There is no dearth of gritty, hard-hitting shows on Netflix. Honestly, it’s one of the most overdone genres since the advent of online platforms. That is the reason most viewers know what to expect with even the tiniest of hints, which makes for a very dimmed-down shock value of the story. This is where ‘The Girl from Oslo’ sets itself apart.
The Norwegian series, The Girl from Oslo (also titled Bortført), belongs to an emerging genre where reality is grounded and without drama. This is a genre that doesn’t try to direct the emotions of the viewer. It presents the facts of the story for what they are, in a linear manner, and lets the viewer decide. Another show that comes to mind regarding this treatment is the 2019 American true-crime series ‘Unbelievable’ which, despite being a very different story, was presented in a similar manner, which ended up making it one of the most impactful pieces of content in recent times, a destiny we expect for ‘The Girl from Oslo’ as well.
‘The Girl from Oslo’ Plot Summary
The story starts with the abduction of three teenagers- Nadav and Noa Salem, who are both Israelis, and Pia Bakke, who is from Norway. The kidnapping happens when the three of them are on vacation in Egypt. The show is about the attempts of Pia’s mother to protect her and bring her back and the subsequent steps she takes, which involve certain political and personal manipulations of the people around her.
The kidnappers have two conditions. One that a terrorist in Oslo, Abu Salem, be freed, for which Pia’s dad, Karl Bakke, who is in Norway, must work to get him a retrial. The second condition is that another 12 political prisoners must be let go of, in exchange for the hostages. Back in Israel, Pia’s mother Alex is closely working with Minister Arik Shor, who is overseeing the rescue operations.
Without giving away too many spoilers, let’s say that Arik’s family and career depend upon the safe return of the hostages. He goes as far as to hire a mercenary by the name of Grant, who was one of his comrades in the army, for a rescue operation, which ultimately fails. During the subsequent investigation into who was behind the operation, there is a time where Arik is questioned. Watching that scene reminds us of the sage advice of our mothers to not trust men with pretty smiles.
Another pivotal character in the story is Yusuf, the son of Layla Al-Kelani, a doctor and a bureaucrat who is Alex’s friend. Yusuf is one of the terrorists, and he secretly plans to quit the organization and bring back the teenagers to safety.
One thing that really gets you invested in the series is how clinically everything is shown. There is not a single instance of theatrics and even moments of great grief, when one of the characters is going through a complete breakdown, is shown so undramatically and as part of a story rather than the focus of the moment that it comes as a shock to the viewer how quickly it ends. There is another moment in the show that encompasses all of 2 seconds that shows the daily lives of people who live in an area where bombings are treated as construction noises, and people get on with their lives as they see that they are still alive.
Surprisingly, this treatment makes you feel like you are watching the events unfold in real-time and draws you into the 5 hours of the story.
‘The Girl from Oslo’ Ending Explained
The finale brings together the scattered pieces of the puzzle and ends on quite a bittersweet note. While Pia and Nadav are reunited with their families, the same cannot be said for the others. Yusuf, who we come to realize is just a boy who wants to fight for his country, what he considers to be the good fight, has quite the journey of disillusionment that ends on a very tragic note. The bombings in Gaza were stopped for 24 hours by the Israeli government, as a way to safely reunite Pia and Nadav with their families and also as a way to deceptively cut a deal with Bashir.
In the last moments of ‘The Girl from Oslo,’ we see that Layla has recorded a video of Arik saying he will stop the bombings completely, which has been sent to him by Bashir. So, we can only assume that they negotiated the peace of the area based on that. And that’s the real message of the ending- that though a temporary mission was successful, the political landscape continues to be just as turbulent after where power plays take precedence over the lives of people.
‘The Girl from Oslo’ is sharply written, and though it takes an episode or two to engage you entirely, it doesn’t waste time. It is to be noted that the show is placed between the Israeli-Palestine conflict and a fictional show is no place to learn about political issues.
An exciting thing that happens in the series is what we assume as the conclusion, where the families are reunited, is that it is the start of a different perspective and a hard look at the general assumption of ‘terrorist agendas’ and the way they are connected to the lives of many innocents.
In one scene, Karl Bakke says, ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’ The line is open to some very prudent interpretation, when we realize that Bashir, with his militant connections, is just genuinely concerned about the safety and well-being of his people. In contrast, Arik, a person in the government, one of the ‘good guys,’ is willing to risk it all for power.
It is indeed a show to watch, and it goes without saying that the actors are excellent, especially Amos Taman, who plays Arik. The show raises many questions, and it is better to research them outside of Netflix, considering what is happening in the world right now. A person who is well-versed with the politics depicted in the show would probably have a lot more opinions than the average viewer. Overall, this is one of those shows that, despite its fallacies, does more than just entertain the viewer. It makes them think and question, which is a need in today’s world. As for the future, we hope to see more from the team that brought ‘The Girl from Oslo’ to our screens while we try to do justice to the current product by learning more.
The Girl from Oslo (also titled Bortført) is a 2021 Drama Thriller Television Series created by Kyrre Holm Johannessen and Ronit Weiss-Berkowitz. It is streaming on Netflix.