30° i februari or 30 Degrees in February is a Swedish production. This is a review of Season 2 only. Season 2 of 30 Degrees in February aired in 2016, 4 years after the release of the first series. Beware the spoilers.
Season 2 begins at a glacial pace. Five episodes would have been better than 10. I knew exactly where the story was going and I wanted it to just get there already. If I hadn’t made a mental commitment to write a review of season 2, I might have stopped watching. Thankfully, after the first 5 episodes, the pace picked up. Although my predictions as to how some of the stories would resolve were correct, they wound in that direction in difficult and unpredictable ways.
Joy and Wilda
Season 2 begins 3 years after the end of season 1. Joy (Hanna Ardéhn) and Wilda (Viola Weidemann) are 17 and 10 now. Hanna Ardéhn dominated the season for me and Viola Weidemann gave a wonderful performance as well. The sibling relationship between the girls was powerful and moving, a source of strength for them both.
The girls’ mother Kajsa (Maria Lundqvist) dies early in season 2, but she appears in the girls’ memories in several additional episodes.
The last thing Kajsa tells Wilda is about 3 houses she built for her family on an island in the harbor – one for Joy, one for Wilda, and one for their father. She leaves a letter for her girls telling them about this, but it is misplaced. The last thing Kajsa tells Joy is that she loves her, to which Joy responds, “I wish I could say the same.” These final exchanges haunt both girls.
There are a seemingly endless number of episodes where nobody believes Wilda when she talks about the houses her mother built for them.
After their mother’s death, the girls go back to Sweden. They move in with their father, Anders (Björn Kjellman). They barely know him. His new wife and daughter resent them. Joy takes his credit cards and runs with Wilda back to Thailand.
In Thailand, Joy and Wilda hook up with a bunch of thieving, hippy-dippy free love types. Mowgli (Alexander Salzberger), Shahdi (Shima Niavarani) and Cilla (Disa Östrand) have a bus.
They wander the countryside looking for drugs, fun, sex, places to crash, and ways to score lots of cash. Joy ditches Pong (Sanong Sudla), who has stood by her, in favor of the adventurers in the bus. This was an important coming of age experience for Joy, but it was explored in too much detail and for far too long.
Anders chases his daughters to Thailand. He catches up with them and their bus-owning friends. He plans to take his daughters back to Sweden. Joy, who turns 18 in 1 more day, refuses to go. She’s off to have fun in the bus. Wilda, who has already suffered so much loss, is desperate for Joy to stay with her. Wilda goes to the airport with her dad but escapes from him and runs.
Majlis (Lotta Tejle) has been living under the radar since the tsunami. She’s spent 3 years hiding, stealing food, living in survival mode and scared of the police.
She accepts the offer of a boat to live on if she will do a few deliveries for the owner. Her first delivery job is a girl named Teng (Namfon Phetsut) who is in an orphanage. When they arrive at the address where Teng is to be left, it looks like she’s delivering the girl into sex slavery. They leave.
Majlis reluctantly keeps Teng with her. They go to Teng’s old home and see that the tsumani swept away her parents. While there, mosquitoes carrying dengue fever bite them. They meet Björn, a man from the consulate (Dag Malmberg), who helps them. Majlis is both afraid of him and somewhat attracted to him. He seems attracted to her as well.
Later they go to an elephant park. Majlis faints with fever. A photographer they met at the park named Johan (Linus Wahlgren) takes them home with him.
Guess where Johan lives? In one of the homes Kajsa built for her daughters. He tells Majlis he pays rent to some company because the owner isn’t living there. He tells Majlis his daughter died after a visit to the elephant park and that’s why he goes there and photographs other people’s children.
His daughter looks a lot like Wilda. Same age, same build, same red hair. Majlis happens to pick up Johan’s camera and scrolls through some very sexualized photographs of his daughter. She suspects him of pedophilia, realizes his daughter is alive and in Sweden. She insists he take her and Teng to the mainland.
Teng gets sick with fever. After 3 years in hiding, Majlis finally surrenders herself, her passport, and her real name at the hospital in order to get treatment for Teng. Björn arrives from the consulate and helps them again. He tells her she will be arrested.
For two people in their 60s who are a bit worn down by life, there is a chemistry between Majlis and Björn that is both standoffish and warm. I continue to be impressed by what a lovely actor Lotta Tejle is.
After running from the airport, Wilda hitchhikes to the harbor and finds Johan sitting there, head in hands. He just dropped off Majlis and Teng. She asks about the island and he looks her up and down in an ominous way.
He takes Wilda to the island. She calls Joy and tells her it’s real and she found it. Joy leaves the bus people and returns. She finds her dad in the airport and they go searching for the island and Wilda. Johan hides Wilda’s phone, so calls to her go unanswered.
Johan is indeed struggling with an attraction to young girls and Wilda’s time alone on the island with him is scary but ultimately okay. It is almost the end when Joy and Anders find the island and Wilda.
They are together on the island, as we have waited so long for them to be. Kajsa’s letter to her daughters is found and there is the relief of forgiveness from the girls. We don’t know what will happen to Anders and his family in Sweden, but for now the girls are in the home where they belong.
Glenn and Oh
Glenn (Kjell Wilhelmsen) and Oh (Djuangjai Hirunsri) have a nonlegal Thai marriage and are living happily in Thailand. Oh’s family have accepted her back. They like Glenn.
Oh sees an article saying that two married men can adopt a child in Sweden. Oh wants to go to Sweden so they can adopt as a homosexual couple.
When they arrive the lies begin. Glenn’s father killed himself in the family home over his shame about being attracted to men. Glenn feels great shame over this as well. Homophobia is a massive thing for the people Glenn knows in Sweden – and Glenn has internalized it big time.
Glenn doesn’t want anyone to know Oh is a ladyboy. His homophobia is getting in the way of his love. They begin adoption proceedings, get married again in Sweden. Glenn reveals that he told the adoption agency, the state government, and the health examiners that Oh is a woman.
Because Oh doesn’t speak enough Swedish, she doesn’t know how much Glenn is lying about her and about who she is. He’s ashamed of her. She gets angry when she realizes this. He doesn’t accept her as she is. She leaves.
Glenn’s neighbor Anneli (Vanna Rosenberg) gave them a honeymoon package at a resort hotel in Thailand. Oh heads there for a solo honeymoon.
The Big Finish
Majlis takes Teng out of the hospital after she’s stable. They run again. They end up on the beach in front of a resort hotel. They go into the hotel restaurant and order food, giving a fake room number.
Oh is there. Glenn comes looking for her, begging forgiveness. She’s angry and won’t let him in the room. He befriends Teng. Glenn is an ass in lots of ways, but he is great with kids. Glenn and Teng play in the pool just outside Oh’s balcony.
When the hotel people come after Majlis about payment, she leaves Teng in Glenn’s care and walks away. Oh softens up. She forgives Glenn and lets both Glenn and Teng into her room.
Teng is right where I thought she would be from the beginning. Glenn and Oh now have a child to care for – older than they expected, but a child.
Majlis goes to the consulate. She surrendered to the idea that she must face up to her situation. She finds Björn. He is in the middle of his retirement party when she arrives. He no longer works at the consulate!
When she walks up to him we don’t know if he is going to spirit her away for a life together or send her to jail. This is the one story line left hanging in the enormous Swedish saga that is 30 Degrees in February. Interesting touch: at the end of season 1 we didn’t know what was up with Majlis, and season 2 ends the same way.
30 Degrees in February was incredibly ambitious. Creator Anders Weidemann (who also directed 14 of the episodes) conceived a saga that involved dozens of characters and locations. There were 3 languages going at all times – Swedish, Thai and English. There were many more Thai actors than Swedes. Thais playing cops, hotel workers, store owners, fishermen, food service workers, people in an orphanage. Thai actors played Oh’s parents and sister.
Each of the three main stories could have been done independently. Putting them together took planning and guts.
There are many powerful themes: love, loss, truth, acceptance, forgiveness, sacrifice, resilience, strength, duty, responsibility.
About the transgender character Oh: Djuangjai Hirunsri is actually female, not transgender. She’s very feminine, quite beautiful, and an accomplished actress. She did a fine job with the part. But couldn’t they have found an actual trans actor? There must be numerous Thai ladyboys who can act.
I wondered why the story didn’t include bottom surgery for Oh. According to Janet Mock’s book Redefining Realness, they do plenty of this type of surgery in Thailand. Wouldn’t Oh have wanted it? Why didn’t she convince Glenn to pay for it? She convinced him to build her a house. She would have to be taking hormones judging from the condition of her beautiful skin and breasts, a topic completely overlooked in the narrative.
I realize the story would have been entirely different if Oh were post-surgery. Glenn’s struggle for acceptance of himself for being attracted to Oh exactly as she is wouldn’t have worked. It was Glenn’s story, not Oh’s, and he had to accept that his attraction to her was partly because of her man parts. Nevertheless, Oh’s character could have been handled more accurately.
The second season was too slow. We got to know the characters and their struggles in season 1. The journey to the big finish in season 2 seemed to take forever.
Overall, the faults with 30 Degrees in February were outweighed by the power of the characters to make you care and pull you into their world. If a long Nordic saga under the warm tropical sun is your cup of tea, give this series a try.
30 Degrees in February on Netflix US and on Amazon Prime in the UK.