, Law and Order UK) and Billy Postlethwaite (Tomb Raider) join the cast.
All 6 episodes of Beforeigners are now streaming at SBS On Demand.