What is it about Fortitude that makes it so chilling? It’s not just the sub-zero temperatures of the Arctic Norwegian setting, though you feel you could freeze just watching the befurred characters slogging through the snow; it’s more that a sense of dread permeates the whole series. Because while the town of Fortitude should be a chilly paradise, where everyone’s equal and happy and there’s no crime, in fact there is Something Lurking Under the Ice.
That something, of course, could be the plague-carrying wasps hatched from the frozen mammoth discovered in season one; or it could be human savagery, awakened in the modern era by forces frozen in pre-history.
If Fortitude comes across as a cross between The Thing, The X-Files and Lost – complete with polar bears – that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There were themes of identity, belonging and otherness in each of those which bear examination in more detail.
What makes Fortitude so watchable, though, is the terrific cast, representing the multi-national makeup of the township. In season one, genre favourites including Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston and Sophie Gråbøl lifted the series above some of its schlockier elements.
Certainly, we could empathise with the characters as their carefully ordered society disintegrated into violence and horror, and the cliffhanger ending of season one, as Sheriff Andersen (Richard Dormer) was forced to shoot his infected lover Elena (Verónica Echegui), must have left a few cushions chewed to pieces.
With the flashback to events 40 years previously opening series two, we’re soon given the theme of the season – ‘the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’. Yeats’s words have never been more appropriate than in the micro-culture of Fortitude. And if anarchy could prevail here, where else might it take hold?
The supermarket, with its soothing background music, is the epitome of order and modernism – but as we’ve seen in Dawn of the Dead, and more recently High Rise, that’s often where the cracks start to show. As the shelves empty, violence breaks out, and even stolid Governor Hildur Odegard (Sofie Gråbøl) gets sucked into it. She may be tempted to leave Fortitude, but it’s going to take more than the Oslo Cheese Festival to tempt her.
With the destruction of the mammoth pit, the threat to Fortitude should be over – but if you know your Yeats, you’ll know what comes next. “Surely the Second Coming is at hand… And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?’ Something bad is coming to town, and it ain’t Dennis Quaid as weatherbeaten crab fisherman Michael Lennox.
Unrest among the fuel-starved fishermen is one thing, but the first real sign is when the cops find a headless body in the snow – nobody throws up, thankfully. It’s hard to have confidence in queasy Petra’s investigative skills, but with Eric Odegard out looking for Dan Andersen’s body, there’s no-one else to take charge. Hildur has to take the chopper out to the glacier to find Eric, in what is inevitably a chilly reunion.
No good will come of Natalie’s plan to continue investigation of the deadly wasps – but Hildur’s (rather too convenient) discovery of a crazed Dan wandering the ice roads is going to be the real catalyst for chaos.
As our TV channels carry news of chaos and collapse from every corner, we may not have the comfort of knowing that things are worse in Fortitude for much longer.
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