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Series / Borderland

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Borderland (Grenseland) is an eight part TV special produced by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, and aired at the end of 1979. The series was based on three books by Norwegian author Sigurd Evensmo, who also was a consultant for the series.

The series tells the story of the aspiring journalist Karl Martin Baardsen, and his ups and downs inside the struggling working class movement in a small Norwegian town during the era of The Great Depression, and subsequently during World War II. Karl Martin grew up as the son of a railroad worker, who had enough money to give his son a higher education. Thus, Karl Martin managed to graduate, barely, before his father was injured in a working accident. The times being what they were, forced Karl Martin out of further education, and had to take up work in a brick factory. Here, he met with two of his childhood pals, the pretty radical Jostein (from a weird place they call "the paradise"), and the bullyish Edvard, somewhat more conservative in his leanings (the two are constantly at blows). Karl Martin seems to be stuck in between them, but joins Jostein in the cause for the working class, and their struggle for higher wages. When it gets known that he is an apt writer, a local newspaper man secures him a job in another town, and he breaks up and leaves.


Well into his new work, he gets acquainted with the local workers, and joins the union there. Thus, he reports on the fighting between the strikers and the "scabs" at the quay at the time of lockout, and tries to the best of his ability to both understand the struggles, the ideology and the actual problems the workers meet. The Labour party has a breakthrough, but now the fascists are on the rise, and the young journalists have to cover the stories of Ethiopia, Spain, and later the Sudet question. Karl Martin´s friend Eyolf travels to Czechoslovakia during this crisis and reports back, while Karl Martin gradually develops a relationship with Mai, daughter of the newspaper editor (called "The Pilot"). Eyolf gets lost in Spain, never to be heard from again, while war grows nearer to home. Karl Martin and Mai get married, a day before the invasion of Poland.


When Norway gets invaded, Karl Martin joins the people fleeing town, and gets back there in time, to find out he has missed out on the resistance movement. He eventually joins them as a courier (because the newspaper has been banned). In time, he also gets arrested, and interrogated by his old oppressor Edvard, who has joined Les Collaborateurs. Edvard lures Karl Martin into a trap, making him reveal information on Inge, a fellow resistance man, because he believes him to be in Sweden. When it is revealed Inge was taken because of this, Karl Martin suffers a breakdown. He is released, but is adviced to lay low for the rest of the war, because he is released to be used as bait. Thus, Karl Martin has to live the last year of the war in confinement in a cabin, while gradually cracking up.

The war ends, and it turns out Inge got himself to Sweden after all, but was so ill from typhoid fever, he succumbed from it. Karl Martin, plagued with guilt, reconciles with Lillan, Inge´s wife, who has given him a tough time in the past. The series end with Karl Martin and Mai and their son walking into the sunset - visibly into the reshaped, modern Norway.



  • The Antagonist: Several during the course of the series: International capitalism, then fascism, and also the "bourgois class", supporting both to a greater or lesser degree. The series argues for the idea of socialism/communism as the antithesis of fascism. This is the thirties, after all. No wonder all the main characters join the fight for republican Spain (with at least one of them, Konrad, joining the Brigades).
  • Author Avatar: Karl Martin for Sigurd Evensmo. The writings done at the end the the war, is Evensmo´s, put in writing by Karl Martin.
    • Evensmo actualy went to Czechoslovakia to cover the Sudet crisis in 1938 - as Eyolf does in this series.
  • Betty and Veronica: Karl Martin is the Betty, and Eyolf the Veronica to Mai´s Archie.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The war is over, Karl Martin has lost two of his best friends, but has a wife and a son.
  • Book Dumb: Lillan. She flunks every attempt at intellectualism, speaks out against both the anvilicious theater project and the readings of Karl Marx, stating that all the fancy words make her panic. On the other hand, Lillan is far from ditzy, and has a grounded perspective on her fellow men and the struggling working class she is a part of. No wonder she and Karl Martin get into spats at some crucial points during the series. She also respects Eyolf´s conflicted intellectualism.
    • Mai, as it turns out.
  • Broken Bird: Karl Martin. Mai for a period. She gets better.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Discussed. While our heroes are trying to get their grips on the Spanish Civil War, they complain the lack of interest from the greater public. The Summer Olympics in Munich is of greater interest, because the Norwegian football team won themselves a bronze medal.
  • Camera Abuse - in the very last episode, when Karl Martin tries to swallow more sleeping pills than his body can handle. Mai forces him to throw them up, and straight at the camera.
  • Canon Foreigner: Konrad. He is not present in the original books, but was written into the series because of the need for a Norwegian volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. He is essentially imported from another book, Betrayal by author Dag Solstad, written in 1977. Konrad is a Composite Character, voicing the leanings of the old communist Simenstad, while the veteran traits come from the character Lindgren. The discussion on the matter of the Finland campaign is almost lifted verbatim from this book.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: All the main characters lampshade this in different ways (also part of the Author Tract, as Evensmo himself, let alone the NRK production team, were staunch radicals). Capitalism leads to corruption of the socialist cause, and eventually to fascism.
  • Cassandra Truth: Eyolf warns constantly of the rise of fascism, and wishes for the Norwegian labour movement to act accordingly, to no avail. The other one to warn about this, is the Pilot. In a broader perspective, both of them warns about the consequences for the movement, should it "compromise itself away from all principles" - which, according to the author, is exactly what happened to the Norwegian Labour Party some decades down the line (that is, at the time of production, and later).
  • Catchphrase: The Pilot´s "I want nothing of it" stands out. Especially when he argues against violent revolutionary tactics.
  • Closer to Earth: Lillan and Inge both, foiling Eyolf and Karl Martin. Also The Pilot.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Edvard. After dissing Jostein and Karl Martin for their socialism early on, he proceeds to kill Jostein at the beginning of the war in Norway, and then goes on to arrest Karl Martin - at his father´s deathbed nonetheless.
  • Companion Cube: Lillan´s accordion.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Mai gets one. This happens before she gets married, and the whole shebang leads to a massive "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Lillan on behalf of Mai - directed at Karl Martin, who retorts to the best of his ability, until Mai begs them to calm down. Lillan takes Mai away, leaving Karl Martin to drown his sorrows for a while. When Mai shows up again later on, she is mature, collected, and determined to stay with him (literally collecting the remnants of our broken hero from his Rock Bottom state). This experience is cleary a crucial stage in her Character Development.
  • Cool Big Sis: Lillan serves as this towards Mai. When she intervenes on Mai´s behalf and sets Karl Martin straight, it is in full Mama Bear mode.
  • Cool Old Guy: The Pilot. He really likes his reporters.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Eyolf. But even sweet Mai has her moments, mostly when she kindly reproaches Karl Martin´s antics.
  • Death of a Child: First, Mai miscarries. Second, she gives birth to a child which dies from complications (actually Down`s syndrome) early on, and she only succeeds in having a healthy child the third time around.
  • Driven to Suicide: Karl Martin at the end of the war. He swallows a full cache of pills - luckily Mai is there to stop him.
  • Fiery Redhead: Lillan, Inge´s girlfriend, and later his wife. She never hesitates to speak her mind, acts quickly, and is a pain in the butt for Karl Martin when she puts him down in front of their friends.
  • Fish out of Water: Karl Martin in his factory period. The others taunt him for his education, calling him "the professor".
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: More visible after the departure of Eyolf, but there all the way:
    • Lillan - Choleric
    • Karl Martin - Melancholic
    • Inge - Phlegmatic
    • Mai - Sanguine.
    • Eyolf is the leukine one, as long as he is present.
  • Freudian Trio: Eyolf (super-ego), Inge (ego) and Karl Martin (id).
  • Godwin's Law: Probably an Unbuilt Trope in this case, being set before the war. Eyolf is the strongest invoker of it - even chiding Lillan and Inge when they decide to settle for a traditional marriage (Kinder, Kirche, Küche is referenced, a known nazi slogan at the time). Lillan shuts him up rather quickly.
  • The Great Depression: Most of the series take place in this period, segueing into World War II.
  • Guilt Complex: Karl Martin when he thinks he actually was the cause of Inge´s death.
  • The Heart: Mai, for the entire core gang.
  • Heroic BSoD: Eyolf when he gets the news of the death of his mother, smash in the middle of the German invasion of Prague. Karl Martin after his release, and at the end of the war.
  • The Kirk: Inge. He is after all the local leader of the Labour Youth.
  • Love Triangle: Eyolf, Karl Martin and Mai.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Mai to Karl Martin.
  • The McCoy: Karl Martin.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Paula, Mai´s mother, entered the Norwegian resistance and was taken in for questioning. Unfortunately, she knew German and could answer accordingly, with two results: They didn´t get anything usual out of her, and she gained herself the nickname Donnerwetter. This happened in an Offscreen Moment of Awesome. She also knows Karl Martin is released to be used as bait, and orders him to lay low. She is a grandmother at this point of the story.
  • No True Scotsman: Discussed constantly, especially when Lillan is present. The problem is, can anyone call themselves "true socialists" without any deeper knowledge of Marx and his writings? For that matter, what is a true socialist, and who will define such a creature? This pops up as a central theme of the series, set up against the fact that real popular power comes from support from the masses, be it "true socialists" or not. A common worker, as Inge points out, craves a decent wage, a work, and food on the table, not a socialist utopia on the spot.
  • Oh, Crap!: Karl Martin and Mai, celebrating their honeymoon, turns on the radio to get news of the invasion of Poland.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Pilot.
  • Parenting the Husband: The Pilot has a wife, nuff said (the scene where Paula denies him another cup of coffee is hilarious - also because Mai chimes in on it).
    • Later on, Mai for Karl Martin. Also Lillan for Inge.
  • Plucky Girl: Lillan.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Lillan is red, Mai is blue - they are even colorcoded. Also Eyolf (red) and Inge (blue).
  • Renaissance Man: The Pilot. He is well read, knows latin, a lot of bothanics, political philosophy and of the human condition in general. He is also a brilliant newspaper man.
  • La Résistance: During the war.
  • Riding into the Sunset: A shot at the end of the last episode shows Karl Martin and Mai walking away with their son - into the future. The camera pans away from them, revealing the two and their son walking from post war celebrations straight into contemporary Norway, with modern cars (seventies´ cars at least) and skyscrapers. Into the sunset indeed.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Pilot. Although a little rash when he has to put down his young and idealistic journalists.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: All the time. Because of the setting (a newspaper), news are pouring in constantly, giving a picture of the restless times and struggles.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Lillan gives one to Karl Martin after Mai´s abortion. He ends up drowning his sorrows afterwards.
  • The Scream: Juxtaposed against the news of The Holocaust, with archive shots from the camp.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Lillan and Inge has this relationship.
  • The Spock: Eyolf.
  • Sunny Sunflower Disposition: Mai. She is arguably that cute, especially When She Smiles. When she breaks (she has an abortion, and her first child dies from illness in early infancy), she seems to shake it off, coming back stronger and more mature, but she never loses this character trait.
  • Team Dad: The Pilot, as long as he is around (he dies in the middle of the series). For the yonger socialists, it is Inge,
  • Team Mom: Mai´s mother Paula, mostly during the war years. Later on, Mai herself has evolved into this, at least for Karl Martin. To be fair, she did the houseworking for the boys from early on, so she has been looking after them all the way.
  • Throw It In!: When Karl Martin and Mai share their first kiss, they awkwardly tumble down in a sofa. As a matter of fact, Sverre Anker Ousdal (Karl Martin) towers several inches over Ellen Horn (Mai), being almost 1m and 90cm. Thus, she didn´t reach him standing up.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Karl Martin during the Sudet Crisis - overworked, stressed up and fatigued by the constant pressure of news, and panicking because he thinks his parents will not approve of him living with Mai out of wedlock, begins to treat her badly. At this point, she is pregnant, but takes an abortion. No wonder Lillan is pissed off when she takes it out on him.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Karl Martin and Konrad has a discussion at the beginning of 1940, after the Soviet invasion of Finland. Konrad, a firm believer in the Soviet cause, argues that Finland had it coming because of the proto-fascist leadership in the thirties, while Karl Martin argues that this is sheer imperialism (at this point, Realpolitik enters the dialogue, when Konrad states that Leningrad is sited no more that ten kilometers from the Finnish border at the time). When they get into The Purge of 1937 (The Moscow process), Konrad believes them to be "necessary", which makes Karl Martin blurt out: "You are nuts!"
  • We ARE Struggling Together: During the thirties, because of the constant bickering on what the cause is supposed to be, a fight for wages and secure work (the actual Labour Party line), or straight open Socialism (what Eyolf believes in). Later, when Karl Martin and Gundersen, the foreman who did not approve the strike early in the series, have to work together as resistance men during the war. Why We Fight is a question of some difference between them. Gundersen is the one actually Taking the Bullet when he is caught.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Konrad, a worker who begins to think like this after his experiences in Spain. He ends up executed by the Germans.
  • Women Are Wiser: Paula, Mai and Lillan. Mai manages to keep her family together while Karl Martin breaks down at the end of the war. She is also the one to make him write down his thoughts, potentially starting off his career as a post war author.
  • Working-Class Hero: Inge. Eyolf is more of the intellectual socialist type, and Karl Martin tries to figure out where exactly he is supposed to be standing.

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