This post contains details from the premiere of Fortitude, which aired Jan. 29.
“Everyone’s got a job, no one’s poor, so there’s no stealing, no crime. Everybody’s happy.” —Natalie Yelburton (Sienna Guillory), scientist and Fortitude resident
There are many underlying themes to the chilling new drama Fortitude, which debuted on the little-known cable network Pivot Thursday night. Beware the lure of paradise seems to be the one that sticks out following the series’ two-hour premiere. It makes sense, considering that in addition to Fortitude’s large, Downton Abbey-esque cast, probably the most major character on the show is the Arctic landscape. The majestic glaciers (or, as so many of the British characters pronounce it, gla-SEE-ers) at every angle can indeed fool you into thinking that this secluded island in the middle of nowhere will provide the answers to all of life’s troubles—which is of course what attracted so many of Fortitude’s citizens to take up residence there. But Fortitude is a place full of secrets, and we’ve stumbled upon this not-so-Shangri-La at the absolute worst time: the moment of its very first murder.
As much as you want to spend all of the premiere gazing at Fortitude’s frozen wonderland and the several instances of aurora borealis—the show is shot primarily in Iceland—the plot and character identification quickly take precedence. And you want to make note of who everyone is if you have any hope of solving the crime from the comfort of your couch. This is most likely why the murder in question doesn’t happen until the end of the first episode—we need that time to sort out who everyone is in this town. The good news for avid TV and movie watchers: There are a lot of familiar faces popping up in Fortitude, which should help in keeping the characters straight in our minds. There’s Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer—Beric Dondarrion to Game of Thrones fans), who we see is harboring secrets from his very first appearance in the opening scene, which takes place three months before the story officially begins. In the prologue, Dan covers up a mysterious death witnessed by photographer and longtime Fortitude resident Henry Tyson (Professor Dumbledore himself, Michael Gambon). Henry, like many other characters on the show, is a British citizen, and he eventually becomes a key player in the murder investigation when a rambling drunken phone call, in which he makes serious allegations against Fortitude’s governor, results in the arrival of a London detective to Fortitude’s kingdom of isolation.
The governor, Hildur Odegard (Sofie Gråbøl), has a pet project, you see. The Glacier Hotel is a state-of-the art resort that aims to bring romance, adventure, and most importantly, cold hard cash into Fortitude, which has been suffering financially in recent years. Professor Charlie Stoddart (Christopher Eccleston), head of the Arctic Research Centre, oversees the environmental impact assessment for the hotel project. All is going swimmingly—even Hildur’s plan to construct the hotel right in the glacier, à la the Ice Hotel—until two local kids find a thawed mammoth tooth near the building site and the scientist is forced to reconsider his findings.
So when—spoiler alert!—Charlie turns up dead at the end of the first hour, his chest completely eviscerated by an unknown assailant, the suspects are rampant. Was it the already established-to-be-shady sheriff, doing the governor’s bidding? It was a little odd that Dan showed up seconds after Charlie’s body was first discovered by Vincent Rattrey (Luke Treadaway), the newest member of the professor’s research team. (Vincent, FYI, is taken into custody for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.) Or was it Dan’s search-and-rescue colleague, ex-English-military man Frank Sutter (Nicholas Pinnock), who, after returning home from his tryst with sexy Spanish waitress Elena Ledesma (Verónica Echegui), is shown to have blood smeared all over his shirt? Even if Frank didn’t commit the murder, he still wins the Most Loathsome Fortitude Resident award by the end of the series premiere for the following misdeeds: He cheats on his wife, Jules (Call the Midwife’s Jessica Raine), and is an all-out creep to her at every moment. Then he abandons his possibly polio-infected son, Liam, to go bang Elena. And did we mention Liam was one of the two kids who found the mammoth tooth that caused all this trouble in the first place?
If Hildur was behind the murder, then she’s got balls the size of glaciers. Halfway through the second episode, Detective Chief Inspector Eugene Morton (an outstanding Stanley Tucci) appears on the scene, and Hildur is willing to give him carte blanche to conduct his investigation however he sees fit. Dan, on the other hand, isn’t as welcoming. He’s so intimidated by DCI Morton’s presence that he utters Fortitude’s first instance of what’s presumed to be Norwegian—it is never stated which country Fortitude is supposed to be in, but given the preponderance of Norwegian flags and the word “Politi” emblazoned on the local police officers’ uniforms, it’s a safe assumption—in an effort to, well, ice out the British-American interloper. But since this is Fortitude’s first murder in its entire history and the victim was a British citizen, the investigation cannot be left to a police force that is better equipped to handle bear attacks than calculated killings. Therefore, the London Metropolitan Police have sent along everyone’s favorite fairy godfather, Nigel. As Hildur states in a diplomatic yet helpfully expository fashion for the viewers, especially those wondering why a British detective looks and sounds so much like Stanley Tucci, “DCI Morton is a forensics expert. He can provide invaluable analytical skills, skills and experiences that he acquired working with the FBI.”
Tucci’s delayed arrival to Fortitude doesn’t give the actor much time to establish his presence as the fish-out-of-water detective prepared to crack this murder case wide open, but it doesn’t matter. He is clearly the best part of the show, whether he’s analyzing a cadaver or sparring with his first of many enemies, Sheriff Anderssen. Gene Morton may need a crash course in frozen-tundra living, as well as an entire new wardrobe—newsboy caps don’t keep out the cold as well as fur-lined ones with ear flaps—but if anyone’s going to solve this murder by the end of 12 episodes, it’s undoubtedly going to be him. So be sure to check your cable provider to see if Pivot is available in your area, because a scheduled weekly date with Fortitude, preferably viewed while covered in a down quilt and sipping a stiff drink, sounds like the best way to ride out any long, cold lonely winter.
Fortitude airs on Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Pivot.