To the Lake season 1, episode 1 recap – a frosty introduction

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: October 7, 2020 (Last updated: December 4, 2023)
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To the Lake Season 1 Recap
To the Lake Season 1 Promotional Image Courtesy of Netflix


In its first episode, To the Lake skillfully brings its characters together and introduces their plight, with some scenes of serious tension and violence for good measure.

This recap of To the Lake season 1, episode 1 contains spoilers. 

Check out our spoiler-free season review.

I’m not sure now is necessarily the best time for an original series about surviving a deadly plague, but nevertheless, here we are. A man in furs staggers through a frigid wilderness, his bulging eyes leaking blood, and then when he plunges his suffering face into an icy lake… we cut to the present day, a woman waking up suddenly from a nightmare. She was screaming in the night again. Her partner, Sergey, likes that, apparently. Charming!

But you can’t help but feel for Sergey. His ex-partner, Ira, is making his life miserable, and his relationship with his son, Anton, incredibly difficult. She’s obviously jealous of his new relationship with Anna and coldly leaves her mother to tend to a passerby when he collapses on the ground for some reason. She seems nice.

Speaking of people who seem nice, meet Polina. She’s a young, pretty tearaway whom we’re introduced to as she checks out of a detox center, but not before flooding the bathroom and setting it on fire. A conversation with her father, Lyonya, indicates that she’s privileged. Lyonya also knows Sergey, whom he runs into flying drones with Misha, who promptly spots Polina through the windscreen of the parked car and falls in love with virtually instantly. She blows him a kiss as they drive away, which will only make matters worse. Misha, by the way, is Anna’s son.

Anna hates Lyonya, and Polina hates his pregnant partner, Marina. Dinner is fun, then, as you can imagine. But we get some backstory for Anna and Sergey’s relationship; she was a therapist recommended to him after several sleepless nights (which is no surprise, given he has to put up with Ira). Polina starts stroking Misha’s leg with her foot under the table. He gets up and leaves, so Polina turns on Marina — apparently, her meeting with Lyonya was similar, only with a stripper rather than a therapist. Burn! Misha has Asperger’s Syndrome; he has difficulty communicating, reading emotions, understanding boundaries, and so on, and so forth. This explanation is useful but a bit heavy-handed, like reading a Wiki page. As Anna is talking Misha is flying his drone up to Polina’s window, who is giving him a show. He flies the drone right into the window and breaks it in his excitement.

Anna eventually loses it with Lyonya, which you can’t blame her for. As she’s ranting to Sergey, both start watching a news report about a rapidly-spreading virus that resembles a steroidal flu — and the news immediately starts playing it down, which the scientist being interviewed on-air is fuming about. He’s quickly cut off. See? Topical!

The topicality continues in To the Lake episode 1 as we see everyone in Ira’s workplace wearing a mask — though not, tellingly, the dead woman she finds in the bathroom. This prompts her to head off to retrieve Anton, who has been isolated in his school’s gym away from an infected student. The military arrives in eerie gasmasks and equipped with devices resembling the Proton packs from Ghostbusters. We quickly learn what they do when the masked men corner the infected student, who is sitting alone in a classroom, her eyes bulging and bleeding. The Proton packs blast out a mysterious white liquid; as the girl is wheeled away on a gurney, her face caked in the stuff, the camera is careful to provide a horrifying close-up of her face, her red-rimmed eyes peeping through the white mask. Anton, we learn, has hidden in the gym, and Ira is able to spirit him away.

It’s in Moscow where the infection has really taken off, so the highway to the capital has been closed, as have the airports. Across a messaging app, Polina sends Misha a video from an enthusiastic conspiracist who lays out some details of the infection, which is apparently spreading through handshakes and sneezes and God-knows-what else. In simple terms, if you catch it, you cough up blood and die. This guy also claims that the military is rolling in and spraying people with white paint — we have no confirmation either way that this is what the substance is, at this point, but if you were going to let people know that someone is infected at a glance, that’d be the way to do it. Either way, Polina and Misha’s flirty banter is cut off when the internet goes down.

Sergey’s father, Boris, promptly arrives at his house, and he’s understandably worried that the people in Moscow aren’t just going to lay down and die. Pretty soon, they’re going to march right through the blockade and spread the infection everywhere — as a mathematician, he can virtually guarantee it, especially after time spent in the 70s at the Gamamleya Institute, where he laid out potential scenarios very much like this one. Thus, he, Sergey, Anna, and Misha are all leaving in the morning.

Sergey, as it turns out, is leaving in the night, right after promising Anna he’ll always stay with her. He does leave her a note, though, explaining that he had to try and save Anton, and instructs Boris to look after Anna and Misha if he has failed to return by morning.

He heads to Ira’s place, crossing the blockade in a food truck with the help of a bribe, and discovers his ex having just denied access to her own infected mother in a sad scene. She’s pleased to see him, for once, laying plenty of inappropriate smooches on him, and when they find Sergey’s accomplice dead outside, they’re forced to drive the truck themselves back through the barricade, this time using force.

Things are looking even worse back at Lyonya’s place, as Anna, Boris, and Misha watch him allow some members of the military into his home. One of their number, Vitya, attacks Lyonya, knocking him unconscious, and attempts to rape Marina. It’s a horrifying sequence. As the military closes in on Anna’s place, Boris opens fire on them, and Polina defends Marina by plunging a pair of scissors through Vitya’s neck. He isn’t quite dead yet but meets his maker shortly afterward in a nasty scuffle that finishes the job Polina started.

Now, the military has it out for our characters, who all finally unite, with Sergey, Ira, and Anton arriving just in time. We’re reminded, though, that not everyone exactly gets on here when Anna takes Ira to borrow a coat, and the latter insists that no matter what happens between them she’ll never forgive her. But they’re forced to put their differences aside for now as the military arrives and immediately opens fire on what looks like a fleeing Sergey and Anna.

Survivor’s Notes:

  • To the Lake episode 1 looks fantastic across the board, but it seems especially good at spicing up relatively uneventful sequences with creative camera work: The scene in which Polina trashes the detox center bathroom is a perfect example.
  • I’m referring to the characters how they’re credited on IMDb, but which might be a bit confusing here and there depending on whether you’re watching with an English dub or subtitles. Anna is referred to an Anya, for instance, and Lyonya sometimes as Leonid. I’ll try and be consistent even if the show isn’t.

Thanks for reading our recap of To the Lake season 1, episode 1.

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