Warning: This contains spoilers for Fortitude Season 1.
“It’s not a new hotel we need. It’s a bigger morgue.” That was Governor Hildur Odegard (Sofie Gråbøl) near the end of Fortitude Season 1. And that was before things got really crazy.
Sky Atlantic’s Arctic drama was a thrilling addition to our winter evenings back in 2015, with its chilling mystery about a remote community suddenly hit by an unusual homicide starting out like a Christmas edition of Broadchurch and ending up somewhere between Twin Peaks, The Walking Dead and The Thing. It was a bracingly dark show, which, even when things got out of control, still thrived on being at the very least unpredictable.
As the show returns for Season 2, it looks like little has changed. Within an hour, we’ve had everything from a mistreated dog, a local who’s lost his head and someone winning the competition for world’s worst babysitter. But there’s a leanness about the programme’s opening episode, which suggests that writer Simon Donald has had a bit of a rethink.
Season 1 finished, you may recall, with the discovery that the gradually thawing body of a frozen mammoth underneath the town had unleashed a nasty breed of parasitic wasp, which was, in turn, feasting, spawning and turning people into all manner of crazed killers. Sheriff Dan (Richard Dormer) had to shoot his love, Elena, to stop her catching the homicidal buzz, while poor scientist Vincent (Luke Treadaway) torched himself and a whole hospital room to try and kill off the winged beasts.
It was a far cry from the show’s calm, eerie origins, for better and for worse, with Fortitude’s ambitious and imagination only undermined by just how messy the hodge-podge of ideas had become. At the start of the second run, it’s a relief to find there are notably fewer characters for us to grapple with – mostly because Season 1 killed the majority of them off. That, however, is despite the introduction of several new faces – a sure sign that the series’ structure and pacing is on much firmer footing.
Chief among the new arrivals is Dennis Quaid’s Michael Lennox, a fisherman who hopes to land a rare King Crab and raise the money to help his sick wife (Michelle Fairley). He’s new to us, but no stranger to Fortitude, and he and Governor Odegard soon clash, as the town faces tighter restrictions on resources. That’s down to Ken Stott’s wonderfully named Erling Munk, a government official flown in to oversee things in Fortitude more closely, after Season 1’s chaos. (The nine-week gap between seasons was presumably just full of paperwork.)
But there are old friends to welcome back, from Vincent (who somehow survived his toasty encounter of the flammable kind) to Hildur’s husband, Eric (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), who’s out in the wilderness looking for the missing Dan. It’s surprisingly easy to slot back into the old routine of icy backdrop and blood-splattering mystery, something that’s in no small part down to the convincing (and convincingly on edge) ensemble. Among the fragile, conflicted population, it’s a treat just to hang out with female police double-act Petra (Alexandra Moen) and Ingrid (Mia Jexen), who could easily have their own spin-off show.
Fortitude’s strength, though, has always been its atmosphere, and that’s in abundant supply at the season’s start, thanks to the appearance of a crimson red “blood aurora”, which spills out across the night sky. It’s the kind of jaw-dropping spectacle that makes Hildur want to stay in Fortitude – and the kind of thing that keeps us coming back too, even after we witness what happened in its red glow when the phenomenon last appeared in 1942. If the cinematography and effects weren’t enough, the introduction of a snow-plough accident only adds to the ominous tone.
Where is it all heading? There’s a hint that things will take a more streamlined direction than Season 1, but Sky’s original show has lost none of its frosty, spooky edge and remains as thrillingly unpredictable as ever – all of the shocks of the first hour still catch you off-guard, despite the fact we already know we’re a long way from Bedford Falls. Welcome back to Fortitude. It still needs a bigger morgue, but how that morgue fills up this season is anybody’s guess.
Fortitude Season 2 premieres at 9pm on Sky Atlantic on Thursday 26th January. All of the show will be available on-demand following its broadcast through Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The contract-free service includes access to a range of Sky channels, from Sky Atlantic (The Young Pope) and Sky 1 (Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash) to FOX UK (The Walking Dead and Legion, both available from February 2017). A 7-day free trial is available for new subscribers.