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The Head on StarzPlay sets a murder mystery in an Antarctic base

A small team of international scientists stranded on an isolated Antarctic base over the sunless winter faces a few obvious challenges, but the prospect of a violent intruder shouldn’t be one of them.

Among the departing “summer crew” is ruggedly stubbled Johan (Alexandre Willaume), a little concerned that his wife, Annika, is happy to stay behind, given that the base commander, Erik, can get a bit handsy. When Johan and the others return six months later, puzzled by a recent communications blackout, unfortunately they find the term “skeleton crew” was appropriate.

The only one left to tell the tale is Maggie, the young doctor, who’s suffering from “Polar T3 syndrome”; psychosis, memory loss, all the ingredients of an unreliable narrator. Aside from the mutilated corpses, Johan’s wife is missing, along with resident genius, Arthur; someone has escaped in a Sno-Cat.

The scene is set for a classy, high-tech locked-room murder mystery crossed with a Wim Hof ice challenge. Instructed not to disturb the crime scene or interview the witness, Johan obviously does both. Maggie (Katharine O’Donnelly) haltingly relates the story from a few weeks earlier, when comms guy Miles was found kneeling out in the icy darkness minus his head — or, rather, still on his neck but sent rolling off like a snowball with a gentle touch. Maggie was expecting her tasks to include a few light health check-ups, maybe the odd injection, not autopsying a murder victim.

Even before the decollation, she recalls, tensions were brewing between various crew members — by the way, no one ever seems to do any work. Arthur (John Lynch) may be a “superstar” in the field of climate change, but he’s no team player, constantly riling and undermining Erik. Doomy foreshadowing includes Arthur’s detached contemplation of a helpless seal struggling near the base. He warns Maggie: “Empathy will only get you killed.”

After Miles’s murder, Erik’s decisions seem barely thought through, like ordering everyone to go outside and split up to hunt for clues. He could have foreseen this would lead at best to a “I thought you had the key” scenario. Like any house of horrors, Polaris VI is well supplied with gloomy subterranean spaces for the foolhardy to explore.

The returning team senses the answer must lie somewhere in the scientists’ pasts: the photos on their walls, the contents of their phones (each unlocked with a frozen, dead digit) or their bookshelves. Oops! Who’s reading Beyond Good and Evil? The flashbacks relate to events Maggie directly saw or participated in, until they don’t, a point Johan is quick to pick up on. Watching this, I could practically feel the ice crystals forming on my beard — and I don’t even have a beard.

★★★★★

On StarzPlay from February 7

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