REVIEW: Fortitude (S3 E1/4)

Fortitude, one of the creepiest and least predictable series on TV, returns for a short final run – and the only thing we can say for sure, is that no-one will be able to say for sure what’s going to happen.

A twisted cross between The X-Files, Lost and Twin Peaks, Fortitude has always been an emotionally draining viewing experience – what with the way it regularly disposes of central characters in horrific ways, features scenes of unspeakable violence, and casually spins off in bizarre new plot directions, with no warning, and occasionally no logic.

Almost every character has a secret reason for wanting to hide out in Fortitude and has eccentricities which explain why they can’t cope with ordinary society.

A major character of the series is the island itself, so isolated, frozen, wind-blasted and hostile that you can’t watch the series without wanting to turn up the heating and put on a thick jumper.

So congratulations if you’ve stuck it this far, and have survived the icy wastes of the 18 months since the end of Season two.

If you’re jumping on here, God help you; but let’s pretend that the events of the last two series can be summarised in a way which makes sense to sane human beings.

Fortitude is a small Norwegian settlement on an Arctic island, with an international population of fishermen, hunters and researchers. But it has more than its fair share of secrets and horrors; in series one, a series of horrific murders is caused by infection by parasitic wasps; in series two, the origin of the wasps is traced back to a Russian experiment, a shamanic figure is involved in a series of ritual murders, and the governor of Fortitude, Hildur Odegard (Sofie Gråbøl) is killed by a corrupt official working for a sinister science project.

But is all this actually going anywhere? There have been suggestions throughout the series that it’s leading up to some form of apocalyptic event – so is series three going to imminentise the Eschaton?

Evil Erling Munk (Ken Stott) is dead, lynched by the mob when his murder of beloved governor Hilda Odegard (Sofie Grabol) was exposed; also dead is Dr Khatri (Parminder Nagra), whose helicopter exploded as she fought for her life with Company killers.

Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer), transformed by his wasp infection, is now almost superhuman, capable of great feats of endurance and regeneration; but the Company is still after him to further its research.

As episode one opens, Dan is collecting evidence from the wrecked helicopter, while Oslo investigator DCI Ingemar Myklebust (Maria Schrader, Deutschland 86, The City and The City) and her sidekick/lover Torsten investigate Munk’s death. Eric (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) mourns Hildur’s death and feels guilty for not revenging it.

Teacher Markus (Darren Boyd) is taunted by a man in a rabbit suit (actually it’s a pooka suit, a reference to the 1950 James Stewart comedy film, Harvey), but Harvey Day celebrations are interrupted by gunfire in the main street. Eric tackles the drunken gunman, Michael Lennox (Dennis Quaid), who claims he was shooting at a phantom bear.

In a new development, ageing heiress Elsa Schenthal (Aliette Opheim, working under layers of makeup which suggest a miraculous rejuvenation is on the cards) arrives in Fortitude with her husband Boyd (Abubakar Salim), and stoner Larry (Charley Palmer Rothwell).

Larry doesn’t know his fate is to be a donor of spinal fluid to aid the ailing Elsa’s regeneration. Once he’s drained and disposed of, Elsa pupates, emerging as a youthful sexbomb. Is her presence in Fortitude prompted by rumours of Dan’s regenerative powers?

Out on the ice, Vincent (Luke Treadaway) investigates the depletion of the polar bear herd (and manages to get in a Father Ted reference), while Natalie (Sienna Guillory), who was poisoned and blinded by Khatri, suffers back in the lab. She suspects that Dan’s experience is the key to her cure. Meanwhile Dan, off his head on reindeer piss, snuggles up to the charred corpse of Dr Khatri.

Myklebust offers Markus the position of governor in an attempt to get to the truth about Munk’s death, while cop Petra suggests to naïve snowplough driver Lars that he should get out of town to avoid questioning.

Myklebust and Torsten pursue Lars into the wastes in what looks like a Hägglunds Bandvagn 206 tracked articulated all-terrain carrier, a bit over the top as it could carry 17 people. Nonetheless they’re not very well prepared for the reception they get, as they are both callously murdered by Dan, who has also killed Lars, and sets it up to look like he’s the killer.

The episode is dedicated to Richard Hopkins, producer of Fortitude as well as Poirot and The Bletchley Circle, who died earlier this year aged 66.

So what do we have here? Well, in typical Fortitude fashion, while everyone and his cousin Bjorn seems to know all about Dan and his miraculous powers of regeneration, no-one seems to be able to stop him wandering around slaughtering people at leisure. With the killing of Myklebust, Torsten and Lars, Dan has finally lost all sense of reason, proportion and justice, so we don’t see a way back for his character. The death of Myklebust certainly came as a surprise when the series now lacks a strong female lead, Elsa being obviously evil and doomed (a sort of Countess Dracula figure, bound to end up shrivelling away).

But is it mad to think that Hildur might somehow return? She’s so thoroughly dead and mourned for that it would be an impossibility, wouldn’t it? Or would it…? Well, this is Fortitude, and anything could happen. Next week, Michael might even sober up.

Chris Jenkins

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