Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 3/5
The quintessential part of any compelling mystery box show is the hook. There’s also the fine-tuned balance between dangling a carrot on a stick and actually giving some solid answers to said mysteries. Over the years there have been a lot of these shows, each with varying degrees of success – and quality.
Netflix’s new Icelandic series is a bit of a mixed bag. This moody, atmospheric show absolutely revels in its unique mystery and there’s undoubtedly a compelling hook to all this.
A trademark Netflix cliffhanger, very little in the way of a resolution and lots of slow-burn character drama make this a bit of a polarizing watch.
The story itself takes place deep in the heart of Iceland. Mount Katla has been erupting for a year now and doesn’t look like stopping any time soon. With the glaciers melting, something else stirs in the shadows.
An ash-covered woman emerges and walks toward the village of Vik, dazed and confused. Who is this woman? Why is she there? And what connection does she have to the town?
These early questions are then challenged further by more characters rising up through the ash, rocking up in town and causing havoc. These disturbances bring Darri and his team of scientists to the island to figure out what’s going on.
As the season progresses, the early mysteries pave way for more of a slow-paced character drama, as our main cast come to terms with what’s happening. Alongside Darri’s expedition are a handful of other characters we follow across the season.
Police chief Gisli and his terminally ill wife Magnea have their relationship tested. Kjartan and Grima’s turbulent relationship is put through the mill too while Grima’s Father Tor has more in common with this ash-covered woman than he’d like to admit.
All of these subplots intertwine around the main drama involving the volcano and just what’s happening in Vik. Given the ideas being played with, Katla delivers a brief explanation of what’s happening in episode 7, but to be honest this just raises more questions. I won’t go into specifics but suffice to say, this one is left with a frustratingly open finale.
There’s no doubting though that Katla absolutely nails its sound design and atmosphere. There are echoes of Dark within this; the way the chords and strings bend uneasily around each surprising twist and tension-wracked sequence is beautifully done. It’s just a shame that these moments are also joined by some hasty editing and a story that sags quite badly during the middle chapters.
Katla is undoubtedly compelling though but this is not one I’d advise binging. Like a sickly chocolate cake, this is best consumed in short bursts rather than trying to gobble it down in one go to get answers. And that lack of resolution is going to be a sticking point for many people.
Given Netflix’s trigger-happy cancellation rate (and their reasonably strong renewal rate too to be fair), Katla’s success will depend entirely on how many eyeballs this keeps until the final credits.
As a foundation for a second season to come, Katla does a pretty good job but it certainly feels like a laborious, slow-paced trudge at times. At the same time though, Katla throws some pretty good twists in the fold too, making for a somewhat conflicted view.
Through the ash, fire and lava is a show that entices as much as it frustrates. The atmosphere and acting are both excellent but they’re accompanied by a mysterious story that provides very little answers to the big mysteries. Your mileage may vary with this one but if you’re in the mood for a slow-burn mystery box, Katla is a pretty good – albeit polarizing – option.
Verdict - 6.5/10