Content warning: The following article contains descriptions of gun violence.
How much does Maja Norberg (Hanna Ardéhn) know? The Swedish show Quicksand, out on Netflix April 5 with no U.S. promotion to alert viewers of its presence, will spend the entire season finding out.
For the past nine months, 18-year-old Maja has sat in jail and gone over the events of the day that changed her life forever. The best-selling book Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito opens with a scene from that devastating day: Maja lies on the floor of a bloody classroom, the only uninjured student in a shooting that took the lives of her boyfriend and best friend. In the aftermath, Maja is charged with murder, thrusting her into a place of national scrutiny. Is Maja an innocent scapegoat, or is she a cold-blooded murderer? That's the question that propels Quicksand forward.
“I want to tell this story from the main character Maja’s perspective; her story raises questions about guilt, responsibility, punishment, and redemption," Camilla Ahlgren, the show's writer, said in a statement. Like the book, which is told in a close first-person, Quicksand will be filtered through Maja's often unreliable point of view.
At first glance, Quicksand resembles the recent spate of foreign teen TV shows on Netflix. As with Baby and Elite, Quicksand is set among the attractive students of an expensive private school. Economic disparity is woven into the characters' relationships — Maja is not as wealthy as her boyfriend, the son of the richest man in Sweden. These European shows also quickly dip into controversial subject matters: Baby depicted child prostitution; Elite featured teens with sex lives wilder than Skins.
Yet in terms of depicting violence against young people, Quicksand stands alone among these racy shows. The book Quicksand was a best-seller in Europe and received acclaim for its exploration of social issues facing Sweden. But will the highly sensitive subject matter transfer to an American audience?
While school shootings seem nearly omnipresent in the news, they're depicted with far less frequency in pop culture — and perhaps with good reason. Take the case of Paramount's messy Heathers reboot, which was set to premiere in 2018, as a prime example of how fraught depictions of school violence in pop culture are.
Heathers' subject matter of students killing other students kept colliding with current events in a way that felt too dark to be classified as entertainment. So, following the Parkland School shooting, the March 2018 Heathers premiere was postponed to July. And in July, the show was postponed to October following the school shooting in Santa Fe, TX. And in October, the show was pulled entirely following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Ultimately, the whole season was made available — but the more sensitive Heathers episodes, like two featuring students going through an active shooter drill, were only streaming.
Netflix currently streams shows that depict school shootings. The first season of Netflix's The OA drew controversy for depicting a school shooting sequence in its finale. The shooter was thwarted via a supernatural deus ex machina. A group of students and a teacher perform a series of movements taught to them by an angel (really), and are able to distract the gunman. The first season of American Horror Story is also streaming on Netflix, which features a school shooter as a main character.
We have yet to see how Quicksand handles its mass shooting. However, the existence of the show points to a reality: For better or for worse, gun violence in schools is seeping into works of pop culture. Our news is now our entertainment, too.