The Geek is back again for another TV review and this time I review Fortitude. Is the show worth the hype? Hit the jump to find out in my spoiler free review.
Set and located on the edge of the Arctic circle, Fortitude is one of the safest towns on Earth. There’s never been a violent crime…until now. As the habitants come to terms with the crime, it is up to Governor Odegard (Sofie Gråbøl), DCI Morton (Stanley Tucci) and Sherrif Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer) to solve the mystery.
Fortitude is a bit of a weird one. Let me ask you this question:
If you like Nordic-noir style dramas such as The Killing (Forbrydelsen) or The Bridge – watch Fortitude. If you like your dramas set in a Scandinavian country – watch Fortitude. If you like the weirdness of Twin Peaks or The X-Files – watch Fortitude. If you like a murder mystery with a “whodunnit” premise like Broadchurch – watch Fortitude.
Fortitude naturally ticks all the boxes of what you love, enjoy and expect from TV shows at the moment – short and concise storytelling that fulfils its purpose. However, Fortitude does come across as a “Jack of all trades, master of none” series. It takes all those criteria elements I mentioned above but doesn’t quite succeed in stamping its own authority. It’s very easy to compare shows with other examples because that is what we’re familiar with and what we’ve set our TV standards to. But in the case of Fortitude, the other examples are way ahead in their achievements. This show comes off as an imitation.
You have to accept a lot of factors when you start watching this show. You have to buy into the story of “there’s never been a violent crime” mantra because already that is just asking for trouble! No such place exists no matter how much you try to spin it. In many ways that notion exposes a hypocrisy – a seemingly perfect town, with perfect people and perfect lifestyle that they can co-exist in a harsh yet isolated environment. You have to buy into the idea that Odegard is the governor, project planner and lawyer for the entire town – the whole judicial system rolled into one character! But where the show shines, visually Fortitude represents the production money being spent well as it’s very beautiful to look at.
It’s also a slow burner so your saint-like patience is required at all times in order to pay attention to all the details. In most scenarios, that is not a problem however at times Fortitude suffers because we have go through “filler” moments. The story tends to drag in places, lacking coherence and consistency before you get to the real stuff aka the main purpose of the story. The mystery attempts to accommodate every possible theory as a possible explanation for the crime. Was the crime committed by a bear? Was it something supernatural? Could it be one of the habitants in Fortitude? Or is it something biological, something only science can reveal? Because of these hypothetical theories, it naturally produces red herrings but also leaves a lot of unanswered questions, especially with certain characters and their motivations.
The first episode was very boring for me. Yes it was an introduction to the surroundings and the characters but it was only in the last 5 minutes or so where the episode provided enough incentive to persist with it. The episode is filled with character plodding when in actual fact, you just want to jump straight into the mystery and work backwards, just like Twin Peaks did with Laura Palmer’s death at the beginning of the episode.
That leads me onto my next point. Throughout the series, there are characters who I had zero interest in them. There was not enough about them for me to care or they were simply not given enough opportunities to really flesh out their persona. A good example is the Sutter family. Besides their child (who is part of the mystery), characters having affairs have been done to death and guess what, they eventually get caught, every single time. The character of Frank Sutter was flat and his eventual evolution was hardly worth it, clearly there to serve out the plot. Like Frank, there are a few characters that you have to endure watching, especially if they are doing questionable and stupid things.
However, not everything about Fortitude is questionable. There are some positive aspects. There’s plenty of talent to watch to keep you occupied. Stanley Tucci and Sofie Gråbøl shine but the real standout is Richard Dormer. Playing as the Sheriff of Fortitude, you get a real balance of duty versus the dark criminality with his character. He certainly keeps Fortitude interesting amongst characters who are not worth rooting for.
The dynamic between Dan Anderssen and DCI Morton is a major highlight. When the characters first meet, there isn’t a hospitality. It’s more like hostility, like another animal moving into your territory and laying down its marker. The balance is perfect with Anderssen’s proactive and at times aggressive approach in comparison to Morton’s calm, methodical and analytical investigating. Just like its surroundings, it’s a frosty and icy relationship that is filled with curiosity and suspicion which justifiably serves the show right through to its end.
Fortitude does have its moments where the show finally come into its own with episode 7 and 11 being the most memorable. The unique horror elements are executed with X-Files style precision. They are creepy and frightening which reminds us of the potential this show has.
Whilst Fortitude ends with a somewhat satisfying conclusion in a anti-climatic way, a part of me can’t help but think this storyline could have been achieved with fewer episodes. Eight episodes with a tighter focus around the crucial elements would have been fine instead of twelve episodes stretching out the storyline.
If you are looking for a perfect example of a Nordic-noir style drama on TV and made in the UK, then the simple answer is The Fall. In The Fall, you may know who the killer is, but the show is far more engaging and gripping. It keeps it simple and focussed. Fortitude throws in everything and anything apart from the kitchen sink and prays it will hit its target. The end result is hit and miss show.
Fortitude is an interesting gamble. It is watchable with some standout moments. With the recently commissioned second series I think time will tell whether it has enough about it to keep its momentum.