This review contains spoilers
X marks the spot. Comforting, isn’t it? The idea that following a trail, or a map of dubious provenance, will lead to a nice, neat and easily identifiable spot at which all questions are answered and wonderful treasure is to be found. Just listen to the giddy glee with which Max and Yuri greet their finding of Pettigrew’s spot. A real comfort.
Except, of course, that it isn’t. Fortitude is not a show that deals in comfort, either for its tormented characters or for its loyal audience.It’s partly structural (all that playing around with protagonists), partly thematic (the fluid borrowing of genres) and partly visceral (the increasingly disturbing use of body horror), but the overall impression is of a show that has done its best to disturb. In this context, a finale that offered a mere handful of definitive conclusions was the most appropriate way to finish, even if we now have confirmation of a second series to tidy things up. Nevertheless, it was a closure that felt somewhat rushed, as though having thrown so many balls into the air, the writers had difficulty in catching them all.
This is not the fault of the show’s scientific hocus pocus, which worked in the context of the narrative. Natalie’s smart and informed guesswork offered a plausible(ish) solution to the primary mystery, suggesting that the thawing of prehistoric wasps was the cause of the violent biological nastiness that has been infecting the town since the death of Billy Pettigrew. Consequently, the solution was couched in science, rather than the supernatural, but with a reasonable explanation for the gaps in the characters’ knowledge. Her discovery provided a reasonably clean response to the strange goings-on but, as guesswork, remains just short of the desired comfort. Nevertheless, the newly-crisp Vincent may be forgiven for taking all the succour that he can.
Some cold comfort may be enjoyed by the town’s leadership, particularly now that they have incinerated the mammoth carcass, cutting the threat off at its source. It’s a fraudulent relief, as Yuri’s descent into the mammoth graveyard proved. The ability of the wasps to survive sudden exposure to temperatures that can kill warm blooded mammals may need to be handwaved, as has the likelihood of their lasting for thousands of years in cryo-sleep, but make no mistake, the threat has not been removed and there remains plenty of scope for horrors to come.
The sci-fi horror elements are where Fortitude is strongest, at least since the death of DCI Morton removed the detective aspect that dominated the season’s middle period. Of the different genres, the human drama has fared less well, the result, perhaps, of trying to cram too much in and leaving insufficient space to treat everything with the attention that it needed. One case in point is the marital troubles between Hildur and Erik. There was the revelation of an affair, a separation and a reconciliation and that was that. It offered a hint of real lives continuing while craziness swirled around but didn’t explore them enough to warrant the mention. This was bad enough for Erik, who had little to do but brood and fight, but worse in the case of Hildur whose characterisation promised much but delivered little. The same charge could be laid at the ice hotel plot; offered as a motivation for a cover-up, the ultimate failure of the project was so inconsequential that it didn’t seem worth the effort. Yuri’s gleeful taunt that the plan would come to nothing on a moving glacier seemed odd (even for a man trying to provoke Erik) and appeared to have been thrown in so that the hotel wouldn’t miss a mention as the finale got under way.
Other points were raised but left without response. Morton’s death came without meaningful consequence, his regular Skype conversations with headquarters suggested that his presence was a big deal for his bosses, but, aside from Hildur’s assumption that more police would come, nothing emerged as we closed this story. What, indeed, were the consequences of his investigations?
The troubles of the Sutter family were dismissed with a hasty scene in which Jules explained to Liam about their separation. Would a family break-up be a plausible outcome of infidelity and emotional estrangement? Sure, but there was so much more going on -Frank’s abandonment of Liam, his open torture of Markus, his arrest, Liam’s medical troubles. In the end the pay-off was inadequate to the set up and it’s difficult to shake the suspicion that there simply wasn’t the time to do it justice.
There was little consequence, too, from Tyson’s death. Again, there was little emerging from his life too. The story of the Tupilaq promised much (remember his sudden offering of an arm when Tavrani said that he’d need the blood of a murderer?) but we could easily have removed his character from the show with no impact whatsoever on the narrative. He offered dark hints of potency, both through his scowling manner and his conversations with Dan and Morton, but again, there was no real pay off. Had he not pulled the trigger on Morton, someone else could have, if the desired effect was to remove the detective from proceedings.
For all these concerns, we can leave Fortitude with something to look forward to next season. The show’s best open questions, those that concern the parasites, leave plenty of room for further exploration while the compelling atmosphere will mean many more mysteries can emerge from its sheer frozen beauty.
Read Michael’s review of Episode 10 here
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