Fortitude episode 10 review

The stakes have been changed but the mystery remains in Fortitude. Here's Michael's review...

This review contains spoilers.

When Professor Stoddart was bumped off way back at the beginning of this series, it seemed a fairly transparent ploy. In a cast list of recognisable names and faces, Christopher Eccleston still stood out as one of the leading performers, as well known for the high profile of his roles as for the intensity of his characterisations. Killing him off so soon suggested that his sole purpose here was to shock and to underline the point that while no one can die in Fortitude the town, in Fortitude the series no one is truly safe. Michael Gambon’s name looms even larger than that of his co-star, but the death of Henry Tyson, whatever its means, felt rather more natural. The Grim Reaper has shadowed Tyson from the very beginning, tempting him via his late stage cancer and spirit of militant melancholy into pulling the trigger. It was no great shock to lose Tyson with a couple of hours remaining on the clock.

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But Morton? Morton’s death came out of left field. The loss of Stanley Tucci is a great one. He has been, from his very first appearance, the strongest presence in the cast, offering a performance of bold and strident crispness that suited the task given to his character while being a pleasure to watch for its own sake. Having been promised that this particular story would be brought to a very firm conclusion, my chief hope for a second series was that it would involve Tucci’s patient inspector. Now it appears that we won’t even have him for the finale of this series. 

Morton’s death is a curious development. Neither high-ranking redshirt nor death-seeking old man, the detective was the closest thing that this ensemble show had to a protagonist. More than that, as the investigative figure in a mystery show, DCI Morton was the indispensable character. Or so we thought. 

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The loss of Morton brings with it a late shift in protagonist, a structural exchange that has been made possible by Fortitude’s hybridisation of genres. Is it a mystery story? Sci-Fi? Horror? Is it a noir (Scandi or otherwise)? Whatever its thematic and stylistic ingredients, the show has reached a handover point and the elements of mystery have been superseded by the fantastical ones, making the substitution of a scientist for a detective a natural one, no matter how woozy it makes the viewer. Still, playing around with well-trodden conventions has had the desired effect. Truly, no one can be considered safe now. 

Of course, that sense of uncertainty originates from several sources. The simple earthiness of man-made violence remains potent and was stepped up a gear this week with the extended flashback of Billy Pettigrew’s pathetic last night on earth. The thoroughgoing unpleasantness of this character was exposed and emphasised through his capacity for insult, self-pity and brutality. His assault on Elena was uncomfortably explicit to an almost unnecessary degree and left us with the sense that the worst thing about the polar bear attack is that the poor bear might have been left with some bits in his teeth. He, Pettigrew, won’t be missed and it comes as no surprise that the remaining residents of Fortitude were so disinclined to help solve the mystery of his death. 

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Well, that and their general tendency to insularity. Hildur’s political PR problems have been an under-explored element of the narrative thus far, operating as mere shading to the town’s unique social culture but here they seemed to develop into a generalised ennui. Anderssen’s reporting of the events on the ice aroused barely a flicker of interest and she advised him that more police will come in a manner of such resignation that it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the twin disappointments of her professional and personal life have left her with no fight of her own. 

It’s a dangerous time to succumb to that kind of thinking, especially when further man-made violence is promised by the antics of Max and Yuri, now in possession of the ice drill, and Jason’s post-traumatic reactions to his encounter with the strange entity that remains the show’s final mystery. The rapid detective work of the two scientists packed in an awful lot of just-plausible-enough thinking into a strand that works best as obscure pseudoscientific body horror. I’m not sure that a through explanation is really required, not when the results are as deeply unsettling as all this. The throbbing buboes and clouds of flies add a layer of queasiness to something that is uncertain enough as it is. There are a lot of plates still spinning as we enter the final instalment and, more than ever before, we can be certain that no one is safe. 

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Read Michael’s review of Episode 9 here