Tuesday, 22 December 2015

TV38: Scandinavian Noir 5: Fortitude

Fortitude  (2015 - ) is set in one of the most beautiful places on Earth: an island in the middle of the Arctic Ocean (though the show was shot in Iceland). Not only is this island beautiful, but its biggest town (pop. 713), Fortitude, is the safest place on the planet, where everyone has a job, everyone is happy, and everyone lives in harmony, giving the police absolutely nothing to do. At least that’s what the island’s governor says to potential investors for the glacier hotel she would like to build. 

And maybe the governor (played by Sofie Gråbøl from The Killing) even believes her sales pitch, but, if so, she doesn’t believe it for long. Indeed, it would be safe to say that we soon discover that Fortitude is actually one of the most dangerous and violent towns on the planet.

Fortitude is Scandinavian Noir meets Twin Peaks meets The X-Files. This show is extremely dark, bloody and gruesome television. You might think it could be fascinating to watch a TV show set in the Arctic, especially if it features such gorgeous landscapes at every turn. I did. But let this be a warning to you: STAY FAR AWAY!!!!

Unless, that is, you’re as crazy as I am and think you have the fortitude to make it through a 12-episode season of the bleakest, bloodiest and most depressing TV you can find. In that case, by all means read on.

While Fortitude is officially a Norwegian town, its inhabitants come from various countries, including the UK (this is actually a British cable series). And when The Metropolitan Police in London get a call from Henry Tyson, an old Brit (played by Michael Gambon) in Fortitude, saying that the sheriff of Fortitude has committed two murders, they even send an American into the mix (DCI Morton, played by StanleyTucci) to see what’s going on in this peaceful town. Morton is as cool as they come and you can tell that nothing could ever phase him. But he should have stayed home. Everyone should have stayed home, especially the sheriff (Richard Dormer), who will soon regret ever setting foot in Fortitude. 

Very early in the first episode, after we see Tyson shoot a man who is being mauled by a polar bear and then watch a series of disconnected scenes, with more violence being hinted at (there will soon be a particularly gruesome and unexplainable murder), and especially when I saw two men discover a 30,000-year-old mammoth carcass uncovered by a retreating glacier, I had this feeling I was watching, not a Scandinavian Noir murder mystery, but The Thing. I was definitely on the right track, though I wouldn’t admit it if it wasn’t misleading. The cryptic disconnected scenes were among my biggest frustrations with Fortitude. You could call it careful horror-show pacing, but there was a lack of flow or continuity that in some cases never gets explained (it gets better as it goes along). 

The lack of sympathetic characters also doesn’t help. Morton seems to be the focus at points, and he’s quite sympathetic, but Tucci plays him in an odd way, as if he’s trying to create the kind of singularly odd cop that Kyle MacLachlan plays in Twin Peaks. Didn’t really work for me, but in general I found the acting quite good for television. Oh, did I forget to mention that Christopher Eccleston is in Fortitude? Enough said.

It’s hard to imagine what they’ll do in Fortitude in the second season and it’s hard to imagine wanting to see it, but I obviously found the first season compelling enough, because I watched it in six days. I’m going to give Fortitude a solid ***. My mug is up, but unless you have a strong stomach, you don’t even want to think about it. 

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