“From Under the Glacier” is slow paced but packed with mystery, getting this Icelandic original off to an intriguing start.
This recap of Netflix’s Katla season 1, episode 1, “From Under the Glacier”, contains spoilers. You can check out our spoiler-free season review by clicking these words.
Nobody says anything in the opening scenes of Katla episode 1. Netflix’s newest original opens with a naked woman tastefully covered in ash roaming the fiery cracks of a volcano, and it cuts to another woman swallowing a tablet dry because the water gurgling from her tap is brown with filth. From there a man unceremoniously drags a dead animal along a beach by one of its hind legs. The first voice we hear is a woman on a radio explaining how the eruption of the titular Katla began a year prior and continues to occur, rendering most of the surrounding area off-limits. Most citizens have moved, leaving behind only daredevil tourists, scientists, and the few who remained to help out both groups. It isn’t a post-apocalypse, but it feels like one.
The woman swallowing the tablet is Gríma. Her sister Ása has been missing since the eruption, a disappearance that she clearly hasn’t gotten over, but then again nobody in Vik, the town ravaged by the volcano, seems to have gotten over anything. The latest samples suggest something afoot, as does the naked woman emerging from the fissures. It’s the job of Gisli, one of the few people who remained behind, to deal with her, since she’s written off as a tourist who took a wrong turn. Gisli’s wife is dying of some as-yet-unnamed respiratory condition and even though the choked Vik air might fill her lungs with ash, she refuses to be moved to Reykyavik. Any betting viewers would get good odds on these things being connected.
Naked ash girl knows her name is Gunhild, and claims to have been travelling with Thor, Grima’s father, but remembers little else. She’s covered in a mixture of ash and clay and is hypothermic, which is what wandering around naked on a glacier will get you. She recalls working in the Hotel Vik. This is all a bit weird since Thor hasn’t been a tour guide for years, but blatantly recognises Gunhild, and Bergrun, at the hotel, claims to know nothing either, other than that there might have been a Swede named Gunhild who worked there 15 or 20 years ago. Employment records and old photographs confirm that the girl in the clinic is the same one who worked at the Hotel Vik under Bergrun’s mother. A call to Uppsala, Sweden, where Gunhild seems to be from, puts Gisli through to her son, Bjorn, who claims she’s there and perfectly well.
Bjorn isn’t lying. When Grima calls Bjorn, she gets to speak to his mother, an older woman also named Gunhild, who briefly interrogates the younger Gunhild and hangs up on her when she mentions Thor. With Bergrun turning over tarot cards and Thor burying and digging up animals, “From Under the Glacier” makes it clear that there’s a good amount of possibly otherworldly weirdness going on here. And that’s before Grima stops in at a remote cabin on the glacier and finds her sister, Asa, also covered in ash and clay.
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