In the British crime/bio thriller drama FORTITUDE, the residents of a small town confront a violent crime in their midst, while the melting permafrost produces something far more horrifying. This is a weird series, part crime procedural, part melodrama, part medical thriller, part WTF am I watching and why am I watching it. In short, I had a complicated relationship with it.
Welcome to Fortitude, population 722, where violent crime is almost nonexistent, the locals eke out a living in the Arctic wilderness, everybody walks around armed in case of polar bears, and a startling percentage of the population is good looking. When children discover a fossil exposed by the melting permafrost, it produces a bizarre murder and a strange disease. The sheriff must try to contain and resolve the bizarre murders, while a police inspector from London (played with the usual high acumen by the great Stanley Tucci) arrives to dig into the old wound of an even older murder.
What a ride. I came into it expecting a bio thriller, based on what I’d heard, and instead for the first episodes we’re thrown headfirst into a police procedural that by the end becomes a bio thriller. From the get-go, Fortitude, which has never known violent crime, starts racking up what will become by the end an almost comedic number of murders and brutal assaults over its roughly 13 hours of runtime. At various points, it seemed the show didn’t know what it wanted to be, so it threw all the spaghetti against the wall, sometimes straight into TWIN PEAKS territory. Near the end, a character sums up the theme–roughly that people sometimes do bad things for good reasons, but no matter how good the reasons, there are always consequences–which tries to lend gravitas to a show that is otherwise kinda bonkers, and is belied by the fact almost none of the violent crime in the show is actually punished.
There’s a lot to like here. The Arctic setting is absolutely fantastic, and I have to admit I’m a sucker for Arctic noir. The town and its culture appear distinct and real. The acting is terrific, led by notables like Richard Dormer, Christopher Eccleston, and Michael Gambon. There’s plenty of intrigue, the police procedural plotline led by Tucci works, and the bio thriller element is pretty cool. There are plenty of places where I was thinking, okay, this is cooking with gas now, and then the show would detour into wacky melodrama and numerous subplots that didn’t really go anywhere.
So overall, I have no regrets, though I’m not sure I would recommend it, as it’s one of the most YMMV things I’ve ever watched.