Sound on Sight’s list of the best episodes of the year so far continues with entries from Fortitude and Daredevil.
fter 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 perhaps 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.
Not as immediately visually arresting or mystifying as its preceding episodes, the newest chapter of Fortitude is the first to feel like a typical murder mystery. There are a few nice transitions—a shot of the polio-stricken young boy sitting in an incubator cuts to a shot of a derelict statue, a restaurant mascot perhaps, lying supine in the snow—and the pulsating, unstable music is still as cutting as the sharpest winter wind, but gone are the flashier touches, the super-tight compositions. The show continues to move centrifugal from the mysticism of the first episode, which, while inevitable, nonetheless comes as a sort of disappointment, given the profound beauty of that first hour. As the plot expands, the mystery becomes less sublime and more in the vein of typical prestige television show. Not to say Fortitude is by any definition bad, but the more familiar it gets, the less special it feels.
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 are 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 Michael Crichton.
Fortitude flaunts its lofty ambitions before the title even adorns the screen: we’re immediately thrown into a forlorn icy tundra, with splashes of black staining the ubiquitous white landscape. The sun, a burning, bulbous orb, hangs in a haze in the sky. A man clad in arctic gear, carrying a rifle and a camera outfitted with a telescopic lens, traverses the scene. Before any words are spoken, a shrill scream carves through the wind, and the man, obviously no novice, pulls off his mask and draws his rifle. Played by Michael Gambon, he does not look well. Through the scope he sees a polar bear mauling a man. The man’s face is mottled in blood, his leg several feet from the rest of him. Gambon aims, and he puts one through the victim’s head. The first splash of color we see is red. Not more than five seconds later a car door slams—where did the car come from?— and a Sheriff with a beard the color of smoldering embers casually approaches. “Get out of here,” he tells Gambon. “Just go home.”