This review contains spoilers
One of the most striking things about Fortitude (which, given the parade of bizarre happenings that have brought us to this stage in the season, must be very striking indeed) is the landscape. The beautiful desolation of the far north has been such a dominant feature of the show’s presentation, not to mention its marketing, that it could almost be seen as a character in itself. Certainly, its native remoteness has offered much to the tension, sense of dread and island politics that we have been seeing and which are only becoming more intense as we creep towards the promised denouement. The town’s unique location has been a repeated theme of the show’s dramatic presentation and was once again crucial to developments this week. The hastily planned arrangements for preventing further spread of the contagion, of preventing panic while doing so and the impact of losing access to the town’s sole medical doctor, were all driven by Fortitude’s terrible isolation.
All of that works hand-in-hand with the sheer beauty of the landscape. If events have made the town a type of prison, then it’s a staggeringly beautiful one. The photography on the series has been excellent and has played the setting to the full advantage with gorgeous open shots of icebound mountains and coasts. However, to work in full it has to do more than just look good. We need the rock and ice to work a little bit harder and this week it did. It was done primarily through the use of colour and in particular, the juxtaposition of red and white. An early wide shot presented the questing DCI Morton as a tiny figure in the bottom right corner of the screen, his padded coat offering him as a minuscule dot of red in a near-endless expanse of white. It was an image that recurred for the rest of the episode in different settings and in a variety of configurations, but all with the same core message. In addition to Morton’s coat there was the pinky redness of Jason’s stained bathwater against the white ceramic and several shots of bloodmarks, both in pools and as spattered dots, streaked across the snow. It acted as a foreshadow of Morton’s wounding and Henry Tyson’s termination, suggesting that the clues had been there all along. It did more than that though, it was a supreme visual metaphor; presenting the white canvas as a purity that has been corrupted by sin and violence.
This was Fortitude operating at the smartest pitch it has yet reached and provided an insight to the show’s deepest thematic concern, which is the permanence of guilt and the inescapable nature of corruption. The town, famously, likes (or perhaps liked) to present itself as a haven from crime, a domain that could be earnestly described by its governor as ‘the safest place on Earth’. It’s possibly one reason why people tend to see it as a place to escape to; that sense is very clear on the part of Frank, Elena and, in all likelihood, Dan too. Other characters, among them Hildur, Jason and most prominently of all, Henry, suggest that they have something to hide and that they are all, in their own way, failing to do so.
Having Jules desperately try -and fail- to leave the island, emphasised the problem. Fortitude isn’t a place to escape to, it’s a place to escape from. It’s true now and perhaps always was, but of course it’s too late to do that and there’s really only one way off the island -the Henry Tyson method. This absence of earthy options was further illustrated by Markus’ careful Viking funeral for Shirley. Not merely an reminder of the Scandinavian setting, the ceremony, with its drifting flames, hinted at the possibility of freedom coming after death.
On a more abstract level, the reason that fleeing is not an option is that the things that most characters are trying to escape from is within themselves. Elena’s meditation on her past presented guilt, or crime, or sin, as something that happened to her, rather than because of her. ‘Nothing would be the same’, she says of her past ‘just because of one single moment’, as though that moment is the guilty party.
However, it is still in the person of Frank that this tendency is most fully explored. Once again, we see his concern for himself masquerading as worries for his family. ‘He’s alright, isn’t he?’ he asks his wife of their son in a tone that suggests that he’s looking for personal relief from his own guilt. He’s been stacking up the reasons for his self-loathing, from his infidelity, to his abandonment of his son to his torture of Markus. He may tell himself that everything he does is for the protection of his family but that also seems like excuse-seeking after the fact, which is simply not good enough. Fortitude is emerging as quite a moral show, demanding that its characters engage with their pasts rather than run away from them. Frank, who sent Jules to seek absolution from Markus on his behalf, and who couldn’t endure his son’s lumbar puncture, is utterly incapable of engaging with anything in which he must bear some responsibility. He makes a stark contrast with Vincent, whose well-meaning actions prey on his mind despite having done everything he could in an environment that demanded it. It’s unpleasant and emotionally troubling but he and Natalie bore their duty and may take some comfort from that, even if their uncertain conclusions deny any to the Sutters and cannot scrub that stain of impure red from the vast lonely whiteness.
Read Michael’s review of Episode 8 here
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