9:30 p.m.: And this is it. Welcome the gripping finale of this very spooky show on a dark Halloween evening, where all sorts of strange creatures will be gathering to cackle at the sight of their spirits wandering the Earth. OK, I think that’s enough obligatory Halloween references so, unless someone shows up in costume or anything else pertinent happens. The creature reference is the expectation that a majority of the “stars” in the show will be here tonight as sort of a “wrap party.” So far Benjamin V., Wiggo and Claudia, Chris the avalanche guy, Lara from Green Dog Svalbard, and of course Mary-Ann should be here.
9:33 p.m.: Interestingly, as the show ends in Norway and many other countries this week, it will be debuting in other countries during the next few days. I just did an interview with a Canadian media outlet since the first episode is airing there Wednedsay.
9:45 p.m.: Wiggo, Claudia and Mary-Ann are in the house, along with many of their friends. Wiggo walked in with some headband that we all thought was supposed to be a rabbit ears costume. He insists he’s a warewolf. And he says he’s heard I’m famous enough now I need to start doing drugs. I suggest his celebrity vice should be prostitutes. (Post-show thought: Maybe his should be alcohol since Mary-Ann is obviously the closest thing to an X-rated character on the show.)
9:51 p.m.: Chris is here along with several more spectators. Mary-Ann’s bar may not have a room for everyone at the rate folks are arriving.
9:55 p.m.: OK, tonight’s pre-show weirdness. Something that looks like a red teardrop is dancing all over the tv screen and nobody’s quite sure why (it would seem to be the remote but, as Chris said, it’s like a kitten that you can’t quite catch). After two or three minutes it seems to be under control.
10:01 p.m.: “This program contains some swearing and humor of a sexual nature.” I’m guessing I’m doing a lot of the swearing if a scene I will be shown does indeed happen. Round of applause from a full house here.
10:03 p.m.: Title: “An uncertain future.” Perfect because it applied to many characters and this place as a whole.
10:03 p.m.: Narrator: It’s summer and we’ve had 24-daylight for weeks. Temps above zero and ice is melting. (Post-show note: the show then notes this stuff is happening in May. Sigh….)
10:04 p.m.: Ben and his “fearsome hound” open. His dog, BTW, is a cutie about the size of a golf ball (OK, an “American” football…maybe). His greenhouse is being shipped here. He says in year or two he hopes to have it full of “herbs and salads.” “It’s just a start, it’s just to open the conversation” about how much food can be grown here. Shows him picking up food waste for compost, which narrator says is vital for his “army of worms.” Narrator says he’s paid more than 1 million kroner on project “and at that price he can’t afford to fail.”
10:06 p.m.: To prepare ground, Ben has to move some snowmobiles, one that’s been there for years and under lots of ice and other crud. That’s actually a thing lately here with a lot of people getting laid off and not bothering to bring their snowmobiles with them if they’re so old it’s not worth the expense.
10:07 p.m.: They finally get it free. “One for the good guys,” Ben says. But there’s still problems with rocks to be removed and ground that’s frozen. He’s going to need to dig a moat to reroute water flow. Welcome to a microcosim of a much bigger problem here as climate change happens. Last week’s big story was the worst landslides we had in more than 40 years due to temps and rain far above normal. We’ve also had lots of flooding problems dating back to last winter.
10:08 p.m.: Wiggo and Claudia, going on their fake fishing trip. Basically the show wanted to film him doing it, but the season was wrong. Narrator says “it’s May and the season will soon start.” So at least the show admitted it.
10:09: Ben and some of his family arrives here. Not sure there’s room for any more viewers. (Fishwrapper Treasure Hunt: find the article in the next fishwrapper about one or more of Ben’s family that is not about the show.)
10:10 p.m.: Wiggo and Claudia, to weird comical music, cast lines and eat hot dogs made according to some Colombian recipe. (Post-show note: first link on Google says “in general most are topped with pineapple sauce, pink sauce, garlic mayo, and crushed potato chips. They can also be topped with quail eggs, cilantro sauce, coleslaw, cheese, and/or mustard.”) Narrator: “Wiggo and Claudia may seem like unusual fishing companions.” Wiggo says they’re basically opposites, since Colombian attitudes are not suited to Arctic.
10:13 p.m.: Me going to Pyramiden on a boat. Narrator calls it “a big day.” Actually, the filming occurred over two days. And I wasn’t there to cover a story. I went because the film crew wanted me to tell them about a plane crash 20 years ago that contributed to the shutdown of the town.
10:14 p.m.: “Three boatloads of tourists a week” go there during the summer, according to narrator. Um, it’s a lot more than that. Some nice scenic footage on the way up. I’ve taken the trip many times and my only problem is it’s about two hours of nice scenery crammed into eight hours of boat travel. Which is fine on calm days because I can get work done, but most of my trips have been kinda bumpy. (Side note: the famous Christine from the show was on the boat ride home after observing something remarkable that directly tied into some drama that happened in Pyramiden. I think it says a lot that all of us just chatted and there were no attempts to film anything. Primarily, a lot of us were getting exhauted by and at the project at that point, not to mention the crew and I had some rather, um, lively chats about what constitues reality in each of presentations of Svalbard to the world, and were a bit irate with each other. I’ll save the details for the end, to spare those not wanting to read them, but I will state adamently I agree with other characters that crew was among the most talented of those working on the show. And that a lot of what they said had merit and even swayed me a bit.)
10:15 p.m.: Sasha meets the tourists and does his schtick, including the story of the polar bear breaking into the canteen and drinking beer. Yeah, it’s a tour you gotta do once, but it loses a lot of charm after hearing it ten times.
10:16 p.m.: Lots of shots of abandoned stuff that the tourists get to see.
10:18 p.m.: Tourists leave, I stay. Narrator mentions I’m here to learn about Norway’s worst crash here 20 years ago. (Cough – I know all about it…I’m here to tell the cameras about it).
10:18 p.m.: Mary-Ann met a hunter and he made an offer one doesn’t get every day: a seal penis. Just another one for the collection in her Penis Bar.
10:19 p.m.: Mary-Ann: “So maybe I should have a penis evening and serve penis to my guests. What do you think?” (Narrator says no, but I’d totally be there justvso I could write the obviously suggestive stuff that would shock and raise eyebrows). She does a few OMGs as she handles the meat, cutting it up. “I have never used a penis like this.” Crowd here cracks up, then more so when she starts trying to carve it with an electronic knife (seriously, even I cringed hearing the electric blade hit flesh and bone). Eventually she figures only way to get meat off is by boiling it.
10:21 p.m.: Mary-Ann: “I’m sure you can make some small starters out of it.” Just for the record, it actually was a rather laege piece of meat, so to speak.
10:22 p.m.: Mary-Ann gives demo of using penis bones in bar as swizzle sticks.
10:23 p.m.: To Ben and his frozen groud. He’s decided to pay extra to get snow cleared out using a machine. Ben says it’s great that things are no longer theoretical, “it’s now actually happening.”
10:24 p.m.: Greenhouse arrives after many, many months of travel from Alaska. Ben drives out to pick it up. A companion with a bulldozer brings the huge box back.
10:25 p.m.: Wiggo and Claudia on boat. Narrtor says cod are avoiding the couple. Wiggo says he loves fishing because “fishing is a laid-back sport.” On boat, he seems to spot some signs of life…or not. At least not as far as small fish go. But then they spots tons of birds and two beluga whales. Fun stuff to watch the couple watching them.
10:28 p.m.: Mary-Ann at bar during cocktail time, making drinks called “Mine Sex.” And she has the seal penis bone stirrer, which she actually uses. Says she started the business to do fun and crazy things. Crowd drinks it and give it favorable reviews.
10:30 p.m.: Mary-Ann talks about not thinking about her age and leaving the island, because once you do that your really are old. Whoa, the show missed a massive opportunity here, which they must have on film. As I’ve noted, you have to be self-suffient to be in Svalbard, including money and health. Which means Mary-Ann, now about 70, doesn’t have that many years left year and there are many uncertainties that could alter her future at any time. Other than the vague comment abpve, the subject is not approached. Unforgiveable. I feel actual physical pain at the thought of people like her being forced off this island after contributing so much because they can contribute no longer. But that’s the deal we all made and agreed to. I may not be here in a year because I have no money and she may not be if her health fails. And so it goes with others, from the obscure residents to the most love and known (it would break my heart, for instance, if Anne-Lise Sandvik from episode four was forced to leave after more than 40 years). Hence why the title of this episode is so fitting.
10:30 p.m.: Ben’s friends show up to help put greenhouse up. This might be interesting. I was there, but they’re going to have to make sure they don’t show it since I’m supposed to be in Pyramiden.
10:32 p.m.: Me in Pyramiden. Sasha and I in places tourists don’t get to go. Including the school, where I ask how much of this looks like it did when the town’s residents abandoned it almost instantly (legit question since I was curious). He and I chat for a bit. He says when they left things “were in perfect order,” but now things are a mess.
10:35 p.m.: Narrator mentions Ben’s dream may not be far-fetched since Pyramiden also had greenhouse. Sasha mentions there was a farm and other stuff as well. Tourists can’t go there now, but the greenhouse is a wonder – a dazzling structure made of glass bottles. Will post a photo from a long-ago trip during the next day or so.
10:36 p.m.: Narrtor talks about plane crash 20 years ago and I wander solo in abandoned buildings. Pretty somber scene as I talk about the evacuation and how this is now a true ghost town. The filming of this was intriguing and some elements ate lost on film. What struck me was the loud echo of my footsteps, which had a rather unusual cadence due to my infamous limp. I’d almost describe it as haunting (forget Halloween…this is about being in the world’s northernmost ghost town).
10:38 p.m.: I talk about the collapse of mining in Longyearbyen and how it’s like the foundation of a house collapsing. How do you rebuilt it? Narrator: “Is this a glimpse of the future for Longyearbyen?” Picture of me starring out the window of a dead building. Wow, if that’s my finale scene talk about ending on a downer.
10:39 p.m.: Mary-Ann cleaning up after shift. Narrator shows Mary-Ann’s room – which is a bathroom with a matress eaning against the wall. OK, maybe it’s just when the lodge is full. Mary-Ann says she doesn’t like to turn people away, so she’ll let them have her room when necessary.
10:41 p.m.: They show her getting ready for bed and there are a few wolf whistles from folks here. Hat-tip to crew and Mary-Ann – it’s not every day you see a women her age in a nightie on TV.
10:41 p.m.: Wiggo and Claudia get off boat. Frozen pizza for dinner (trivia: Norwegians eat the most of it per-person of any country on Earth). Wiggo: “this is the best fish of the day.” Wiggo talks about future. “I beleive the coal mining has come to an end. It’s hard to predict the future, of course, but I’m pretty sure there will come more and more tourists up here. More and more people on this planet have money and more and more people are traveling.” Nice…they showed he’s not just an insane lunatic with funny stories, but really does have some of the serious old-timer heart in him. I’ve seen it, but doubt many who don’t live here have.
10:43 p.m.: Ben’s greenhouse is up (spoiler: this was filmed months after the normal shooting – on the day the first eipsode aired in Norway, in fact…more after the show is over). Lots of scenes of the plants and him putting stuff it.
10:44 p.m.: Ben goes to Mary-Ann’s as he starts to try to sell his own food. They go into kitchen. She approves and agrees to pay 500 kroner a week for herbs and other stuff. Ben says he’s feeling optistic about area’s future and his own. This is an utterly awesome way to end the charcters’ scenes. Of all of us, he easily had the most well-defined and dramatic storyline, and it ended on a highly uplifting note. I suspect (and hope) he will get a ton of support from people who’ve seen and will see this series, perhaps turning what many of us saw as an absurd dream into reality at some level. We’ll know if/when work on a second greenhouse begins.
10:46 p.m.: Narrator: town faces uncertain future. Virtually all of the characters are asked about how they think the future will pan out. A few sentences each. Opinions are as diverse as the people. I get the last word, talking about how, despite the changes here, this isn’t a dying place. Anything but, in fact, as the world is increasingly stampeding here in search of the riches and knowledge of a future world altered by climate change. Not a great line, but it’s definitely from the heart and why I will never leve unless I’m forced out.
10:49 p.m.: Claudia here shouts out “that’s it” as screen goes to black and there’s the expected round of appluse as things end.
1:25 p.m. Initial wrap-up thoughts (more will come tomorow): Lots of chatter with other characters and viewers afteward and it just reinforced what I’ve heard all season. Outsiders generally love it. Locals not in the show give it good reviews, even if many things are wildly wrong or overdramatized. Characters are mostly OK with it, but there are major facepalm moments
The show will definitely affect some of us in the short- and long-term. Wiggo, who’s seen on the show trying to sell Northern Lights and bird tours, offered a sets of tours basically advertising himself during the past week and they sold out despite the wrong dates being listed. I imagine Mary-Ann’s will get a lot more bookings. I’m being approached by visitors and media constantly. And I’m sure others have similar stories.
Having now seen the full series, I think it was definitely a worthwhile project. But there will always be a massive sense of lost potential. This last episode is a perfect example. I’ll explain why in my final update after I’ve gotten some sleep.