Warning: If you have not seen Episode 1 or 2 of Fortitude, this will contain spoilers. Both are available to catch up with on NOW TV.
“I’m a drunk for reasons all of my own,” yells Michael Gambon in Episode 3 of Fortitude (aka Brrrroadchurch). Still in its opening third, Sky’s Arctic series is in the sweet spot for any modern TV drama: the point where it can play it cool and get away with it.
The formula is the same for a lot of contemporary crime mysteries aiming to be complex and brooding: start out asking questions, answer those with some more, then keep on asking questions until the big reveal. Or, if they’re lucky, leave half of them still unanswered until a second season. If done poorly, it’s a tactic that leaves you frustrated at a lack of progression and irritated by contrived plot points – see Broadchurch Season 2 – but if done correctly, a la True Detective, it builds an air of intrigue that keeps drawing you in.
So, let’s recap what we know so far. We know that the first thing we saw in Fortitude was geologist Billy Pettigrew getting shot in the head by Henry. We know that Ronnie (Johnny Harris) and Jason found some animal remains around the same time, which they reckon are of a mammoth and, more importantly, are worth a lot of money. We know that Professor Stoddart found something out in the ice that would change everything – and that he told his wife, Trish, in a voicemail, only for him to be brutally murdered and for Governor Hildur Odegard (Sofie Gråbøl), who’s trying to build a new hotel, to delete the message from Trish’s phone. We know that Stoddart paused his TV before he was butchered, which suggests that he knew his assailant and didn’t expect their visit to take long. We know that local photographer Henry (Michael Gambon) knows more than he’s letting on, partly because he’s too busy drinking. We know that almost everyone is having sex with everyone else, including Frank (Nicholas Pinnock), whose son has a mysterious illness and is currently being examined, and hotel worker Elena (Verónica Echegui). And that Sheriff Dan (Richard Dormer) is extremely jealous of them both.
No wonder DCI Morton (Stanley Tucci), who’s flown in from England, spends most of his time grinning as he digs through the slush of scandal and secrets.
After a sympathetic outing for Frank last week, the guilty hubby again takes centre stage, this time torn away from his wife, Jules, by the Sheriff, who seems to become grouchier (and hairier) by the week. Their mission? To track down Ronnie, who mysteriously fled the town in a boat with his daughter in Episode 2, hoping to skip the country. That means a perfect excuse from some watery shots, as the pair glide along the jaw-dropping landscape – but also a chance for the tension between the two to simmer below the chilly surface.
Meanwhile, Morton is uncovering some revealing ties between the professor’s gory demise and Pettigrew, whose name appears on a piece of crucial scientific data. It’s a scan that two sinister men take a lot of interest in and one that Morton is keen to decipher as soon as possible. “What does it mean?” a colleague asks. “I don’t know,” he replies.
That becomes the increasingly apparent pattern for all conversations in Fortitude: people spelling out the important questions, only to have someone else not answer them. The cast, though, are skilled at stonewalling each other. Even when Trish and Hildur have a heated confrontation, there is still no explicit resolution, while those remains – which both Ronnie and Jason keep returning to – are yet to be officially declared. “You know what that is?” Ronnie asks his daughter, as they huddle together for warmth. “The monster,” she says.
As all this lying goes on, you begin to suspect that Fortitude’s answers are likely to be more human than supernatural. Talk of possession and knife-proof invincible figures are unsettling, but Henry’s erratic spraying of conspiracies, bullets and threats only emphasises the corruption going on in the background.
“This new policeman, you think he’s going to sniff you out?” he asked Hildur last week. This week, Michael Gambon once more walks away with the whole show, getting a showdown with both Dan and DCI Morton.
“Keep your head down,” the Sheriff advises him, which only brings to mind the policeman’s bizarre cover-up of Billy’s shooting. That’s where Morton comes in. Stanley Tucci goes toe-to-toe with the thesp, smiling thinly as he raises the subject of “the Pettigrew inquest”, with which Scotland Yard are apparently familiar.
“That was my fault,” Dan offers to Henry, as he tries to console the guilt-ridden alcoholic. “Tell me how,” demands Henry. “I can’t,” says the cop. Is he just talking nonsense to make him feel better? Or is he hiding something else? Dormer’s scowling Sheriff is impossible to read and equally hard to predict.
And so we remain mostly in the same position as before, but with a little more sympathy and a lot more curiosity. It’s a slippery path to navigate, skating between building mystery and moving the plot forward. But Fortitude gets it just right, playing it cool, while letting the ice thaw at just the right tempo – so when red flashes burst through the suspense like a sudden hot shower, it only makes things more chilling. Sky’s Arctic series is in the sweet spot for any modern TV drama. It’s compelling for reasons all of its own.
You can watch Fortitude online in the UK without Sky on NOW TV for £6.99 a month. The monthly subscription gives you live and on-demand access to Sky’s pay TV channels, including Sky Atlantic (Mad Men and Togetherness), Sky 1 (Arrow and The Flash) and FOX TV (The Walking Dead) – with no contract.
Sky customers can watch Fortitude online live through Sky Go, or catch up on Sky On Demand.
Photos: ©2015 Sky/ Tiger Aspect Productions
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