As an international show first released in 2020, The Head has flown under many radars, but the critically praised psychological thriller just returned for a gripping second season, and the Watercooler’s Felipe Patterson talked to the two leads to better understand the series and their characters.
The Story: A team of climate scientists known as the Winterers spend six dark months trapped together on a research base in Antarctica known as Polaris VI. When their summer counterparts return to replace them, they find almost all the Winterers are either murdered or missing — including the wife of the summer commander, Johan. Only one person remains: a young doctor named Maggie Mitchell. As the team investigates what happened, all theories become upended as the breakneck story becomes more twisted.
Note: While there are no major spoilers below and you could feasibly jump straight into Season 2, you’ll do better by starting with Season 1 before you dive into the Q&A part.
In The Head‘s Season 2, the Winterers commander Dr. Arthur Wilde is still pursuing his innovative research with a group of scientists on a ship. Dr. Maggie Mitchell is also back, and still in pursuit of Arthur. After bodies are found on the ship – in ways that resemble what happened at the station — questions arise whether a new murderer is among them, or if someone else is involved from the past.
The actors who play Arthur and Maggie — veteran Irish actor John Lynch (you might recognize him from Medici and The Fall) and newcomer Katherine O’Donnelly — connected with Felipe Patterson of the Watercooler to talk about The Head’s new season, how it departs from the first, and what’s in their – and their characters – heads.
Q: The Head‘s first season came to a dramatic conclusion that felt like it wrapped everything up. What was your reaction to this new season — when you first read the script?
John Lynch: That it was going to be a lot of work and a big commitment. It was exciting to have a second shot at it. We shot all of Season 1 thinking that that was it, that it was self- contained. It was a really nice surprise that we had a possibility to come back and expand on these fascinating characters.
Katharine O’Donnelly: Yeah, I had a sense of who the real Maggie was when we were filming Season 1, but I never thought that I would get the chance to actually explore her character more in Season 2, so that was really cool. And getting to read the scripts to see that we would meet this other side of her was really exciting.
Q: What surprised you the most about your characters once you got to learn a little bit more about them?
John: I think from very early on, when they started to talk about the possibility of a Season 2, I threw into the mix the idea that the time that Arthur had spent in jail — he’d been imprisoned on remand for a year — that was hugely important to his psychological makeup in the second season.
Because something happened to him at the end of Season 1, which you kind of get a glimpse of — a complete breakdown, and he tries to commit suicide. Then he’s arrested and he’s effectively lost everything he’s ever cared about, and most importantly, his reputation. I think he rebuilt himself in prison, but some of the pieces are missing. As a psychological puzzle for season two, that was interesting. The time he spent in prison was really important.
Katherine: From my perspective, it was understanding what the year gap has done to Maggie — the suspense of waiting for her plan to be complete. And I don’t think it’s a spoiler because it’s the first episode, but there’s a court scene and things quickly fall apart.
This self-imposed mission has been all she’s lived for, for years. Suddenly she doesn’t have that control and her identity isn’t tied to this thing, so it kind of all falls apart for her. What was exciting for me was finding the new justifications and the new ways that she sort of realigns herself, the new circumstances, and watching her adapt in the moment and panic.
3) How did you prepare for these complex roles and the characters’ shifts? Did you watch anything in particular?
John: I’m really bad at watching anything that I do. Somebody said, “You should watch Season 1 just to get ready for Season 2.” And I thought, “No, I can’t. I know what happened.” I read a lot about the world that they live in, and I decided to meet with a retired biologist named Josie, and we would talk over coffee. I talked about what Arthur is about. If you want to really kind of boil it down and say, “Yes, he’s about climate change, he’s about finding a solution to global warming.” I would talk to Josie about how this was plausible, and how would this (story) work.
For the rest of it, I probably had to remember the times when my drinking was really bad, when I was off the rails and outta control. That’s not the case anymore, but I just look into my own experience, as a lot of actors do. That’s how I prepared.
Katherine: Quite a central thing for Maggie in Season 1 – and we don’t really see it – is her relationship with her sister. I happened to be really good friends with the actress, Shona McHugh, playing Maggie’s sister Sylvia. We spent a lot of time really clarifying their childhood, their backstory, and we wrote almost a short story. What their experience may have been with their mother, once their mother left up until the time when they discover their mom is dead, but they don’t know why. That was a fair bit of the prep that I did.
4) Who is more redeemable, Maggie or Arthur?
John: It’s a really hard one to call. Even notwithstanding, you know, whatever you think they’ve both done or not done in terms of their characters. Arthur isn’t a particularly likable individual to begin with, so I don’t know, I think maybe Maggie might have a slight edge if you started just before Season 1.
Katherine: I would automatically say Maggie if were talking about Season 1. I think it’s interesting to see who they are to begin with, and whereas Arthur always was a bit of piece of work, maybe originally Maggie holds a bit more innocence. But it’s certainly changed through her choices.
5) Is there anything that you are watching right now that you’d recommend?
John: I just watched a really good film called The Stranger starring Joel Eggerton and Sean Harris. I also watched The Old Man starring Jeff Bridges. I’ve just started George Plimpton’s classic book Paper Lion, which is about a writer who ends up playing for the MLB and the NFL. It’s an old book, but it’s a sports classic.
Katherine: I just watched The Wonder, a very good film that I definitely recommend. I also watched the new Pinocchio by Guillermo del Toro. The stop motion is just beautiful.
Where to stream The Head: HBO Max