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Writer Megan Gallagher On Her Viaplay Supernatural Nordic-Noir ‘Seizure’

With outposts in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo, Miso Film has become one of the most influential film and TV outfits in Scandinavia. On August 19, the company’s Norwegian arm lifted the curtain on its series venture, the supernatural police drama “Seizure” by premiering the show’s first two episodes at the Haugesund Film Festival ahead of its future broadcast on NENT Group’s Viaplay streaming platform.

Bowing as part of Haugesund’s Nordic TV Drama program, the show follows two Oslo detectives, played by popular local actors Anders Danielsen Lie (“Oslo, August 31st,” “22 July”) and Anders Baasmo Christiansen (“Kon-Tiki”), as they investigare the deaths of four immigrant boys. Set against an intense backdrop of personal trauma, violent weather and otherworldly apparitions, the show mixes elements of traditional Scandi Noir with a more supernatural twist.

Variety spoke with show-writer Megan Gallagher, who had previously co-created the Nordic Noir “Borderliner,” a TV2 original that aired on Netflix internationally.

In some ways, “Seizure” shares a superficial similarity with your previous series, “Borderliner.” Both use police investigations as launching points, and both begin with a set of deaths that are obviously more than they seem. Could you talk about the appeal of this particular framework?

My undergraduate degree is in criminal justice, I worked in criminal law for a while, and at this point, I’ve spent probably a few hundred hours talking to police officers, sergeants and detectives in three different countries for the purposes of writing research. I am by no means an expert, but policing is certainly a deep, deep interest of mine. One of the qualities I admire most in a good detective is not only gut instinct, but also the confidence to follow it. So I do write about that a lot. Crime scenes that should be one thing, but feel like something else, and we only find out what it really is because our protagonist starts pulling at the strings. I love that. Maybe it’s just wish fulfillment for me — I wish I were a savvy detective.

What did you seek to explore with the show’s supernatural touches?

I think when people hear “supernatural,” there’s an instinctive reaction to think of a heightened world with heightened creatures like vampires or something. I’ve got nothing at all against vampires, but my favorite supernatural stories are the ones that are grounded in reality, like “The Sixth Sense.” To me, the reason why that film was terrifying was because it felt so real. So that was our goal from the beginning, to do supernatural but to ground it in the otherwise very normal and familiar world of Scandinavian crime. Actually, it’s one of the reasons why the show has such an emphasis on modern-day immigration issues in Norway… it makes it all feel very modern and real.

As with “Borderliner,” “Seizure” uses thriller trappings to interrogate questions of grief and family trauma. Why do you feel it important to link the two?

Actually, I’d say what links the two stories in “Seizure” and “Borderliner” is the idea that you can’t outrun your mistakes. In “Seizure,” both [leads] Sander and Max have made terrible mistakes before the series begins, and throughout the season we watch them being haunted by those mistakes. It’s not the plot, but it’s the emotional stories for both of them. In “Borderliner,” [lead character] Nikolai makes a mistake in the pilot, and we watch the ramifications unfold in each episode, which forms the conflict and A storyline of the series. I think the two shows are vastly different, but I have always been fascinated by the idea of the past catching up with you, one way or another.

The show stars Anders Danielsen Lie, who is among the most internationally renowned Norwegian actors of his generation. Did you always have that actor in mind? What do you feel he brought to the role?

Absolutely, 100%, yes, yes, yes. I had Anders in mind literally before I even typed “Fade in” on the first draft of the pilot episode, and I had never met him before this show, so I guess that was a gamble. If he had said no, I literally do not know what I would have done. He’s brilliant in the role. Soulful and sensitive and capable of being so tender but so angry as well. You can’t take your eyes off him when he’s on the screen, can you?

The series is marked by recurrent, unsettling images of slithering eels. How did you come up with this visual leitmotif, and what does it mean to you?

We made the decision early on that we were going to ground the supernatural in this series — the phrase we often repeated was, “No floating ghosts, no green mist.” So if you’re not going to go in that direction, how do you represent the supernatural visually? Plot-wise, I knew from the beginning that we were going to use a storm and the subsequent flooding of Oslo as a way to complicate the detectives’ investigation, so there would be water everywhere almost the entire series. Eels felt like a natural fit to represent the supernatural. They’re such unsettling creatures.

You started your career doing development in Hollywood before relocating to Norway in 2008. What lessons did you bring from the American industry when you shifted focus to Scandi-screenwriting? And vice versa, what can American executives learn from their Nordic counterparts?

Oh wow, that’s a big question. From the American industry, I think what I really learned was pacing. We like our shows to move at a good clip, and I definitely am a student of that way of thinking. But from Scandinavia, I’ve learned that oftentimes, what’s unsaid is much more interesting than what is said. It’s not unusual for an American script to have a five-page scene of dialogue. In Norway, that’s almost never done, and I really like that. Overall, I do feel so fortunate to have made two series in Scandinavia. I’m such a stronger writer because of it.

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