Liveblog: ‘Svalbard: Life on the Edge,’ episode two (WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS)


9:15 p.m.: Welcome to the third liveblog about “Svalbard: Life on the Edge” in the past 26 hours (and first three of my life, so if they seem rough and not what’d you expect sorry about that). Definitely going to be another full house…in fact, seats are almost gone already.

9:18 p.m.: And, of course, the usual reminder from the headline this will contain spoilers, so if you don’t want to know details of the episode before it airs at 10 p.m. Sept. 5 on BBC Earth (day/time may be different outside Norway) smash in your computer/tablet/phone screen immediatly (or come up with some other way of not reading this before then).

9:33 p.m. Wendy Rattay, executive producer of the show: “I’m really impressed at how many people have turned out tonight…if you were here at the earlier screening I apologize because I’m about to say the exact same thing.” Says everyone working on show is texting, asking about the audience’s response. So she asks everyone to wave as she takes a selfie.

9:36 p.m.: “The biggest thank you is to all of you.” Said earlier, but she emphasizes it several times.

9:37 p.m.: Explains half of the cast introduced in first episode. The others are here. Also, “I also know the avalanche is a big thing in this town.” She talks about “signposting” in terms of last year’s avalanche, basically saying that while there are hints of what’s to come, the next episode is when it actually is shown.

9:38 p.m.: Opens with Svalbard Church Priest Leif Magne Helgesen during a torchlight procession talking about losing people every year, taxi driver Wiggo Antonsen on a tour bus talking about “you always die in your own blood,” UNIS Professor Chris Borstad in the field talking about avalanches. Scenics of Northern Lights, etc. Title of show: “Life is Fragile”

9:40 p.m.: Opens with plane landing on snowy day as “winter is coming.” Wiggo greets arrivals as they board his taxi bus. “Welcome on board. This is a place where you always die in an accident in your own fresh red blood.”

9:41 p.m.: Wiggo notes there are 4,000 snowmobiles and they are leading source of business for hosptials. And “if a story ends in death it is a good story.”

9:42 p.m.: Narrator says there are thousands of avalanches in Svalbard every year. No warning system. That’s an introduction for Chris, a snow/ice expert. He’s doing an examination of snow layers on a hillside, beginning with digging a pit in the snow. A cutaway of a snow wall reveals layers and Chris explains their properties. Essentially the viewers learn what a slab avalanche is. For locals, that is an ominous phrase. Chris says current conditions means there may be avalanches during the next few days.

9:45 p.m.: Leif gets his intro with an outdoor All Saints Day Mass where there is a torchlight march from Svalbard Church to the cemetery. Says the church is simple and beautiful, but “the real cathedral is outside.”

9:47 p.m.: Leif: Gives a sermon in Norwegian, with subtitles for the show’s viewers. Shots of people in heavy coats and flames flicking out on torches.

9:48 p.m.: Benamin Vidmar gets his intro with his greenhouse/polar permaculture project. Shows him working as a chef in a kitchen. “This is not a place meant for people to live.” Says his project is “Like trying to grow food in a desert.” But he’s got a basement room in a building where, according to the narrator, “he’s trying to make Svalbard self-sustaining.” Ben: “I felt like Noah building the ark? People were saying ‘What is he doing? He’s crazy.'”

9:50 p.m.: Ben shows off his plants and then the talk shifts to his 13,000 worms he’s using for making soil. And it turns out they’re reproduced and he has too many, so how to use them. And there’s a mystery woman from Colombia who has a possible solution.

9:51 p.m.: It appears the solution is a recipie and Ben says’s he curious to know what it is.

9:52 p.m.: Ben (not to be confused with Benjamin) gets his intro as a musher for Green Dog Svalbard. Lot of barking and dog shots. I’m thinking the crews much have had a hell of a time capturing his voice over all the yipes.

9:53 p.m.: Tour group of novices set off at -10C and into the pitch black winter darkness. While some of narrator’s warnings are overly ominous, yeah, it’s a bit unnerving if you’re the novice. Narator notes “deep in the valley the conditions are getting worse” … and there’s a shout of “throw down the anchor!” A go-pro shot of the sled shows upside-chaos. A cry of “oh, my knee!”

9:55 p.m.: A few more vague moments as they try to sort out where/how everyone is. Alex talks about danger of a bear approaching at such times and how dogs are trained to fight/kill. They get back OK, but Alex says dogs were overly excited, resulting in the crash and a broken dogsled. Alex also says a foot that previously got frostbite is numb and hopes he doesn’t have another case.

9:57 p.m.: Major Northern Lights shots. Wiggo talks about seeing them for the first time as a kid. Narrator talks about the lucrative possibilities the lights offer. Wiggo is “a man with a cunning business plan” who offers guaranteed sightings (this is bizarre since it’s entirely up to Mother Nature if the lights exist and we can see them). Wiggo notes you can’t do a set times, so he tells his guests the lights “are unpredictable as women” and if they give him their phone numbers he’ll SMS them if they appear (even at 3 a.m.). Wiggo says 39 of 55 on bus give their numbers to him.

10 p.m.: And Ben’s mystery woman appears at his apartment … and it’s Claudie, Wiggo’s wife. Ben and Claudie are washing worms and putting them on a cookie sheet. Ben “I don’t think people here in Svalbard will go for thhe worms, but you only know if you try.”

10:02 p.m.: Mary-Ann makes an appearence, the only character from episode one to do so. She’s getting a Chrostmas tree for her lodge, which she insists be the tallest in town and she paid 10,000 kroner to import it from the mainland. She picks it up from warehouse and there’s shots of a huge stuggle to get it upright at the lodge. This scene sorta does that, but the real mounting of the tree in a custom stand takes place later when she wasn’t there (I’ll provide a link to what I wrote at the time after this blog is done).

10:05 p.m.: Chris teaches an avalanche rescue class at UNIS. They gear up inside and then go onto a shallow hillside just outside the university. Chris mentions there was a fatal avalanche the previous winter that killed a snowmobilers. His students try to find hidden beacons on the hillside as fast as possible. BTW, it’s 3 p.m., but it’s full dark and snowing hard.

10:07 p.m.: Chris: “If I’m under the snow I don’t care where you stab me” as there are lots of close-ups of probe poles, headlights, etc. Chris says people living here accept a certain degree of risk.

10:08 p.m.: Claudia, “the Columbian worm killer,” gets her formal intro. Shows her and Wiggo getting out Christmas decorations. Wiggo talks about how it’s a nuisance. Crowd offers loudest laugh so far for some of their antics. Wiggo talks about how when she arribved she showed up with three full suitcases of Christmas decorations. “Too much – it’s like pornography.” They start decorating and phone rings. He says he has to do Northern Lights tours. Claudie: “It’s cloudy.” Wiggo, “Bah – it’s little bit cloudy.” Crowd loves it.

10:11 p.m.: And it turns out Ben’s been baking…worm cookies. Shows him outside Svalbardbutikken. Getting shuned. Ben: “People here are very shy.” Chris wanders by and tries one “it tastes like a cookie.” Ben: “They think I’m crazy, but maybe they see my point.”

10:12 p.m.: Leif at the helicopter hanger, putting on a suvival suit as he gets ready for a flight to Bjørnøya for an early Christmass Mass there, one of several he does in all the settlements outside Longyearbyen. There’s talk about the dangers if anything goes wrong and it’s unlikely they’d survive in the Arctic waters more than 10 minutes.

10:14 p.m. Leif: “Usually I’m not afraid, but I have respect” for the elements.

10:15 p.m.: Wiggo in his cab, but has picked up only three passengers. He says the conditions are ideal. He comes out of main hotel (not quite) empty-handed because it’s the middle of dinner time, so only three guests. (I’m getting a sense maybe he’s doing this trip at the crew’s request because the timing was good for them.) They wait for a while and nothing happens. Wiggo returns guests to hotel and refunds their money.

10:17 p.m.: Leif gets to Bjørnøya after two hours. Leif says unlike any bears near station right now “but you never know.” Goes from blizard shots outside to warm kitchen scene as inhabitants make fancy holiday meal.

10:18 p.m. All-too-quick shots of the station (there’s not even a description of what happens there) and a few shots of everyone singing. Big-time missed opportunity considering all the time the crew had to spend on this.

10:20 p.m.: Chris does another snow stability check and I’m wondering if he’s on the hillside where last year’s massive slide occurred. The music has a haunting undertone. Chris talks about how various conditions can be within short distances of each other. Chris says snow on top of current crust could be hazardous. Audience learns about surface hoar. In general, he’s been giving viewers a good basic overview in small bites.

10:21 p.m.: Locals will recognize a transition shot that flashes by, showing the entire town with the lit-up area of the avalanche area in the backdrop. Outsiders won’t recognize it.

10:22 p.m.: Very brief shots of tradition lighting of Christmas tree.

10:24 p.m.: Final minute is the massive storm on Dec. 18. The “next episode” preview is full of avalanche wreckage shots.

10:26 p.m.: Applause much louder than for first episode.

Postscript at 12:30 p.m. the next day: Feedback from folks I talked to was very positive about both episodes, but there was also a lot of agreement many of the scenes and portrayal of characters was overly dramatic. That’s about the middling scenario I had for the series. But I’m still reserving an overall verdict until episode three and beyond, when they’re doing more than introducing everyone.