We first meet the brothers in the past, chancing across an idyllic remote beach as they search for surf spots in their camper van. They are full of youthful energy and clearly love each other as they rough and tumble in the sand. Fast forward fifteen years and that same camper van is now a dilapidated home for Erik, scratching out a living on the very same beach by hawking surfboards and generally being an eyesore to passing tourists. It’s clear the world has moved on from him, with Erik relying on a dwindling supply of boyish charm that no doubt worked wonders in his youth but now simply irritates those around him, save doting girlfriend Mary (Nanna Blondell) alongside local policeman and surfing buddy Frank (Gunnar Eiriksson).
Erik is selfish and reckless, with very little concern for anybody beyond what they can do for him. Hivju plays him with the glint of a mischievous rogue, but underneath the surface, there is an icy layer of arrogance from having been enabled for so long by others. This comes to a head when local farmer and beach owner Thomas (Kim Sørensen) has had enough of Erik’s rent arrears and tows his caravan whilst he’s out surfing, in a bid to pressure him to pay up. When Erik can’t produce any money, the system of goodwill that has sheltered him for so long breaks down and Thomas refuses to give him back his home. Enraged, he steals the caravan back and Thomas then subsequently gives chase before accidentally running Erik off a cliff-side road and into the sea.
Travelling across to the local town and tourist hotspot, we meet Erik’s brother Adam – clearly the opposite of his sibling (and visually marked out for us with a calmer Clark Kent-style hairstyle). A sensible business owner who runs a series of fishing chalets, he is the archetypal family man with his wife Ingrid (Rebekka Nystabakk) and two children. We get considerably less screen time with Adam, certainly not enough to fully explore his character, but there seems to be some unspoken tension between Ingrid and him. However, we can all stamp our Nordic Trope Bingo Card with the usual wayward teenage daughter defying the rules to go party with her friends, so that’s a bonus.
When a dishevelled and penniless Erik arrives in town after his accident, his reception is a curious affair; Ingrid is surprised but not opposed to his sudden appearance – even a little enamoured it seems to some degree. Adam, however, exudes animosity, rejecting his pleas for a place to stay outright and asking him to leave. It’s clear something in their shared past broke the bonds of brotherhood, but quite what that was isn’t really uncovered in these opening episodes – something I assume that will be explored in retrospect later. Initially, I will admit I was steeling myself for eight long episodes of tiresome editing as they tried to place Hivju in the same scenes with himself, evolving into some sort of cat and mouse psychological thriller – but to the show-runners credit and my surprise, they did away with that notion almost entirely in the opening chapter and pivoted dramatically.
The circumstances around how Adam dies – and arguably the whole premise of the show – require a considerable leap of faith, but they also go to prove that the series is more Ingrid’s tale than the brothers themselves, as the focus begins to shift onto her. Adam chances upon Erik attempting to steal his boat and a long-gestating fight ensues before Ingrid gets involved and accidentally (inexplicably?) smacks her husband in the face with a boat hook, killing him outright. Erik sails off into the night with the body whilst Ingrid wears out her carpet pacing around at home waiting for a phone call that will never come. Shock is one thing, but do we believe her actions fit the situation? Surely you would call the coast guard, the police…somebody? Instead, she waits out the night hopeful the circumstances from her actions may change.
And they do… drastically. Erik might be absent at sea but his brother’s body isn’t, eventually fished out of the waters by the police. They immediately assume it’s Erik given the brothers’ identical likeness, and so detectives Margrete and Sander are dispatched to Adam’s home to solemnly inform a clearly spooked Ingrid that Erik has died in a car accident, his body dragged at distance by the currents. Any detective worth their salt would be a little curious toward Ingrid’s wildly disproportionate reactions (more on this later), but it leads her to a (largely comical, or was it just me?) series of events where she tries to desperately hold on to normality as she pieces together her next actions. Finally, she takes out a boat (why she didn’t use this immediately the night before and give chase to Erik is…plot reasons I guess?), and amazingly (inexplicably, again), finds a hypothermic Erik on a remote shoreline before dragging him back home with her.
Shenanigans ensue, and well, it’s clear Ingrid’s concept of self-preservation is very high. Did she even love her husband? It’s a question that followed me throughout the next episode, as she was cornered into proposing a bizarre scheme to a bewildered Erik – pretend to be Adam. At least for a few days. For money. The reasoning behind this was her children shouldn’t lose both parents if she was to be jailed for admitting her part in the fight (maybe you shouldn’t have knocked him off then), which is…well, something. But to then compound this deception by plotting to have Erik leave once the coast was clear, and Ingrid tell her children that Adam had left them forever, was callous and cold. It felt like Ingrid harboured the same self-serving characteristic as Erik.
Except Erik was being wholly uncharacteristic, stricken as he was with guilt and desperate to atone for the situation by telling the truth. But that wouldn’t make for a good show of course, and so little by little, plot circumstances forced him slowly into the pretence of becoming his dead brother. Like a Shakespearean comedy of mistaken identity, nobody could see past the physical similarity – be they police, family or friends – and so any hope that concepts such as personality, mannerisms, physicality, speech, memory and the like might be factored in as distinguishable features went out the window pretty much immediately.
The same could be said for Ingrid’s discombobulated reactions to everything and anything in the wake of the incident, which would be a clearly noticeable red flag to anyone close to her – except her daughter is hungover, her toddler oblivious and her father more interested in making his physiotherapy appointment. Although these scenes could construe some notion on the ambivalent nature of modern relationships, it was played with a sense of absurdity that made it clear even this early on we’re not really going too deep with this one.
That said, due to the lightness of the core material we did get our expected second stories. Or at least one so far – that of Frank and his general unease about how Erik came to die on a stretch of road he would have been intimately familiar with, something that resonates with the widowed policeman whose wife died in similar circumstances. This unease slowly transformed into a parallel investigation of a now-closed case, as he probed his cousin Thomas about what really happened between him and Erik on that fateful day – with something approximating misplaced guilt that the farmer obscured behind an inscrutable brow. Maybe it was because this was the only procedural portion of the show, but I found some comfort in its familiarity and felt it was more engaging than the main plotline – helped in some part by the backdrop of wonderful sweeping shots packed with Norwegian vistas that still take your breath away.