Netflix’s first Icelandic series, Katla, is an intense thriller based around the titular volcano and the mystical powers it harbours. The show carefully dissects every fibre that curates the mystery of its stellar narrative, bringing forth an emotional ride.
The show’s narrative opens in a desolate town called Vik which is located in the shadow of an active volcano, Katla. Owing to the structure experiencing constant eruptions for a year, most of the residents abandon the ashy settlement barring a few stubborn folk, rescue workers, and a group of researchers.
At the heart of the story is a rescue worker, Gríma, who is dumbstruck when she is called in owing to the appearance of an ash-laden woman near Katla. On inquiry, it is found that the mysterious woman looks just a lady named Gunhild, who used to work at the local hotel, 20 years prior to this incident.
Things take a freakish turn when the actual Gunhild is shown to be living elsewhere but her doppelgänger is being treated at a hospital in Vik, forcing the authorities to label this mysterious woman an imposter. However, the ash-covered Gunhild claims to be the real person and even reveals that she’s pregnant with Thór’s (Gríma’s father) child.
Before the locals can digest this development, Gríma’s sister, Ása, who had disappeared a year ago during an eruption, also emerges from the glacier, covered in ash. With no recollection of where she’s been or how she got here, Ása too claims to actually be herself.
Next to appear is Mikael — the son of a researcher named Darri who’s working to explain Katla’s weird behaviour. However, this emergence is fishy as Darri saw Mikael die in a car crash three years ago, and because of that he locks this ash-covered version of his son in a shed until he can solve the mystery behind these appearances.
Unfortunately, his wife Rakel discovers the imprisoned version of her son and escapes with him. Before she can celebrate with joy for having Mikael back, she notices that the boy harbours murderous intentions and abandons him. Elsewhere, as Gríma investigates Katla where these people were found, she chances upon another ash-covered woman who also claims to be Gríma.
What is the secret behind these people coming out of the glacier?
Here is the Katla ending explained in detail:
The spooky history of Vik
Throughout the course of the series, Vik’s superstitious hotel in-charge acts as a source of exposition to reveal baffling folk tales about Katla.
According to her, when the structure erupted in 1311, a little girl and her dog were consumed by the ash, however, they were found in a perfectly fine condition months later. The locals then referred to the child as a “changeling”. They believed in the presence of supernatural beings under the glacier who produce these strange versions of people.
Centuries later, when the eruption happened again in 1625, a mysterious boy returned after his mother had shunned him, and murdered her. This second story shares eerie resemblance to Mikael’s dark version wanting to kill his parents.
These tales arise due to a peculiar meteorite with life giving properties present under the glacier for over 2 millennia. The celestial object, since its crash landing on earth, has been fuelling these folk tales for generations and returning people from the dead.
The meteorite’s power
The curious question that further arises is, how does the inanimate piece of rock actually work? Darri, on his quest to find the truth, goes into the crevice of the volcano and discovers the meteorite present under it as it creates more changelings.
He hypothesises that the crashing of the rock is what created Katla in the first place and with every eruption, as the glacier melts, pieces of it have been thrown onto the surface. What furthers their problems is that the rock doesn’t match any known formations and is likely from outside the solar system, hence having supernatural life-giving powers.
On further investigation, Darri confirms that the meteorite works on absorbing intense emotions of those nearest to it and gives life. Mikael and Ása were created as they were sorely remembered by their loved ones post their deaths, and Thór deeply missed Gunhild once she had left.
Similarly, Gríma’s husband Kjartan longed for love and affection from his wife but didn’t get any due to her cold demeanour post her sister’s death, resulting in Gríma’s changeling being formed. This also verifies that Mikael’s changeling is murderous and negative due to Darri being consumed by negativity about his impending divorce.
Death is the only way
The doppelgängers are not exact reproductions of people they resemble but a manifestation of a version of them, based on their loved ones’ thoughts. This makes them a fraction of the actual person and they don’t have any personal purpose in life.
Even though their appearance helps some of the characters move on from the deaths of their loved ones, most of them believe that it isn’t right to keep the changelings alive for personal gain or have two versions of the same person exist.
When Darri and Rakel realise what Mikael actually is, they reluctantly take him to the sea and drown him. This brings them closer to each other again.
Following that, Ása’s changeling realises what she is when the real Ása’s body is found. She too accepts that she has no purposes in life because she doesn’t actually exist, and walks into the sea to commit suicide.
Gríma takes the situation a bit differently. She proposes a game of Russian roulette to her doppelgänger in order to give them both a fair chance to survive.
The show then moves to close up shots, making it impossible to figure out which version survived unless you count the number of attempts. To break the suspense, the changeling ends up shooting herself whereas the real Gríma survives.
Katla’s final episode ends on a cliffhanger that reveals a fresh hoard of ash-covered changelings appearing from the volcano and walking towards the town.