A slow-moving, subtitled, Icelandic murder investigation may not sound like the escapist content that we all need right now, but I promise you that it is. Everything in The Valhalla Murders—and Trapped, an extremely similar series that I've also been obsessed with as of late—is so different from what’s visible from my front window that it makes it easier to forget about what’s really happening out there. And real life is so fucked up right now, digging my way out of a heavy post-avalanche snowpack doesn’t sound that bad by comparison.
I didn't mean to watch The Valhalla Murders in one single Netflix binge. The eight-episode Icelandic police drama was intense, though, and having to focus on English subtitles meant that I couldn't refresh any of the terrifying coronavirus maps that Safari has added to my phone's Frequently Visited section.
Post-binge, I kept the Scandi-vibes going with Trapped, which involves another grim murder investigation, another bleakly picturesque Icelandic town, and another nine-plus hours of subtitles. Trapped ticks all of the right noir boxes: it opens with a dismembered torso being pulled out of a half-frozen fjord, and its equally upsetting subplot involves teenage human trafficking victims. It also has a suitably strong protagonist, the bearded and brooding chief of police, Andri Olafsson.
But in a slight departure from the unwritten rules of noir, Olafsson isn’t damaged as much as he’s just gently bruised. His vices seem to be limited to wearing his wedding band well after the end of his marriage (and after his ex has moved on with a man whose only defining characteristic is owning a Land Rover) and downing a massive glass of milk every night. There are vague references to Something That Happened in Reykjavik (no one, the series implies, moves to Siglufjörður by choice) but you don’t become a compelling TV detective without having a mildly incriminating backstory.
The fictional residents of Siglufjörður—Iceland's real-life northernmost town—are trapped, quite literally, by the rugged landscape that surrounds them, and by the unrelenting February weather. They’re also just as trapped by assorted bad decisions they’ve all made in the past, choices that continue to resonate in their day-to-day lives.
It might be because I've had zero human contact in the past 33 days, but I've developed a minor obsession with the Icelandic language. I love its soft fricatives and its rhythmic vowels and how every sentence spoken in Trapped sounds like a lightly frostbitten man putting a woolen sweater on a fox. (Even the sentences that describe the angle and depth of a half-dozen stab wounds in graphic detail. Again, I HAVE BEEN ALONE FOR WEEKS.)
I’ve just started the second season of Trapped, and I’m forcing myself to ration the remaining episodes. In the first 50 minutes, Andri Olafsson has already had to deal with a self-immolation, an assault on a police officer, a far-right extremist group, an environmentally questionable construction project, a minor earthquake, and several dozen dead sheep.
He’s also had one huge glass of milk.
The Valhalla Murders is available to stream on Netflix; Trapped is available on Amazon Prime.