The Head starts with a farewell party. The crew and researchers of Polaris VI, a research outpost in the middle of the South Pole, are celebrating before they leave the remote facility prior to the six months of darkness that arrives as the winter begins. A small crew will stay behind to man the station and continue the vital research on climate change that can’t stop during the winter darkness.
Fast forward to the spring. Summer commander Johan Berg (Alexander Willaume) returns to the station to find every one of the small crew that stayed behind, either dead or missing. Among the missing is his wife Annika (Laura Bach), who he is desperate to find, and the only way he’s going to do that is piecing together what happened on Polaris VI. The one survivor they discover, Maggie (Catherine O’Donnelly,) is the key to everything, but she is traumatized, her memory is fragmented, and she might not be trustworthy.
The Head is basically John Carpenter’s The Thing fused with a “who done it” akin to an Agatha Christie story. The isolated research facility in the Arctic is a perfect setting for a psychological horror/thriller story. The crew even watches The Thing on the first night of darkness before everything kicks off. It has a team of seemingly unstable individuals (people have checkered pasts and flock to the ice to get away,) an unreliable narrator and a contained setting that builds the tension.
The winter crew is composed of people who all have some sort of traumatic or mysterious backstory and who tend to be aggressive and paranoid when pushed. The veterans of Polaris VI include Ramón (Álvaro Morte), the station cook who has been at the station for years and Arthur Wilde (John Lynch), a brilliant scientist and “superstar” of Polaris VI who is full of himself and his research on the climate change crisis.
Erik Osterland (Richard Sammel) is the winter commander, an ex-military type who clashes with Arthur for the station’s leadership. Nils Hedlund (Chris Riley) is a technician who is seemingly drinking his pain away in the South Pole. Ebba Ulman is the station nurse who has a family back home but is drawn to coming back to the station after a prolonged absence.
First-timers include Maggie, a young doctor with a mysterious past who supposedly lucked into her position on Polaris VI. Aki Kobayashi (Tomohisa Yamashita) is a young and ambitious researcher on his first winter in the South Pole who is close to Maggie, along with Heather Blake (Amelia Hoy), an athletic computer engineer from Texas. Everyone has something that makes the South Pole their goal, whether it be their ambition or running away from their problems.
Berg has to parse through what happened to discover who the killer is and hopefully find his missing wife. Maggie, the only one who knows what happened, is traumatized after the six months in the South Pole’s darkness with a killer on the loose, so information comes to light as her memory returns, and the investigation around Polaris VI begins. Johan knows that Maggie is a suspect, and he can’t believe everything she says. As more information comes to light, the series throws doubt on everyone in the crew, and the story is packed with interesting twists that coincide with the personalities of the unit that stayed behind.
The Head isn’t a groundbreaking or redefining show. It’s just a good entertaining thriller that has some tense and sometimes scary moments. Like its influences, the fun is in the isolation of it all. Even though there are people on the station when it comes down to it, they are strangers, and while circumstance makes them close, there is still the question of whether they can trust one another. At only six episodes, The Head is worth the watch for fans of the horror/thriller genre.
The Head is available to watch on HBO Max.
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