No Winter Sun
by ALEX CARNEVALE
creator Simon Donald
Fortitude begins when Henry (non-Dumbledore mode Michael Gambon), a photographer of polar bears, witnesses a man being mauled by one of the creatures. He takes out a distance rifle and instead of putting the polar bear down, shoots the man in the head. The town’s chief of police Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer) is present for this moment, and he waves Gambon away from the grisly scene.
This gets Gambon, who is the smartest drunk in this freezing Arctic town, thinking. If the sheriff is content to cover up one crime in Fortitude, might he be plotting another Moreover, why was the sheriff even there? Days later, a man (Christopher Eccleston) working as a top government research scientist is killed with a potato peeler.
Fortitude does not make anything look like fun, least of all murder. There are no montages of good, solid police work, no glamorous depictions of the administration of violence. Everything on the show occurs at the periphery, builds up to the possibility of the thing and nothing more. Low Winter Sun creator Simon Donald is more focused on what comes after violence and trauma shake the world.
Fortitude airs in the U.S. on a channel you may not be familiar with, Pivot. The show is likely to be variously intelligible to American viewers given that not only are half the lines on the show grumbled, there are a wide range of accents on display: Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish, American and British. These disparate vocals make it appear that everyone on the show is communicating in code to one another, and Fortitude indeed contains many subtle references that reward repeat viewing.
Keeping track of these details requires notetaking. Because of the cold clime, many adults in the community of Fortitude have loose arrangements with their spouses. Keeping track of the various quasi-infidelities becomes a kind of spectator sport. Most disturbed by the lies of her police officer husband is Fortitude’s mayor Hildur (The Killing‘s marvelous Sofie Gråbøl), who has plans to open a magnificent hotel in Fortitude – if she received the right permissions from the now deceased scientist.
Gråbøl’s weirdly sinister machinations make her an unusual villain, and yet Fortitude makes it easy to sympathize with her as well. Why should she halt the development of a magnificent resort that will bring money into her impoverished town just because the carcass of some ancient animal was found by people living in nicer houses than hers? The class struggle hidden behind supposedly scientific institutions and ideals has never been explored so uniquely before in any medium.
Eugene Morton (Stanley Tucci) is the man sent from the mainland to work out this mess. He brags his way all through Fortitude, boasting of his detective skills. The show is deeply hampered by it being impossible to identify with Tucci’s detective in any way. Tucci is the anti-Idris Elba here, more closely resembling a human skeleton than a personable individual. His only vice is coffee, and it is the most boring vice there is. This colorless, thankless role is the only thing that mars a captivating drama.
The show’s real star is Irish actor Dormer, who looks decades older than his actual age in Fortitude. He is the only individual person on the show that seems to realize who and what he is. Out on the glacier, he makes scenes of walking and moving through the desolate place a kind of quiet rampage; he alone appears as frustrated by his surroundings as anyone would be. He is able to exist because he does not adapt.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
“Blackbirds” – Gretchen Peters (mp3)
“Pretty Things” – Gretchen Peters (mp3)