Quasi-Eurocrime: Fortitude – Part 1

I have to declare an interest before we start looking at the new, much-promoted thriller series, Fortitude: I work for the company that is behind it. Not in relation to the television side, in any way, but in these days of twonks of all shapes and sizes being allowed to spout utter bullshit all over the MSM without anyone pointing out the pocket linings that would be threatened by what they decry as bad for Britain, it behooves me to declare an interest.

Fortitude has been promoted for some time, for the lavish production, the outstanding location and its cast of big name actors, starting with Michael Gambon, and going on through Stanley Tucci and Christopher Eccleston.

The early responses have tended to characterise the series as out of Twin Peaks by way of The Killing, for more reasons than that it also stars the latter’s Sofie Grabol in a (perfect) English speaking role (so I’ll be watching the next eleven weeks come what may). I’ve no reason to quibble with that, except to add that it also hints heavily at Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, providing a mix that is at least eclectic.

The story is set in the fictional town of Fortitude, on Spitzbergen, inside the Arctic Circle. The set-up is that the town, which is very peaceful and crime-free, has been dependant upon mining, but the mine is worked out and will close soon. Governor Hildur Odegard (Grabol) has a grandiose plan to hew a tourist paradise hotel out of the glacier, to save the town’s economy. She is dependant upon a Certificate from the Arctic Research Station that the glacier contains nothing of scientific interest. This has been tacitly promised all along by Research chief Professor Charlie Stoddart (Eccleston), that is until two miners facing destitution discover a mammoth carcass out in the permafrost and try to sell it to Stoddart for a fortune.

Stoddart, who has no proof he’s got a mammoth carcass (potentially) on his hands, starts humming and hawing over the Certificate, which in turn causes consternation for the Governor and her Chief of Police, Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer). Hands up those who are surprised that Stoddart is soon found dead, stabbed with multiple implements – including a potato peeler – in an attempt to make it look like he’s ben mauled by a polar bear. In his own home. With no doors or windows smashed (maybe the bear was an expert locksmith?).

The presence of Sheriff Dan on the scene inside the house when the body is discovered by Stoddart’s young, newly-arrived junior colleague Vincent Rattray, should alert us to the possibility of very foul play, but in case the audience is not as attentive as those of us who watch the ones with English subtitles, it will be spelt out for us later.

Sheriff Dan assures the Governor that, despite the fact he’s never investigated a murder nor, if the town’s reputation is to be taken at face value, so much as a purse-snatching, he’s in control and she doesn’t need to call investigators from the mainland. Besides, since she stood to gain from Stoddart not barring the hotel project, he’ll be shielding her.

Nevertheless, that’s just what happens. Lets us flash back to the pre-credits scene, three months earlier, in which we see Michael Gambon, as wildlife photographer Henry Tyson. Henry suddenly sees a man being eaten by a polar bear. He unslings his rifle, takes aim and shoots the man, putting him out of his misery. Up pops Sheriff Dan to send Henry away whilst he sorts it out: later, it is spelled out to us that the dead geologist’s death was ruled as being eaten by the bear, with no mention of a gunshot.

And just as with Stoddart, we will have it pointed out to us that Sheriff Dan did not drive up in his car and open and slam its door: he was there all along.

No doubt about it, Sheriff Dan is a dodgy one, which is only fair because that’s the only thing I can say about his accent. He’s supposed to be Norwegian, but most of the time he talks with an Irish accent, this being Dormer’s native brogue, except where he sounds ike a bad American accent.

And speaking of American accents, enter Stanley Tucci, after a little over an hour. Tucci is Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Inspector Morton, summoned to the scene by a phone call from Henry Tyson, but arriving so promptly that he can only have set off whilst Stoddart was still alive. Morton is a British DCI. He’s also a forensic expert, from his days in the FBI. He’s got some sort of government-agreed jurisdiction in Norway, to represent the interests of the staff of the Research Centre. And he’s a senior ranking British police officer who’s an American, though he speaks mainly with a British accent.

Fortitude is supposed to be using the Twin Peaks template in setting up a situation featuring people whose interests, motives and actions are initially hinted at in a mystifying manner, but which will become clearer as, week-by-week, we piece together the web. Twin Peaks did that brilliantly by combining multiple soap opera memes with a serious level of WTF weirdness that caught your eye and made you want to know just WTF?

Fortitude, a psychological thriller, makes no effort to match Twin Peaks in the weirdness sakes, but in coming up with DCI Morton it effortlessly exceeds believability. Only not in a good way.

There’s nearly as little explanation of Henry Tyson. We know he’s shot a man, by accident (see, he was aiming for the polar bear), we learn that he’s dying of liver cancer and, now that he’s been diagnosed as having six weeks to live, he’s ben ordered off the island to go and die somewhere else, and this is apparently legal. And he shopped Stoddart’s death to the British Police and asked them to send the Detective who investigated the dead geologist.

But who the hell is he, and what has he got to do with all this?

That much is a mystery I shall look forward to unravelling. Of lesser import (and interest), so far at least, are the Sutter family, Frank, Jules and Liam. Frank, ex-British army, now Norwegian Search and Rescue (why are so many Brits holed up in Fortitude?) is married to the somewhat dim and pathetic Jules but is snogging Elena, who is there under some sort of licence, possibly doing community service. Liam spends half the episode with mumps, though Doctor Allerdyce fears it may be polio. When he wakes, Henry is round the barn, screwing Elena, so Liam goes to look for him, dressed only in pajama bottoms (please, at night, in all that snow?) and very rapidly gets third and fourth degree frostbite in both feet. Jules throws out Frank, lets Liam be treated in a hyperbaric chamber at the Research Centre, then trails down spooky corridors until she finds a pig in a similar chamber.

This had better be vitally important to the story, because at the moment I’m not interested.

So far, it’s all a jumble. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but so far, Fortitude isn’t living up to either end of the Twin Peaks/Killing bargain. There’s actually too much sense of an underlying structure so far, too much of the outline of the jigsaw puzzle is visible, the Enemy of the People factor is too binding. The fact we’re all speaking English (with the exception of one line of Norwegian from Sheriff Dan, sub-titled ‘Get him out of here’ – Dan is not having any of it from DCI Morton) makes the Scandicrime mantle look all too thin and shabby, and the cliffhanger is risible: Governor Hildur visits her Policeman husband Eric is hospital discovers he knows absolutely nothing about the big event that’s been on everyone’s lips for the last twelve hours, and he says ‘I know who killed him’.

I shall stay on for future episodes, and mot merely for more Sofie, of whom there can never be enough. Despite its obvious inanities and a worrying tendency to slip in a cliché or two, Fortitude is not so bad that it cannot develop a stronger spine, reveal a heart-stopping mystery and even improve Richard Dormer’s acting, as we uncover more of what it’s about. On the other hand, it is equally feasible that it could degenerate from here into the kind of rubbish I enjoy snarking.

I await the outcome avidly.


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