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Series / Katla

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Come to sunny Vík and meet old friends!
Katla is an Icelandic TV series, created by Baltasar Kormákur and Sigurjón Kjartansson and shown internationally on Netflix. The first season dropped in 2021; plans for a follow-up season are as yet undeclared.

The series is a paranormal mystery making full use of the stark landscapes of Iceland for its mood, and in fact making them worse. It starts a year after a fictional eruption of the real subglacial volcano Katla has blanketed much of the surrounding countryside in ash, causing the (real) village of Vík í Mýrdal to be largely evacuated. Then, people start showing up in the area naked and covered in black ash. It soon becomes evident to viewers that these are duplicates of real people; in some cases the originals are dead, but in others they are still alive but physically older than the duplicate. The duplicates appear not to remember where they came from, and generally seem as confused as anyone else. In fact, everyone reacts plausibly to the mystery, which means that most of the characters take several episodes to even begin to accept what is happening.


The series features the following tropes:

  • Abortion Fallout Drama: Episode 7 of season 1 reveals that the original Gunhild sought some kind of illegal abortion when carrying Þór‘s child (because it was too late for a legal termination under the laws of the time), but it was botched and she ended up giving birth to Björn, which she believes caused his Ambiguous Disorder. However, it is later revealed that his disorder was actually caused by a genetic defect — assuming that a test on a duplicate can be trusted. Though why Björn has never been genetically tested to help diagnose his condition is unclear.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Björn, son of Gunhild and Þór, has a physical disability (which turns out to be genetic, probably) and apparently some kind of associated learning disability, but its exact nature is unclear.
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  • Angst: An assortment of people, many with long-standing emotional problems, living in a desolate landscape, are confronted with existential questions of identity by the events of the plot.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: The first indication that something is very wrong with Mikael is when he casually admits that he cut off his pet bird's wings with a pair of scissors because he was bored.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The inevitable result of playing Russian Roulette. The real Gríma checks out this way in the Season 1 finale, with the camera panning away just in time for a Gory Discretion Shot.
  • Broken Bird: Most of the characters have been battered by life to some extent, but Gríma especially has suffered enough, including the loss of family members, and has become depressive and obsessive as a result.
  • Came Back Wrong: The recreated people seem to be no more dangerous than the originals, although they are unnerving just by their existence, but old stories suggest that this may have happened before, and that the “changelings” may turn dangerous. Eventually, Darri suggests that the duplicates are formed from living people's memories, and may embody negative feelings associated with those memories, making them more "wrong" than the originals. But this is a vague idea that mostly fits his specific situation, and doesn't explain everything.
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: Vík is depicted as having terrible cell phone coverage, which makes sense given that it is in a remote area which has been slathered in volcanic ash. From time to time, characters must borrow rather heavier satellite phones from the few people who have them; on other occasions, they are obliged to find the nearest working landline.
  • Cliffhanger: Season 1 ends with Gríma's duplicate taking her place, Darri and Rakel pondering how to go on after they killed their "son", Gísli estranged from his son and both versions of his wife, the latter of which are last seen driving into Katla's ash storms, and a whole new bunch of duplicates awakening and converging on the town, setting the stage for a suitably dramatic second season.
  • Common Tongue: English occasionally serves this purpose in this series. The Icelandic characters usually speak their native tongue, but there are also a couple of Swedish characters with their own language, and when anyone needs to communicate across this barrier, they tend to Switch to English — something which is justified in that English is commonly taught in many Scandinavian schools.
  • Creepy Child: The unsmiling Mikael initially seems creepy mostly because he has mysteriously returned from the dead. It quite soon becomes clear, however, that he is not only downright psychopathic, but he was probably like that before his death; his own father is scared of him.
  • Desolation Shot: A major tool in the camera crew’s box of tricks is a reminder that the whole area is a mess.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Mikael was killed in what his parents believe to be a car accident, but after returning from the dead, he tells to his mother that he deliberately stepped in front of the car because he wanted to die. By Darri's theory about what's happening, this may or may not be true.
    • Episode 7 reveals that Gríma and Ása’s mother drowned herself, and both her daughters seem prone to suicidal thoughts as a result. Ása's duplicate eventually walks into the sea at the same spot her mother did, and Gríma continues playing Russian Roulette with her duplicate despite knowing for a fact that the next chamber is loaded.
  • Dying Town: Vík had most of its residents evacuated due to the eruptions making the town uninhabitable. Access to the area is restricted and only a few of the locals are allowed to stay so they can support the research station and provide emergency services. Some of the displaced residents visit to check on their property but it is pretty clear that few will choose to permanently return should the eruptions end.
  • Enfant Terrible: Mikael isn’t actually cute, but uses and abuses the adults’ assumption that a child his age must be innocent.
  • The Fair Folk: Some characters link the reappearances to old stories about faerie “changelings”.
  • Fan Disservice: Various members of the cast, who are by no means hideous, are, technically speaking, glimpsed in the nude. However, they are covered in grey-black ash, looking shellshocked, and wandering through a bleak landscape.
  • The Fundamentalist: Local cop Gísli is a devout Christian who puts his faith above everything else, including common sense, human decency and his duty to his community. He quickly turns into the show's most reprehensible character.
  • Gloomy Gray: The whole series is shot in subdued tones to match its mood, with the volcanic ash making the entire landscape gray.
  • Identical Twin ID Tag: The doppelgangers of the three living women wear their hair open, while the originals have theirs tied up or braided.
  • Married to the Job: Darri, a vulcanologist, was married, but he and his wife Rakel have split up before the story begins; she says that he spent all his time at work, sometimes traveling the world to study volcanoes, leaving her to look after their home and bring up their … troubled … son Mikael.
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: Forcefully averted. The older and younger versions of Gunhild meet quite soon, though neither exactly believes what is happening, while the Magnea duplicate immediately meets the bedridden, mute original, but doesn’t seem to want to think about the situation. But by the time Gríma meets her duplicate, she has enough grasp of what is going on to accept the incomprehensible reality.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The couple who pick up Mikael act in a responsible, moral, concerned fashion. Unfortunately, they don't listen when his father tries to tell them that Mikael is dangerous. They are rewarded with the first on-screen deaths of the series.
  • Offing the Offspring: In the final episode of Season 1, Darri and Rakel drown their son Mikael in the sea.
  • Police Are Useless: Gísli, the one policeman left in Vík, is among the last to cotton on to the fact that there really are mysterious duplicates of people running around his village, and when he finally does accept it, instead of trying to resolve the issue somehow, he ends up making it worse.
  • The Reveal: The series pulls a number of relatively minor reveals in episode 7 of season 1, moving the plot along significantly. DNA testing identifies a body discovered several episodes earlier as Ása (though that information is no real surprise to viewers), Darri determines that there is a meteor with some very strange properties under the glacier which provides some very vague explanation for the paranormal events of the series, Gunhild tells Þór that she believes that their son Björn‘s condition is the result of a botched illegal abortion attempt, and a flashback shows that Gríma and Ása’s mother killed herself — and Gríma and Ása witnessed the event.
  • Russian Roulette: In the Season 1 finale, Gríma and her duplicate decide who of them will continue to live with a game of Russian roulette. The real Gríma ends up biting the bullet willingly by continuing to play despite knowing that the next chamber is the loaded one.
  • Sanity Slippage: Gísli does not take the whole duplicates affair well, which isn't helped by his fanatical Christian beliefs informing his entire way of thinking. By the end of Season 1 he has nearly killed his wife, imprisoned and alienated her younger duplicate, lost both of them when the latter helps the former escape his clutches, and also lost his son when he found out what Gísli did.
  • Scenery Gorn: Pretty much every outdoor shot shows the sub-arctic landscape of Iceland with an added layer of gritty grey volcanic ash.
  • Slashed Throat: When Mikael completes his descent into overt psychopathy, he employs a boxcutter with unpleasant accuracy.
  • Switch to English: Characters who don't share a native language sometimes use English as something of a Common Tongue. This isn't for the benefit of English-speaking viewers, though; they all have rather dense accents, and the conversations in English are usually brief.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Mikael never smiles, which is perhaps understandable given that he has died and returned to life covered in ash in a bleak sub-arctic wasteland, but still makes him a bit of a Creepy Child. Throw in the knife he starts carrying in his pocket and what his father says about his past behavior, though, and he's definitely troubling.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Late in Season 1, Darri theorizes that the strange meteorite underneath Katla creates duplicates of people based on the memories of those nearby. In his case it brought his late son Mikael back as a creepy psychopath (or even more of a psychopath at least) because that's how Darri remembers him. It also offers some explanation as to why the duplicates are seemingly oblivious to certain facts, like Duplicate!Gunhild not realizing that Þór is 20 years older than the last time they met. With that hypothesis in mind it becomes an interesting task to figure out whose specific memories each duplicate might be based on.