Swedish miniseries Beartown, directed by Peter Gronlund, is based on Fredik Backman’s bestselling novel about a small town where their junior ice hockey team is the center of the universe. This novel was actually banned in the South.
Beartown is a combination of Friday Night Lights and Euphoria. Retired NHL player Peter Andersson returns to his small hometown with his wife Mira, fourteen-year-old daughter Maya, and his young son Leo. As the town hero, Peter takes over coaching Beartown’s junior ice hockey team led by Kevin Erdahl. The men of Beartown either are drafted by the NHL or become factory workers. Maya has a crush on Kevin, but when he rapes her, their relationship turns toxic.
Kevin is both the star hockey player loved by the whole town and a teenage boy whose bullied by his father, Mats Erdahl. Mats was a decent hockey player as a teenager, but he was forced to leave the team after Peter (the retired NHL player) accidentally injured him. They have hated each other ever since. Now that Mats is wealthy, he donates a lot of money to the team to influence decisions. He rides Kevin so hard about hockey because he is vicariously living through him.
To make matters worse, Mats objectifies all women, including his ex-wife Kevin’s mother, in front of his son. In the first few episodes of Beartown, the viewer feels empathy for Kevin. He is the best scorer on his junior hockey team but is also tortured.
New Coach Peter Andersson hands out pucks to all the players. He gives them all individual advice about how to improve their game to make the team stronger. However, Peter leaves Kevin out, and when he asks Peter why he didn’t hand him a puck, Peter tells him that he already gives a hundred percent of himself on the ice.
Even with all of the player’s hard work and natural talent, Mats tries to control him. When Kevin rebels against his advice but still wins the game, there is hell to pay. Mats leave Kevin on the side of the road when it’s below freezing outside. Kevin’s hands start turning blue. Maya and her father have to drive out to the middle to nowhere to rescue the star player. But at the same time, Kevin is quite literally worshipped by the whole town because he is the best player in the entire region of Sweden. Everybody chants his name during the matches, and all of his teammates protect him at all cost.
Maya Andersson takes the blunt of Kevin’s hidden rage. The Anderssons and Erdahl’s live next door to one another. The teenagers have a crush on one another from the minute they see each other. They both seem to find each other attractive, but it’s clear that Kevin partly likes Maya because she is so different from all the other teenage girls in the area.
Maya was primarily raised in an urban city in Canada, and she doesn’t care about hockey even though her father played it professionally. She plans to be a musician. She is an outsider, who loves singing and playing the guitar alone in her room. She is younger than Kevin but is exceptionally self-assured. She competes in a puck shooting competition with Kevin and doesn’t care when she loses.
Maya seems to be drawn to Kevin because of his skills and his vulnerability. She can see that he is abused and that he doesn’t feel comfortable in his own home.
Kevin draws comfort from Maya’s father. Kevin loves Peter because he cares about him as a person and helps the whole team improve. It’s hard to understand why Kevin would rape Maya when her father is clearly important to him. Like his father, Kevin calls women whores and thinks that he deserves sex from them because he wins games. That is combined with the fact that the star believes that he can get away with murder because the whole town’s identity is wrapped up in Beartown hockey. Kevin’s anger at his father consumes him, turning his relationship with the world toxic. He takes his pain out on Maya and the ice. Kevin does get away with raping her because of his father’s wealth and his hockey skills.
Neither Kevin nor his father Mats suffer any consequences for their actions. Even after fellow teammate Amat finally tells the police that he saw Kevin raping Maya, there are no charges.
Maya steals her friend’s gun. Maya chases after Kevin into the forest during his daily run. She almost shoots Kevin in the head, but her morality won’t allow her to pull the trigger. Thankfully her father Peter and Mats find the pair in the woods. Peter carries Maya back to the car while she breaks down. After Mats finds Kevin, he admits to his father that he raped her. Kevin wants to suffer consequences for his actions and to stop playing hockey. He has been playing to please Mats all this time. Mats ignore Kevin’s confession instead of telling him they are moving away. Mats found another hockey team that he can control by donating money to them. Kevin is going to continue to be a junior hockey star in a new town.
In the last few scenes of the miniseries, Mats and Kevin drive away from the neighborhood scot-free. Kevin continues to be taught that wealth and stardom supersede the law.
The series’ ending feels unsatisfactory. It’s unclear why Amat’s testimony didn’t warrant a trial. Suddenly Maya seems unaffected by the trauma. Instead of resolving the main plot, the story turns to Peter dealing with the loss of their youngest son while Mira and Maya comfort him. My feelings could be due to cultural differences.
I would recommend Beartown to fans of Friday Night Lights and Euphoria who don’t mind subtitles. As a miniseries with only five episodes, it’s a quick watch. Beartown explores the critical topic of “rape culture” in sports demonstrating the problem is international. It’s dangerous to continue putting these young men on pedestals and protecting them from the consequences of harmful behavior because of their athletic prowess.
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