Sky VOD TV review: Fortitude Episode 5
Ivan Radford | On 26, Feb 2015
Warning: If you have not seen the first four episodes of Fortitude, this will contain spoilers. Both are available to catch up with on NOW.
One of the great things about Fortitude’s opening episode was that it did just that: opened up a story where it felt like anything could happen. Remains of a beast found under the Arctic ice? Sure, it’s a mammoth. Or is it?
That uncertainty left the programme sitting somewhere between The League of Gentlemen and The X-Files. It’s a wonderfully uneasy tone that is partly created by the super-creepy soundtrack: every time something strange is about to happen, a choir starts up in the background, like a weirdness generator warming up. Those jarring vocals automatically conjure up mental images of aliens and sci-fi stories about possession; stuff that’s even spookier than those weird reindeer things the research centre has in its jars.
Episode 5 of Fortitude takes us right back to that opening uncertainty – and fills in the blanks. We begin with a boy climbing out of a window in his pyjamas, while his parents are out. Yes, it’s Liam. And yes, this is a flashback that’s going to give us some nasty, but important details.
This is the second episode in a row that makes a concerted effort to clear the fog of the programme’s hazy mysteries. It’s a delicate transition for any show, from question-heavy atmosphere to actual answers, but Simon Donald’s script nails it, using every answer to spark more questions without ever becoming frustrating.
That’s partly because we’re too busy squirming over what we’re about to watch: every step that Liam takes across town without shoes brings us closer to seeing Professor Stoddart’s death. After all, we know that he was there to witness it.
It’s a pleasure to have Christopher Eccleston back from the dead, albeit briefly. In his home, he watches Jimmy Stewart while casually snorting drugs – an irrelevant touch that effectively reminds us just how little we know about what’s already happened. Who did the professor open the door too, before getting smacked him over the head with a chopping board? And why the potato peeler?
Donald balances that reveal with a whole heap of dramatic irony elsewhere. “Frostbite could cause serious damage to your ears. It really could,” Henry warns Jules, as he passes her in the street and notices she doesn’t have a hat. Michael Gambon is tailor-made for those kind of comments, laced with a knowing edge. So when we see the practically-minded man demanding a dream catcher from a local shaman-like figure (and venting about his own guilt), you really do start to believe that there could be something unearthly going on here.
There are still human pleasures to be found, though, with Sheriff Anderssen and DCI Morton enjoying another highly amusing exchange. “I know what you’re doing,” says Richard Dormer, triumphantly, as they drink together. “Psychology. You’re using psychology.” In Fortitude, it seems, science is supernatural. The supernatural? That’s ordinary.
Stanley Tucci cracks a slight smile, the same smile he uses to talk to Liam in his intensive care pod. Authoritative and yet gentle, Tucci is the icing on the weird League of Gentlemen-style cake, the kind of straight man you can imagine walking into Royston Vasey to buy a can of coke in the local shop. As he probes for details from his witness, Liam becomes agitated and has another seizure. There’s something inherently disturbing about seeing a child doing un-childlike things, whether that’s strolling barefoot across the ice or twitching in a tube – and director Richard Laxton milks those unsettling moments for all their worth.
“Children can be surprisingly strong,” offers the optimistic local teacher Markus, played by the brilliantly odd Darren Boyd, who takes a break from feeding his wife… whatever it is – Poison? Alien gloop that will turn her into a zombie? Harmless soup? – to indulge in some small town gossip about his weak, sick pupil.
But between Frank’s bloody t-shirt, a nail-biting bit of new evidence and Morton’s ongoing investigations into the Pettigrew shooting – “A good story, but I don’t believe it,” he tells Anderssen – gossip is giving way to stone, cold fact in Fortitude. Will those facts turn out to be science fiction? We’re not even halfway through yet, and beneath that fuzzy carpet of hearsay is just another trap door of questions. As the choir revs up once more, that sense of open-ended possibilities rears its head again. Five episodes in and Fortitude delivers on its opening promise – and, if anything, becomes more unpredictable than ever.
You can watch Fortitude online in the UK without Sky on NOW for £6.99 a month. The monthly subscription gives you live and on-demand access to Sky 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