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‘Beforeigners’ Season 2 Pushes Time-Travel Premise to Even Wilder Limits

After bringing in resurrected kings, clandestine intelligence operations, and a historically infamous murder mystery, the HBO Max sci-fi series is unafraid to go big.

Beforeigners Season 2 HBO Max


At the end of its first season, “Beforeigners” had a choice to make: treat the time-traveling premise of the show as a single massive difference between the world of the show and ours or use the possibility of hopping centuries as a starting point to go even bigger. Heavily inferring that the one of the series’ main characters once went backwards a millennium or so as a child was the first big sign that the HBO Max series was always going to go with the second option for Season 2.

From the outset of the series, “Beforeigners” proved it was willing to be expedient in the name of showing the most interesting parts of the world it made for itself. We see a “trans-temporal” group of people mysteriously appearing in an Oslo-area harbor. Within minutes, the show skips to a near future where an entire infrastructure is in place to help new timeigrants like them get set up in an environment incredibly unfamiliar to them.

Season 2 continues to deepen that understanding of the logistical realities that would come with a shift like this. Giant public banners read “Rock Against Timeism,” there’s a new Institute of Time Research, and luxury brands are centering ad campaigns around the concept of time. So rather than just find another murder case for former Old Norse shield-maiden Alfhildr (Krista Kosonen) and struggling detective Lars Haaland (Nicolai Cleve Broch) to wade through, “Beforeigners” decided to paint on a wider, more abstract canvas.

If the opening episodes of the series were more about seeing how present day would react to an influx of living history, Season 2 goes the other way, wondering which stories from the past could be recontextualized with sinister forces moving through centuries. Naturally, series creators and writers Eilif Skodvin and Anne Bjørnstad landed on Jack the Ripper. Even with one of history’s most infamous investigations as a template, Season 2 manages to switch modes and deemphasize its own murder mystery DNA.

Part of that comes from switching the main focus among the pair at the show’s center. In the first season, Alfhildr had a prominent role, but her season-long arc was based more in acclimating to a work environment and a city that saw her very much as an outsider. Lars’ balancing of his detective duties with his persistent substance abuse problems (he spends most of Season 1 trying to wean himself off of temproxate, an opiate-like medication taken in eyedrops form) made him a natural fit for the troubled cop spotlight. Season 2 makes a keen decision to flip that dynamic, putting Alfhildr’s ongoing journey firmly in the center while making Lars’ ongoing search for stability more of the show’s complement.

That decision makes more sense as the season goes on and Alfhildr as a character grows past the single incident that brought her to modern Oslo. Her sense of perception heightens, and her midseason trip to London kickstarts some more revelations about what additional abilities might be lying dormant in her brain. It’s not that “Beforeigners” used to be confined only to the police precinct and the detectives’ homes, but by doing more to follow the character with the freer, less-rigid routine, Alfhildr becomes a conduit for seeing even more of the city. (This show’s opening credits sequences are some of its best work.) Rather than follow someone turning inward, “Beforeigners” switches modes and locks into someone still in search of an anchor.

The parts of “Beforeigners” away from Alfhildr and Lars is where Season 2 really expands. The show had already broached that this sandwiching of time could lead to crime rings run by people looking to control illicit activity in a brand new world. It also keyed in on how the arrival of people unfamiliar with modern technology might spur an uptick among neo-Luddite numbers. Season 2 shifts that focus from an on-the-ground level to an institutional one, slowly moving up the chain of command as the people involved figure out how to use these widespread changes for their own purposes. Intelligence agencies naturally know more than they’re letting on, while historical figures look to reinstall a theocratic system of governing made in their image.

The show isn’t as intimate in scale now as in its opening season, but “Beforeigners” does understand the power in a high-premise sci-fi concept. If something arrives out of nowhere that fundamentally shifts the basic foundation of how people perceive the world, it makes sense to follow the different ways people choose to compartmentalize that change. Some people in “Beforeigners” make new families or embrace a new opportunity for public service. Others close themselves off and harden themselves in the face of the unknown. That’s a divide the show can always return to, even if the fact that the Season 2 antagonists fancy themselves gods among men takes up an increasing amount of space the longer this latest season goes on.

Still, that’s part of how “Beforeigners” fully embraces its operatic side in the Season 2 finale, an ending that finds characters physically and emotionally transformed. After beginning the series with a cosmic occurrence, it was only a matter of time before that germ of an idea grew into something with far bigger ramifications that the fabric of modern Norwegian society. It ends with a revelation that’s been subtly telegraphed throughout the season, and one that could very well bring any potential Season 3 back down to a more compact scale.

In many ways, “Beforeigners” is following the arc of recent time-bending classicDark.” Centered on characters who feel adrift and unstuck after freak timespace anomalies far out of their control, the show uses those people to illustrate a basic choice that these kinds of stories propose. Do you take that tiny crack in reality and use it to obliterate the world as we know it or do you use it as a means to try to help those most vulnerable? If the show continues, it’ll be interesting to see how Alfhildr’s evolution ties into that choice. Until then, as the season’s best and most on-the-nose needle drop asks, “Who knows where the time goes?”

“Beforeigners” Season 2 is now available to stream in full on HBO Max.

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