Seeing the incoming storm
On "Law and Order", drones over Norway, and the need to let fiction warn us about the worst that could happen
American audiences who have been lulled into entertainment unconsciousness by the unimaginative state of network television dramas may not realize that other countries have proven themselves adept at scripting thoughtful programs that don't rely upon stacks of corpses or outbursts in the interrogation room as their chief plot devices. How many iterations of "Law and Order" does one civilization really need?
■ Norwegian broadcaster TV2, for instance, produced a three-season television series called "Occupied", which traced a fictitious "velvet glove" invasion of their country by a hostile Russian government. While mostly bloodless, the imagined invasion was nonetheless sinister, challenging the boundaries of the eternal question "What would you do?"
■ Fiction, done skillfully, can offer useful insights about human activity. "Occupied" is far more than skilled: It looked directly into the darkest impulses of the Kremlin and came out the other side with a vision of what might happen if an energy crisis were to grip Europe and an isolationist United States were to stand idly by. The fiction hasn't turned into reality quite like the script, but the drama should have gotten people to thinking.
■ In fact, Europe is facing an energy crisis. And Russia may have invaded Ukraine instead of Norway, but that doesn't mean it's behaving peacefully towards Scandinavia. Russian agents have been caught flying drones over Norwegian territory, menacing airports and oil platforms.
■ The world has moved into a period when conflict doesn't always look like war. Of course it still can; the behavior of Russian troops in Ukraine has in some cases been as barbaric as any combat of the past. But conflict is no longer limited to the old ways of battle lines and color-coded uniforms. Some of the cruelest, most inhumane acts of Russia's war against Ukraine has been traced to missile engineers in Moscow and St. Petersburg who make targets of civilian homes and institutions.
■ And even if there is no immediate incursion against Norwegian territory afoot, the shamelessness of trying to intimidate the country within its own boundaries is something worse than peace, even if it does not fully rise to the definition of war. The future depends on our speedy adjustment to new and unconventional conflict, and the steeliness of our resolve not to let aggressors set the rules of the game.
■ "Occupied" told a story that, even when it first aired, drew fits of protest from the Kremlin which obviously ring deafeningly hollow today. Russia's government in 2016 said that "the series's creators decided to scare Norwegian viewers with a non-existing threat from the East in the worst Cold War traditions." The worst "traditions" of the Cold War may be back, but it's clear who is at fault. Halting the march of evil is going to take plenty of imagination from the free world.