Pagan Peak (Der Pass), on the Topic Channel, is loosely based on The Bridge, the iconic series about a body found on the Sweden/Denmark border, forcing cops from both countries to cooperate on the case. This time, the naked, posed body lays across the mountainous German/Austrian border near Salzburg. Cheery, pragmatic German detective Ellie Stocker (Julia Jentsch) is the first to arrive at the scene, followed by shambolic, apathetic Austrian detective Gedeon Winter (Nicolas Ofczarek, throwing an early Ólafur Darri Ólafsson vibe), who is happy to let the German authorities have the case. But when another body turns up in Austria, Gedeon is forced to join the search for a serial killer. Pagan Peak is a tight, stripped down version of The Bridge that has its own merits.
The Same, Yet Different
While Pagan Peak starts with a body sharing a border, it quickly diverts from source material The Bridge. The victim is one whole person, versus two people put together, and neither of the detectives are married, nor on the Autism spectrum. Instead, Gedeon is a disgraced Viennese cop plagued by substance abuse and unsavory connections from his past. He has been sent to Salzburg as punishment, and as such, he is completely tuned out of his job. Ellie’s regimented, German personality grates on him immediately. But he’s a good, if ethically loose, detective. Eventually he and Ellie work together, and influence each other for the better. There is a pesky journalist in this series who becomes a mouthpiece for the killer, but he is a minor character.
The “pagan” in Pagan Peak refers to a few things: Cernunnos, the Celtic God of the Forest, who is often depicted with antlers, and Krampus, the traditional horned figure that scares misbehaving children into being good at Christmastime. The killer fancies himself an amalgam of the two, living in the woods, making horrifying masks out of wood and antlers, and punishing adults who misbehave by killing them in a ritualistic way. He believes he’s making a difference in society, but in truth, he is simply filled with rage borne of insecurity and rejection. When he gets called out on that in the press, he escalates his crimes to include the innocent as well.
Our Take on Pagan Peak
More than The Bridge, Pagan Peak reminds me of season 1 of True Detective, with its foreboding soundtrack and gorgeous yet gloomy cinematography. Not to mention the pagan references (Yellow King of Carcosa, anyone?). But aside from comparisons to other shows, Pagan Peak stands on its own. Gedeon is a compelling character-dangerous and remote, trying to avoid a reckoning. The wintry Alpine location is evocative, and the killer is realistically delusional, versus being portrayed as a superman able to be in 3 places at once. It’s refreshing that there aren’t any bratty teens in the story, either. The plot is less about people having secrets than it is about working leads to find this guy. As of this writing, season 2 is making its way to the U.S. I highly recommend getting caught up now.
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