Caliphate (Original title: Kalifat) is an eight-episode drama shot in Sweden and Jordan that follows a planned ISIS terror operation in Stockholm while also delving into the far larger issue of radicalization.
With a long-running programme like Homeland ending up (very nicely, I should add) after eight seasons, it’s understandable that some fans of the Showtime thriller would look for something similar. That’s how I came across a recommendation for Caliphate, but the parallels between the two shows are only cosmetic.
Caliphate is its own beast, and a very interesting one at that. When it first premiered on Sweden’s VOD service SVT Play, it soon became the platform’s most watched series ever. It’s easy to see why, especially because it revolves around the sympathetic Pervin (Gizem Erdogan), a Swedish woman who was abducted to Raqqa, Syria at an early age and married to her husband Husam (Amed Bozan), an ISIS fighter assisting in a complex attack by terrorists located in Stockholm.
Pervin has grown disillusioned with her life in Raqqa and, early in the series, is recruited as a spy by a Swedish cop named Fatima (Aliette Opheim). As Fatima continues to press Pervin for additional information, putting her in greater danger, a tangible tension pervades practically every second of Caliphate. Despite the overacting and dubious twists, this is a captivating binge. Erdogan is terrific as an increasingly desperate and frustrated apostate just trying to bring her and her baby back home.
The other major plot revolves around the charismatic Ibbe (Lancelot Ncube), one of the aforementioned Stockholm-based terrorists who has a flair for brainwashing young girls and sends them off to marry in Raqqa. It’s an important and distressing look at how radicalization occurs on the ground, although many cliches are employed to speed up the process (again, eight episodes). The end result is a trio of girls who are completely committed to heading to Raqqa, but having very nothing to back up their claims. One of the females, in particular, lacks personality and conviction of her own, making her narrative conclusion feel shallow and abrupt.
Admirably, the writers devote less attention to the impending attack and its investigation and instead focus on the drama occurring behind the scenes in Raqqa with Pervin. This distinguishes it from the typical “stopping ISIS” thriller and sharpens the show’s strongest scenes. Caliphate would not have been original enough if it had kept so closely to Pervin’s plot, and it is only unique because it features the most terrible dub in the history of dubbing.
The question is if Caliphate is a one-off miniseries or if there will be a second season. Nothing has been confirmed, but there is certainly enough material – and critical acclaim – to support a serialised drama about radicalisation.