Fortitude: Bleak. Morbid. Mesmerising
Fortitude has just concluded on Sky Atlantic, the salacious snippet during its end credits promising its return next year.
This was a compelling tale of lust, infidelity and inexplicably brutal murders, set against a town literally and sometimes metaphorically at the edge of civilisation. In the first episode, the Arctic island community of Fortitude is described as the 'safest place to live on earth'. By the end of the captivating series this has long flipped to 'the deadliest'. En route, as victim after victim is left turning the snow red, we meet various characters immersed in battles of their own. In Fortitude, the demons on the inside are as potent as those apparently stalking the snowdrifts.
In the opening scene a geologist, Billy Pettigrew, is being savaged by a polar bear. He is humanely executed by wildlife photographer Henry Tyson (Michael Gambon). But in this scenario, as in many others that unfold, there are several more layers between how things have happened, and why.
A scientist, Professor Stoddart (Christopher Eccleston), is eviscerated by an unknown assailant. Fortitude sheriff Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer) suddenly has his hands full, and when a London-based detective arrives (Stanley Tucci), the local police chief's frosty reception has nothing to do with the sub-zero temperatures.
Fortitude juxtaposed endless vistas of icy wilderness with the claustrophobic atmosphere of death stalking the ramshackle huts. Although some critics pounced on it immediately, latching onto the mountainous production costs, and bleating about labyrinthine plotlines involving 25 central characters, true appreciation was only possible by becoming embroiled in the overall picture.
Savouring the interplay between the innocent and the guilty, the roles often altering before your eyes, the truths eventually revealed were chilling. Pettigrew's brutal mauling was the climax of a bloody revenge. The disturbance of mammoth remains, entombed in the permafrost for tens of thousands of years, unleashed a horrific prehistoric parasite. That combination of isolated polar community and brutal slayings suddenly injected the creeping terror of John Carpenter's 1982 benchmark in sci-fi horror, The Thing, or the more recent winter vampire classic 30 Days of Night (2007).
Who knows what might be deep-sealed in the Arctic wilderness, slowly thawing as the globe continues to warm up?!
This was high calibre drama, and there will be a void in the small-screen next Thursday. Its unflinching portrayal of murder scenes and autopsies was certainly not to everyone's taste. In particular, the attack launched on the town doctor by her crazed daughter revealed how far psychological drama has progressed in recent decades. The Exorcist may have made number two in Channel 4's 'The 100 Greatest Scary Moments' in 2003 but its power to shock has been denuded by advances in special effects technology. Compared to a head revolving, someone being slowly disembowelled with a kitchen utensil is something else. Thirteen years on, the horrors of ancient parasitic wasps that turn their human hosts homicidal in order to spread is genuinely spine-tingling. Even more so, because unlike mythical creatures with horns and forked tails, who knows what is deep-sealed in the Arctic wilderness, slowly thawing as the globe continues to warm up?! Like the potential life-extinction asteroids flying through space, with a billion-to-one chance of hurtling though our solar system, best not to dwell on that. Instead I'll look forward to the second series.
PS. Bleak, Morbid, Mesmerising was a headline from the music magazine I devoured as a teenager, Sounds. It referred to a five-star review of Wire's first album, Pink Flag.