3 out of 5
Created by: Simon Donald
covers season 1
I remember checking out Fortitude when it first aired. If you’ve done your tour of UK murder mystery shows, perhaps you felt as I did: that besides the isolating Arctic setting, the slow-burn approach to showing us a slew of slightly off characters and then to punctuate that first hour with a particularly grisly death isn’t exactly new as far as these things are concerned. The m.o. would likely remain the same: conflicting details that cause us to point the whodunnit finger around a circle until the other shoe-we-couldn’t-have-predicted drops and things stand revealed; community devastated, etc. That’s a snarky summary, but of course, it’s still possible to twist this formula into something impressive. It’s also completely possible – and likely – to deliver something well-acted, and well-shot, but relatively mundane. Some of these shows rely on the shock of the crime to get by, so children’s murders are often the focus (cough cough Broadchurch – which got significantly better in its non-children focused subsequent seasons), but some are just, I dunno, expecting you to just want to know why, I guess, with the hope that if enough odd details are sprinkled about, it’ll feed a certain fervor.
Fortitude really seemed like the latter-most example there upon its first episode, doing the slow and languorous thing to show us a death by polar bear; a boy deciding to take a shoeless, shirtless wander in the snow; a thawing wooly mammoth some opportunists attempt to use to procure monies from the local scientist; an apparently lust-inducing hotel worker; and an eyes-on-the-sky mayor attempting to bring tourism to the snowy town of Fortitude via the construction of a shmancy hotel. That scientist turns up dead later on. OMG WHO COULD IT BE and I didn’t really care because, again, I’d seen this rigamarole before and the show was shot with a curious lack of understanding of episodic structure (there’s no real “hook” or cliffhanger, we just wander from scene to scene) or especially fascinating characters, so on to other TV I went.
Flash-forward to the now: Fortitude season 2 is starting, and there’s some buzz which includes words like ‘horror’ and ‘sci-fi’ and telling us to catch up so we can watch season 2. Confession: I had no recollection of checking this show out, and I was curious how I’d missed it, ’cause, like, I’m a TV guy, and I like horror and sci-fi. I did as recommended, and recalled what I stated above, but pressed on with the promise that things might be more than what they seemed.
They… weren’t. Fortitude is a good show, but no moreso than any other good, slowburn murder mystery. The production is good, the acting is good, but I’m pretty sure anyone paying the slightest attention can piece together what’s going on pretty quickly, and only because it’s so obvious do you hang on expecting it to become that buzz-worthy show. To its credit, there is a slightly more unhinged bent to things, but it still isn’t a far cry from things we’ve seen before. And that curious cliffhanger-less, character-less construction remains throughout, to the extent that you can suspect this was just written out as a single script and chopped up into the chunks handed to the series’ directors. With binge-streaming habits its not so bad, but we shouldn’t be relying on that if we’re going to offer things in an episodic format. Still, accepting that oddity and willing to not be surprised for the sake of an otherwise well told story, Fortitude works. But maybe with the attempt at “weird” out of the way, they can pull a Broadchurch and deliver a more involving second season.