Girlfriend or Guardian? (Series Review: “Quicksand”)

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In the aftermath of a school shooting, a well-liked Swedish girl is tried for murder. . .  A riveting series about a disturbing relationship marked by conflicted loyalties and the societal mores that fueled the fire.

SnapShot Plot

This week marked the 20th anniversary of one of the saddest days in U.S. history: the tragic shooting at Columbine which took the lives of 12 and injured 24 others. Since then, the incidences of school shootings on American soil have become far too commonplace. So are the countless books, movies and TV shows which no doubt spring from a cautionary place but which may (ironically) serve to dramatize/glorify the persona of the lone shooter, the misunderstood and often bullied outsider whose only solution is slaughter.

Breaking the mold, and hailing from a part of the world where school violence is a rarity, is a new 6-part series from Sweden, Quicksand (Störst av allt). The story begins with a bang, literally, as several students and their teacher (in a progressive, upscale high school) are gunned down in a single classroom, apparently at the hands of two students who have recently been embroiled in a turbulent romantic relationship. The girl, 18-year old Maja (tenderly played by rising star, Hanna Ardéhn) is immediately taken into custody and arrested for inciting murder, attempted murder, and murder itself. Her body and clothes are covered in blood and gunshot residue. She’s in a state of shock, and claims to have no real memory of the events leading up to the shooting, as well as the attack itself. When her defense attorney appears to unravel the mystery, thus begins a series of flashbacks in which – piece by piece – the rest of the story is revealed, not only to Maja herself but to the audience.

Maja’s boyfriend is Sebastian (convincingly played by a pixie-faced Felix Sandman), a troubled guy whose loveless and dysfunctional relationship with his uber-rich father, coupled with his increasingly reckless drug habit, drags Maja into his spiraling behaviour. Maja at first resists Sebastian’s hedonistic and morally adrift lifestyle, basking in the approval of not only her parents (themselves well to do) but Sebastian’s father too, who has almost given up entirely on his son, telling her at their first meeting that she is Sebastian’s ‘savior’. It’s not long, however, before she begins to enjoy the notoriety of dating the son of the richest man in Sweden, with all that it implies.

Before long, Maja is pulled down the rabbit hole with Sebastian, who manipulates her in all sorts of ways to the point where she knows she’s trapped but feels unable to abandon him to his own self destructive impulses.

It’s an absolute recipe for disaster.

 

 

Parting Shot

The series is based on the novel by Malin Persson Giolito, which to date has been published in 26 countries and was voted Nordic Crime Novel of the year in 2016. It was directed by Per-Olav Sørensen and Lisa Farzaneh, on an adapted script by Camilla Ahlgren, who was the head writer on the popular Nordic crime series, The Bridge (also known for her work on the Dragon Tattoo trilogy).

What makes Quicksand so compelling a story are a few things. For one, it’s not about a single disenfranchised and bullied boy who seeks retribution and revenge in a solo act of carnage. In fact, what perplexes the investigators the most about Maja and Sebastian’s crime is their intent, their motivation toward killing their classmates and teacher. Second, it’s strange that a girl, let alone one as smart and tied to her family and friends as Maja, should be involved in something this aberrant. And finally, the community itself seems so idyllic, the kids so privileged and entitled, but something’s not quite right here, for sure. The show goes to great lengths to show the tensions and prejudices around the immigration topic, in the character of Samir, a good friend of Maja’s whose Middle Eastern family is struggling to assimilate into Swedish society. The jealousy and resentment between Samir and Sebastian simmer under the surface before eventually coming to a boil, after which nothing can go back to the way it was.

We can watch Quicksand as a love story gone bad, or a (sometimes weakly conveyed) crime thriller/police procedural or most certainly a cautionary tale. To me, the cautionary tale is two-fold. Yes, it’s a damning argument against gun violence. But it’s also a warning to parents everywhere who may think that just because our kids have the world at their fingertips, that they have the emotional sophistication to deal with mature and complicated relationships. If we indulge our entitled kids with too many luxuries and not enough supervision, very bad things happen. What this girl really needed was a curfew.

Quicksand is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nr-lJ_MVljw

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