Some crime series wrap things up in a way that leaves you feeling good. Justice is done, society is back on an even keel, and our heroes can relax and bask in the glory of a job well done. And then there’s Pagan Peak.
The show about a pair of cops investigating a body found in the Alps on the German–Austrian border ended its first season with the kind of shocking development that leaves audiences reeling. And as season 2 begins, the police involved are still struggling to come to terms with it.
In a way, it’s not surprising Pagan Peak ended by turning the screws on the police (and the audience) one last time. What started out as looking like a German high-altitude riff on The Bridge rapidly revealed itself to be very much its own show, as the two detectives – Austrian inspector Gedeon Winter (Nicholas Ofczarek) and German investigator Ellie Stocker (Julia Jentsch) – were drawn even deeper into a serial killer’s twisted world. It quickly became a game of cat-and-mouse as the tech-savvy killer used his skills to get ever closer to Stocker, even as her superiors tried to declare the case closed, and the ending dragged everyone involved into a nightmare.
Season 2 starts a year later, and Stocker is in no way over what happened to her. Now suffering from regular panic attacks, and with her mental state on a knife-edge, investigating a brutal new case should be the last thing on her to-do list. But when the body of a German tourist is found in the Zill valley near Salzburg, she’s back doing what she does best.
This time the Austrian officer investigating is a young woman, Yela Antic (Franziska von Harsdorf). For her, this case is a big break, and a chance to push her career forward – especially now she has Stocker as a mentor. And everybody wants the killer found fast: his victim was battered and sexually abused before being killed, the body laid out like a hunting trophy, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t kill again.
The first season of Pagan Peak let the mystery unfold for a few episodes before letting viewers in on the identity of the killer. This season doesn’t mess around, with the murderer revealed to us in episode one. It’s a nice twist; not only does it shift the battle between hunter and prey to the foreground right from the beginning, but the killer is a big game hunter himself, with a set of skills that make him very dangerous indeed on the mountain he calls home.
Hunting in the Alps isn’t a pastime for the poor, and the upper-class background of the killer brings an element of social commentary to this season. It quickly becomes clear that the killer – or more accurately, his family, who don’t exactly get along to put it mildly – has the kind of social and political connections that can throw a spanner in the works of the most determined investigation.
But as in the first season, this is a series as much about the investigation – and the police doing the investigating – as it is the killer they’re hunting. It’s clear Stocker has a long way to go to get back to who she was. The idealistic cop we once knew has been badly broken, and putting the pieces back together is going to take more than just time.
Season 1 had Gedeon Winter battling a score of demons, and the student hasn’t simply become the master here. Winter's long list of demons and personal issues made him a memorable lead, and his presence is still felt in this season - in more ways than one. Yela is now in the role of the young cop who’s driven by a desire to right the wrongs of the world, but Stocker’s now darker view is of a very different kind to her former mentor’s.
Pagan Peak has lost none of its haunting atmosphere. Last season they were hunting a killer named after the sinister spirit Krampus; this season the fable of Schiach, a sinister figure who roams the mountains, plays a dark role. Time and again the snowy wastes of the Alps manage to be both beautiful and unsettling to watch. At times this feels like a crime taking place at the edge of the world.
Hopefully this time Stocker can hold on.
Seasons 1 and 2 of Pagan Peak are now streaming at SBS On Demand. Jump into season 2:
Or start at the beginning with season 1: