Fortitude, Season One, “Episode Three”
Written by Simon Donald
Directed by Sam Miller
Airs Thursdays at 10 pm (ET) on Pivot
Fortitude‘s nebulous two-part pilot promised mysteries on a cosmic scale; by offering sparse dialogue and dreamy imagery wreathed by the pristine whiteness magnanimous snow, creator Simon Donald and director Sam Miller seemed to be crafting a show more concerned with the ineffable than with cops and clues. Instead of establishing suspects and motive, excavating the nefarious underground ties that bind a small town, and strewing about red herrings, they suffused the frame with chilly melancholy. The serenity of a vast ice tundra is juxtaposed with the imminent dangers lurking above and below the permafrost. Fortitude has shades of The Killing‘s caustic theatrics and Donald’s Low Winter Sun, but none of the former’s genre-blind pretension. It’s serious not just in content but in form: any show freed from the shackles of network censors can throw boobs and blood at the screen, but Fortitude feels as indebted to Bergman’s Silence Trilogy as it does to Michael Crichton.
The third episode (counting the two-hour premiere as two episodes conflated) begins to move away from that cosmic awe and towards a grounded mystery. After the murder of Professor Stoddart (Christopher Eccleston, who made the most of his brief time), DCI Eugene Morton (Stanley Tucci) has arrived in Fortitude to assist the local police in their investigation. Remember: Fortitude is a town purportedly devoid of crime, and they haven’t dealt with a murder before. Morton is one of those brilliant men serious television loves to rely on, but Donald avoids the tropes of the ubiquitous anti-hero and actually makes Morton a jarringly nice guy. He doesn’t lean on suspects to make them talk, he doesn’t mouth off to superiors, and he doesn’t slug his way through red tape: he asks questions politely, establishes boundaries and rules, and requests formal permission before he investigates a crime scene. He’s a straight arrow, acting as a teacher to the younger officers, who have until now only had the corrupt, wolf-like Sheriff Anderssen (Richard Dormer) as a mentor. And, because he’s an outsider, he sees the town and its inhabitants as we do, for the first time, without insider knowledge. It’s a tried and true device, something TV runners have used for a while, like when Kyle MacLachlan’s Special Agent Dale Cooper smelled those Douglas firs, but it works.
Now that the narrative has some forward thrust, a bit of the atmosphere enveloping the show has dissipated; episode three is more of an enigma, a riddle waiting to be solved. Morton and Sheriff Anderssen can be considered the main characters so far, though the Governor (Sofie Gråbøl), her police officer husband Eric (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson), Ronnie Morgan (Johnny Harris), and the various police officers who have yet to develop personalities still linger about, like flotsam waiting to be sucked into the churning motor propelling the story.
We don’t really find out much more in this episode. There’s still some sort of frozen mammoth or something being hidden in a shed somewhere, and suspicion soon falls on Ronnie. Meanwhile, the bloody shirt Frank Sutter (Nicholas Pinnock) left in a garbage bin in a bathroom—a fairly lazy way of disposing of evidence, but whatever—continues to sit in a garbage bin, waiting for someone to find it.
The best part of the episode is the quietly tense staredown between Morton and Anderssen. Nothing really comes of it, but it establishes an alpha male competition: Tucci’s tranquil gaze smashes into Dormer’s canine scowl, and it’s glorious.
It’s a shame Gråbøl doesn’t have more to do here; it was her spellbinding turn as Sarah Lund in The Killing, the role Mireille Enos inherited in the American remake, that kept viewers glued to their television sets (or more likely laptop computers), not the grisly murder. So far, her turn as the Governor has mostly involved some vague discussions about a hotel and a few brief conversations with distrusting citizens who want to know what happened to Charlie Stoddart.
Speaking of Stoddart, Eccleston is truly missed. Like a certain individual who was thrown in front of a D.C. metro on a certain show about crooked politicians, Stoddart’s death may spur the story, but Eccleston’s brief presence was part of what gave the first hour such power. That man does sad like no one’s business. Alas, he’s on the slab, and now we have to wait to know who did it.