Pyroclasm

I watched Katla. There are 8 episodes.

The story is set mostly in the small town of Vik, close by the volcano Katla. In the story, Katla has been active again in the past year and so the town has been mostly evacuated. Any visitors need a permit, dependent on having a reason to cross over the river to the town. Those that remain are the police chief and essential workers and farmers who decided to stay on, and they assist the scientific team who have set up a base nearby the eruption.

Action commences near Katla, as a human figure seems to come to life and emerge from the rocks, then wanders down towards the town.

The strange greenish-grey figure meets humans and is taken in to hospital.

Like all the other volcano-people who will emerge in later days, it turns out the green colour is just a layer of ash that washes off easily enough. She turns out to be Gunhild, a Swedish woman in her early 20s who worked at Hotel Vik in a summer job in 2001, and has emerged again thinking that that was recent time. She also recalls having a relationship with a married man and it turns out she is pregnant. Another complication is that there is another woman with the identity she claims, back in Sweden but 20 years older and with a son.

Soon several persons have emerged from the volcano. One of them is Asa, who was missing presumed dead from the emergency when Katla became active a year ago. Another is Mikael, the young son of the geologist Darri. He really was dead and buried, back in Reykjavik, but his daddy had his picture in the research base. Mikael is a bit of a handful, ringing up mummy Rakel, who travels up to Vik to be with the two of them.

Not everyone wants to admit right away to these strange visitors, especially when they start to include replicants of living people, and can pass into their lives.

The rules of the game seem to be that a new form will appear of a person who has a powerful presence in someone else’s mind. So that’s how the non-Vik inhabitant Darri gets his dead son, Grima has her sister Asa, their dad Þór must be the source of young Gunhild he had an affair with 20 years ago. Maybe Grima’s husband Kjartan provoked a non-depressed revived version of her from before Asa went missing, although the silly man doesn’t seem to notice the differences between them, even when they’re present in the same scene. A superb sequence which could have been played for comedy is instead put across entirely low-key and serious, as the unsympathetic husband can’t even notice that his wife is wearing completely different clothes within 20 seconds. There is also the very obvious detail that Real Grima has grey baggy areas under her eyes whereas New Improved Grima is bright, smooth… and ready for a shag in the middle of the day, which may possibly be why he wasn’t noticing much else.

If Grima/Double Grima was the entire story then it would be possible to take it as a metaphor for depression and dissociative conditions and how the sufferer feels invisible to others, all the way up to and including the deadly climax. Episode 8 comes with a Content Warning at the start.

However this is just one of several variants on what seem to be examples of “changelings” or “hidden people” appearing again, as they did according to the old folklore which the Tarot-playing manageress of Hotel Vik remembers. Darri the man of science has to take all this seriously, and he voyages as far as he can into Katla, where he sees a strangely different rock formation and more human forms being created. He posits that this strange rock is meteoric, from another solar system, and that it possesses power to make replicants in response to psychological cues in persons nearby.

I’m not sure this quasi-mechanical explanation adds or diminishes this world. There’s a strand in scifi of stories in which alien forces try to mimic humans but are confounded by details of individuality. In the Philip K.Dick short “Explorers We”, the aliens keep sending back clones of astronauts already known to be dead. In this story, individuals can be replicated exactly according to an impression from a particular time. But how can they have so many determinate details, such as the Swedish phone number that Gunhild luckily still uses even though her lover never called her in 20 years? Darri and Rakel figure out that Mikael was the hateful little bad seed he turned out to be because that’s how they remembered him. But then why was the bad behaviour of his reincarnation a surprise to them? Why would any of these new forms exhibit any ingenuity, originality or desire to survive as themselves – to have more life, like the Replicants in Blade Runner.

There is no definite conclusion – this series ends with more changelings marching out to town – but the one obvious twist we don’t see is that this entire community is composed of changelings replacing each other and insisting that they are the real and authentic versions of characters that stay the same through constant replenishment. I suppose the brief excursion to the (comparatively) larger, outer world of Reykjavik breaks the insularity needed for that to be the plot. If there are any more series they would probably unveil more about the minds under the volcano.

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