Fortitude is a very good, very weird show. I watched the first episode on Amazon Prime thinking that it was going to be like the movie Whiteout, a conventional mystery played out in an unconventional arctic setting. Sure, the crime was super violent, but all the better. I kept thinking, the motive for this has got to be crazy and I was right!
But as a show, Fortitude is anything but conventional. The closest show I can think of to it is The X-Files, before Scully and Mulder show up where the local sheriff has the weirdest thing in the world going on, and they have to figure it out before more people die. That’s something I love: A show that I can’t immediately put into a category. If you’re looking for conventional story telling, this might not be the show for you. But within the confines of the show, everything is set up, explained and makes sense.
Fortitude takes place on an island in arctic Norway, north of Norway proper. A lot of places in the arctic circle don’t follow the same rules of “country” as other places, and there is an agreement with the British government that U.K. citizens can live there, but still fall under the dominion of the U.K. When there is a crime against a British citizen, the U.K. sends the amazing Stanley Tucci, who plays an American who works for Scotland Yard. There’s a Russian settlement some miles away that will come into play in Season 2, so there are a lot of Russians up to no good in Fortitude. (A very interesting thing about being that far North is that everyone must be armed with a strong rifle when they are outside because of polar bear attacks.)
A slightly spoilery plot synopsis for the first episode would go something like this: Some local goons discover a mammoth carcass. It’s a big win for science, but bad for local business growth, since the mammoth would mean that work on a new hotel might have to stop. And the goons don’t think that they should just give the thing up for free.
I can’t really explain what happens without spoiling the show beyond saying that it’s science fiction, and that someone obviously read the National Geographic about zombie ants. There are no shortage of PhDs on Fortitude, explaining what’s going on, doing tests, looking incredulously at microscopes and trying to replicate results. The show is constantly being explained.
Since I mentioned Tucci — who has so much fun on this show it might be worth watching just for him — I should probably say that the cast is stellar, in the way of mixing actors from different cultures. The feeling is that one is actually in a true melting pot of lands and cultures. The star is really Richard Dormer, who plays Beric Dondarrion on Game of Thrones, as the Norwegian Sheriff. He doesn’t exactly do the right thing all the time, but has a pretty good sense of justice. Dormer has an elfin, fun quality to his menace, and is really unlike any other character on TV right now. Danish actress Sofie Grabol brings a very European vibe to Fortitude’s governor Hildur Oldegard and I was surprised by how much I found myself pulling for her. If you stick it out until Season 2, Dennis Quaid comes in and walks away with the whole show. This is one of those shows where no one is safe, so don’t get to attached to anyone.
Sci Fi Element
Actually, a lot of TV shows are science fiction, even if they don’t quite seem it. My favorite example of this was always CSI, where they could get DNA results in like ten minutes. Fortitude takes place in the here and now, so none of the technology is futuristic; most of it is old because they are so far north. But there is an underlying scientific idea that is not preposterous behind the existence of the whole town. So, there’s no aliens or anything that’s not already on Earth, just an extrapolation of an existing idea. And a lot of exposition about permafrost.
Another thing about the show is that it is completely brutal. Fortitude has several of the most disturbing things I can remember seeing on TV in a long time, and I am an avid Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead watcher. Children are in danger and get injured so much that I felt uncomfortable calling it entertainment, exactly. Although, the kid really ends up being fine. Oh, and the animal deaths! My wife, the beautiful Kelly, could not watch this! They not only kill dogs, but also in both cases, necropsies are performed. And there’s a castration scene that haunts my dreams.
I was the perfect patsy for this show, because I started watching it having no idea what it was about. When things really started to get weird, I didn’t know it was going to happen. It’s like if you watched Spider-Man thinking it was about a scientist who studied spiders and all of a sudden this guy puts on a costume and starts fighting vulture-guys. But the acting, production and writing are all excellent.
It’s a weird idea for a show, but they keep it going for two seasons. I’m hoping for a third.