Quicksand, now on Netflix, is a shocker of a TV show. The first sound heard in the six-episode series is the cocking of a gun. Next, the boom of bullets fired. What follows is an all-too-familiar scene of carnage in 21st century America: A gunman shoots defenseless students in a classroom. Only Quicksand isn't set in the United States — it's set in Sweden, a country in which gun violence in schools is very rare.
Quicksand is based on the best-selling novel by Malin Persson Giolito, published in Sweden in 2016. The novel is fueled by a single question: How much did Maja (Hanna Ardéhn), the sole student left alive and uninjured, know? Did she conspire with her boyfriend, Sebastian Fogelman (Felix Sandman), to plan the attack, or was she an innocent bystander? The truth unravels over the course of the show's six episodes.
Maja is not directly based on a real person, but Giolito shaped Quicksand around very real dynamics. The author intended for the story to be as much social commentary as it was thriller.
On one front, Giolito addresses pertinent issues in today's Sweden, like class and immigration. Quicksand takes place in a wealthy suburb, where Sebastian, the son of Sweden's richest man, brushes shoulders with Samir, the child of two Middle Eastern immigrants who feels forced to lie about his parents' professions.
"Malin's book is not just a story about this school shooting, in which everything starts. It is also a story of class and segregation, which is everywhere. Although it is a very Swedish story, it is also a depiction of the society that is everywhere," William Spetz, who plays Samir, said in an interview with Moviezine.
The story also illuminates the potentially disastrous consequences of abusive relationships. At first, Maja is swept up by Sebastian's glamorous billionaire lifestyle. Her parents are equally stunned by this proximity to grandeur, and are happy to let their 17-year-old traipse around on yachts and attend drug-fueled parties. By the time Sebastian shows his obsessive side, Maja feels too trapped to leave the relationship — even when he becomes violent.
Quicksand's climax is especially disturbing for American audiences, who have also watched as gun violence in schools has become a fixture on the news. Though school shootings are depicted in American pop culture, it's never without controversy. The finale of the first season of The OA, for example, drew criticism for having a storyline that culminated in five students thwarting a gunman by performing choreographed movements.
But gun violence in schools — and in general — is less common in Sweden than it is in the United States. The last school shooting in Sweden was in 2015.
"In Sweden, there has never been a 'proper' school shooting," Giolito told BookReporter. "However, in 1961 there was a fatal shooting, resulting in one casualty, at a school dance in Kungälv outside Gothenburg, and in 2015 there was a sword attack in a school in Trollhättan where four people, including the perpetrator, died."
Actually obtaining a gun is much harder in Sweden than in the United States, too. Though hunting culture is prominent in Sweden, potential gun buyers must pass multiple tests to gain a permit. That may lend itself to the lowered death rate. In 2015, 157 people were killed by firearms in Sweden, whereas 13,268 people were killed by firearms in the U.S. (and there were 372 mass shootings). Recently, however, Sweden has been seeing an uptick in gun deaths among young men.
Simply put, Quicksand's depiction of violence unfurls in a very different context than the United States'. From Sweden's problems, Giolito devised a "what-if" scenario. But when placed in American living rooms, the show seems less "what if," and more all too real. While Maja is not based on a real person, there are many young people today who have survived violent attacks in school and grapple with the aftermath of loss and trauma every day. Some even start revolutions.