We can add a new motivation to my list for figuring out what to watch next: will the streaming service remove the show to save money? HBO Max’s recent cost-cutting spree was the reason I checked out season two of The Head, which I was surprised to learn even existed. The first season didn’t exactly leverage its assets to best effect, but since it seems an unlikely series to continue in the current budget-conscious media environment, I was weirdly intrigued to see how they would.
Brilliant scientist Dr. Arthur Wilde (John Lynch) has slipped out of custody and, thanks to anonymous benefactors, resumes his climate-change research with a brand-new team. This time, the research takes place on an isolated container ship, far from civilization in the Southern Ocean. The key discovery is an algae that can help pioneer a feasible method of carbon sequestration, and the work could save the world. Indeed, the crew believes as much, so much so that they’re willing to overlook the fact that Wilde fled custody while on trial for murders committed in Antarctica—actually engineered by his revenge-crazed nemesis, Maggie Mitchell (Katharine O’Donnelly). Just as the team is on the verge of a breakthrough, one of the scientists on the ship is murdered. The body is found decapitated, exactly as it happened in the Antarctica massacre. Wilde is convinced Maggie has located his clandestine research operation and is either on the ship, or manipulating accomplices, to continue her villainous vendetta against him. As tensions mount and the body count increases, the survivors, including Wilde’s estranged daughter Rachel (Olivia Morris), attempt to identify the culprit and save the desperately important research.
The Head ended its first season feeling like an unsustainable project. Given that, it makes reasonable choices to set up a sophomore year. The central, fiery conflict between Dr. Wilde and Maggie provides a modicum of narrative continuity, and shifting the kill zone from an inaccessible Antarctic base to an inaccessible ship on the ocean creates a similar scenario of isolated dread for its mystery-horror rhythms. But this contrived affair doesn’t improve on the original, which wasn’t particularly exceptional anyway. The new international cast of suspect-victims is relatively generic, some of them conveniently deranged in order to generate the requisite violence necessary for murderous thriller plot beats. It doesn’t help that O’Donnelly, the best thing about the first season, is so far removed from the action, while the disagreeable Dr. Wilde is a difficult central figure to get invested in. The MacGuffin of his scientific research at least provides a springboard for worthwhile discussion of climate change, and the cast is commendable, given the uninspired writing. But at the end of the bloody journey, The Head is inessential stuff.