Content warning: The following article contains descriptions of gun violence.
Quicksand, a Swedish thriller that premiered on Netflix April 5, is begging to be binge-watched. The six-episode show races to answer a single question: What really happened in that Swedish high school classroom at the end of the school year?
Rephrase: We know what happened. Carnage happened. Quicksand's shocking first scene begins with images of a massacre in a classroom.
Rather, the show revolves around how much Maja Norberg (a fantastic Hanna Ardéhn), the only student alive and uninjured, knew prior to the attack. Is she entirely innocent? Or did she conspire with her boyfriend, Sebastian (Felix Sandman), to plan and carry it out?
This uncertainty fuels the entire show, as well as Malin Persson Giolito's best-selling book of the same name. Similarly, the uncertainty of Maja's role in the shooting has captivated the universe in which Quicksand is set. During the nine months leading up to the trial, international media is ablaze with headlines about the so-called "Djursholm Girl," as Maja is called in the press. Maja is painted as a seductress, an evil mastermind, a Bonnie to an uber-rich Clyde. Like the real-life Amanda Knox, who was accused of killing her roommate Meredith Kircher, Maja is the center of a dialogue in which she has little to no voice.
Because Maja, locked in near-complete isolation in a Swedish prison, knows nothing of her newfound infamy. Immediately after the shooting that took the lives of her boyfriend and best friend, Maja is whisked away by police. So, as she grieves the loss of Amanda (Ella Rappich), she's also locked away from whatever comfort her parents and little sister could provide.
Quicksand switches back and forth between the legal process and the lead-up to the shooting. Interestingly, the show allows the court to come to its conclusion before revealing the objective truth. That's because ultimately, only Maja knows what really happened in that classroom. The prosecution, the defense, the judge, and the press are piecing together a mosaic version of the truth using various angles, like half-complete eyewitness report from an injured student, biased character statements, maps, and headlines.
From this mosaic, the jury concludes that Maja is not guilty of planning the massacre. Only after Maja is declared innocent does the audience finally get a glimpse of what Maja saw in the classroom. To understand what happened, though, we first have to understand Maja and Sebastian's relationship.
What was Maja and Sebastian's relationship like?
In addition to being an indictment of media scandals and easily accessible firearms, Quicksand is a story about an abusive relationship. In the show's premiere, Maja and Sebastian's relationship starts off sunny — literally. They spend three weeks sailing around the Mediterranean on his father's yacht.
But in these images of blue-soaked bliss are hints of a more ominous future. Maja and Sebastian are completely isolated from the world, trapped in luxurious surroundings empty of warmth or supervision. Sebastian's father, Claes, (Reuben Sallmander) the wealthiest man in Sweden, has left them alone on the boat. Maja's parents, seduced by the glamour of it all, ask no questions about their daughter's yacht trip — or her ensuing relationship. When they finally get a glimpse of the real Sebastian at Maja's birthday party, they're surprised. And it's only because they haven't been paying attention.
In the months she dates Sebastian, Maja gradually loses herself. First comes the increased drug use, then comes the emotional manipulation. Sebastian is essentially abandoned by his angry father, making Maja feel responsible for his well-being, and more likely to stick around. When Maja tries to leave him, Sebastian attempts suicide. She is terrified and depleted and trapped. She stays with him. After Sebastian shows up to her dinner party inebriated, Maja insults him. In retaliation, Sebastian rapes her.
Meanwhile, Maja's friends are concerned for her well-being. Christer (Shanti Roney), Sebastian and Maja's teacher, plan an intervention on the last day of school. The night before, though, Sebastian throws a party.
What happens at the party?
Everything culminates, that's what. Maja overdoses on pills. Samir Said (William Spetz), Maja's friend and classmate, takes a video and sends it to Claes — not knowing that Claes is as violent and unpredictable as his son. Claes comes rushing home and beats Sebastian up in the middle of the party. This sets everything into motion.
Sidebar: What is Sweden's gun policy?
There are a lot of large rifles (and talk of large rifles) in Quicksand. Hunting is a popular pastime in Sweden. Amanda, for example, expresses wanting to apply for a hunting license so she can hunt with her boyfriend's family. Sweden enforces strict requirements for who can actually get a license: No one convicted of a felony, under a restraining order, or has a DUI can have a gun. Even if you have a clean bill, getting a permit takes work. You must take a year-long hunter training program and pass both a written and shooting test.
Despite its strong gun culture, Sweden has low history of gun violence — especially when compared to the United States. According to Vox, Sweden "ranks 10th out of 178 countries in the world for per capita gun ownership but in 2014 had only 21 homicides by firearms. In contrast, the U.S. is first in per capita ownership and had more than 8,000 gun homicides in 2014."
Finally, guns in Sweden are to be stored safely. Unfortunately, in Quicksand, Sebastian has access to his father's rifles.
How does the massacre really unfold?
Sebastian has been spiraling. The incident with his father sets him off. The morning after the party, Maja says Sebastian can stay with her family and get away from her father. While Maja waits outside, Sebastian shoots Claes. Then, without confessing what he's done, he gets in Maja's car with two large bags — she does't know they're guns. She doesn't know anything.
Maja and Sebastian arrive at the intervention Christer has planned. Maja closes the door. While her back is turned, Sebastian begins shooting. First Christer. Then another student. Then Samir, who survives.
Maja trains the second rifle on Sebastian. "Shoot me! You know you have to!" Sebastian says. So, Samir's testimony from the trial is half true: Sebastian did tell Maja to shoot. But Samir didn't understand the context. He wasn't telling Maja to shoot Amanda — he was telling her to shoot him.
Maja shoots. Tragically, Amanda is standing behind Sebastian. Before Maja shoots Sebastian, she accidentally hits Amanda — a completely unintended consequence.
What comes next for Maja?
Quicksand ends on a cliff hanger: How successfully Maja will process this tragedy throughout the rest of her life? Will she ever be able to live normally? Will she study in the U.S. as she'd hoped? Will she please, please get extensive therapy (which she didn't get for the nine months she was imprisoned)?
At least the show's ending vindicated her. Maja had been telling the truth all along. She really did kill her best friend and boyfriend. But vindication is not a happy ending. The show ends with Maja hugging her little sister with a blank stare. The trial is over. Now comes another difficult chapter: Daily life as the Djursholm Girl.