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Fortitude, Eps. 1.05-07 transition from intrigue and mystery to horror

Fortitude, Eps. 1.05-07 transition from intrigue and mystery to horror

Fortitude S01E07

Fortitude, Season 1, Episodes 5, 6, and 7
Written by Stephen Brady (1.05), Simon Donald (1.06, 1.07)
Directed by Richard Laxton (1.05, 1.06), Hettie Macdonald (1.07)
Airs Thursdays at 10pm (ET) on Pivot

Holy crap, what the hell just happened?!? After weeks toying with the audience, teasing then backing away from genre elements and using the visual language of horror, sci-fi, and creature features, Fortitude commits in a big way with the viscerally disturbing climax of “Episode Seven”. Shirley’s attack of her mother is telegraphed somewhat, but that does nothing to prepare audiences for the intensity and transfixing horror of her actions, or her lack of remorse afterwards. It would seem Shirley doesn’t live there any more, hollowed out to make room for whatever spewed what looks to this critic like a clutch of eggs into Shirley’s mother’s (still living, let us not forget) body. From the atmospheric, tense scoring by Ben Frost to the detached, unsettling camera work to the fantastic performances from Phoebe Nicholls as the confused Doctor Allerdyce and Jessica Gunning as the implacable Shirley, the scene is physically unsettling, adding a level of dread to the series that even “Episode Six”’s revelation that Charlie Stoddard was murdered by a child could not. This event should be intense, it should be scary, and credit goes to the whole Fortitude team for taking what could have been a ridiculous or overly sensationalized scene and making it instead engrossing and utterly terrifying.

Though the final scene of “Episode Seven” will likely dominate conversations among Fortitude fans all week, plenty more has happened over the past few episodes. After staying in the background for weeks, in “Episode Five” Stanley Tucci’s DCI Morton takes over the investigation of Stoddard’s death, stepping in for Richard Dormer’s Sheriff Anderssen after his outburst of violence at the end of “Episode Four”. The series has been coy with Morton’s motives thus far and that continues here, with Morton playing things close to the vest, but with Morton leading the interrogation, at least one thing becomes clear: Morton’s not in town to solve Stoddard’s murder. Discovering Liam Sutter’s instigation of, and possible sole responsibility in, the death of Stoddard does little to slow Morton down. He’s determined to unravel the mystery of Billy Pettigrew’s death and mere details like Anderssen’s confession to the crime, as an act of mercy to a polar bear victim, aren’t going to stop him.

Tucci remains a steady presence throughout, equally engaging spinning a yarn or observing the people around him. The final scene of “Episode Six”, Anderssen and Morton swapping stories while sharing a few drinks (but certainly not any lutefisk), is one of the highlights of the series thus far. Dormer and Tucci are equal but opposite forces in the scene, two quiet men marshaling their secrets, letting just enough out to get a read on their counterpart. Dormer brings restrained physicality to Anderssen, a controlled confidence that viewers know can all too easily slip into rage with the wrong trigger, while Tucci makes Morton’s stillness far more wary, more academic. Both men recognize the other as an unpredictable variable and their healthy respect for each other is what makes them keep their guards up.

After this memorable scene, it’s unsurprising the two spend “Episode Seven” apart. Henry Tyson’s memory is recalibrating itself and his discovery that Billy Pettigrew was handcuffed to the metal structure where he died only complicates matters. The image of Pettigrew’s arm dangling from the cuffs is haunting (or would be, had “Episode Seven” not ended as it did), firm proof that all is not as it seemed to either Henry or the audience. Michael Gambon has been excellent throughout the series, but he’s particularly strong in these episodes, taking Henry from confusion to dawning awareness over Pettigrew’s death. Henry may be starting to fit the old, supernaturally aware loner trope, but the warmth Gambon brings to Henry’s interactions with Jules Sutter and the other townspeople and his desperate attempts to protect Liam however he can add dimension to the familiar genre staple. It remains to be seen if Pettigrew’s death was related to the attacks on Stoddard and Dr. Allerdyce, but either way, Henry, Anderssen, and Morton are going to have to find a way to work together, and soon—unless of course one of Anderssen’s secrets is his complicity in whatever is going on with Liam and Shirley.

Elsewhere, the Sutters are still reeling from the news of Liam’s involvement in Stoddard’s death, Hildur and Eric are having marital problems, Elena is still mysterious, and Ronnie can’t get a break. This last storyline remains the least connected to the larger action and while it will undoubtedly loop back in with the rest of the goings on in Fortitude eventually—particularly after that incredibly ominous shot of the icy mammoth melting and leaking undoubtedly tainted water into the town’s plumbing—it’s hard not to be frustrated with just how isolated these scenes are from the rest of the narrative. With the tusks out of Ronnie’s reach (unless he planned ahead and stowed them in his daughter’s luggage?), it appears the two will finally be headed back to town, and the rest of the series. Morton may be hinting that he knows what’s under the ice, but for now, Ronnie seems to be one of the few townspeople who may actually hold a piece of the puzzle and with the end of “Episode Seven” ratcheting up the stakes, pieces can’t start coming together soon enough.

It’s been wonderful watching Fortitude take its time, building a sense of community while it flirted with genre elements. Now that the cat’s (at least somewhat) out of the bag, next Thursday and a glimpse of whatever followup Simon Donald has planned can’t get here quickly enough.

Kate Kulzick

So, aliens? Previously dormant pre-historic flu from hell? What’s your theory? Is Elena involved? Is Markus, and if not, why couldn’t Shirley have Hannibal-ed his torso instead? Post your thoughts and theories in the comments!