Caution: This post contains spoilers. “Fortitude” is for mature audiences only.
After such a gain of momentum throughout the first season, “Fortitude” descends into quite a lackluster series of events in its finale. Many of you who have stuck with each installment may also be mourning the loss of arguably the best character, DCI Eugene Morton (Stanley Tucci), in the penultimate episode. I’d been dreading that outcome, too, yet it was expected that Henry Tyson (Michael Gambon), another fantastic character, would eventually crack entirely and wreak havoc. When these characters, particularly the former, are not present, both are greatly missed. Meanwhile, the scientific investigations have led to another dissection, showing that the psychotic and murderous tendencies of some townspeople could be traced back to parasitic wasp larvae.
The finale picks up here, with Vincent (Luke Treadaway) in a desperate situation as wasps emerge from the body of Dr. Allerdyce. (Phoebe Nicholls of “Downton Abbey” never gets a break in this series, does she?) He formulates a plan of triggering a gas explosion to destroy the wasps. It’s a laughable scene though: how does he survive a huge blast that knocks Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer) off his feet? Also, it appears that the Ichneumon wasps did not infect Vincent, but we’ll know for sure later on. Is it possible to develop a better weapon to use against the wasps? Flamethrowers are neat, but it doesn’t seem wise to set fire to all of Fortitude.
Unfortunately, Elena (Verónica Echegui) has been infected and acts strangely by smearing jam on her face. Her decision to handcuff herself is also unsettling; was she trying to protect Carrie (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips)? It’s not enough to stop her from attacking the young girl. Dan arrives and he is forced to shoot Elena to thwart her psychotic intentions, despite his vow in the previous episode that he would never hurt her. Will he ultimately kill himself for harming Elena? When Elena wakes up, will she try to harm herself for hurting Carrie? The cycle just continues on the downward spiral, as seen with Jason (Aaron McCusker), who couldn’t deal with the violence replaying in his head from what he unleashed on Ronnie (Johnny Harris).
The other relationships in this series do not feel as strong. There’s a bit of a happy ending for Hildur and Eric when he returns with the drill. It’s debatable whether that fits the tone of the show or if it’s believable, given how set Hildur (Sofie Gråbøl) was on cutting ties with Eric (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson). It’s possible that she’s holding onto whatever she can, because the glacier hotel has slipped from her grasp. Her control over the town has also loosened as fear and panic have crept in.
The wasp explanation was not particularly astonishing in itself. (The actual wasps emerging from Dr. Allerdyce is an entirely different story.) There were hints dropped nearly every episode in everything from the repeated shots of the mammoth to the soundtrack complete with fluttering and buzzing noises.
More importantly, what makes “Fortitude” compelling and amazing to watch is the superb camera work that is used to bring the town and Arctic region to life as well as to make us squirm in our seats with trepidation. On the one hand, there are so many sweeping shots of the landscapes; Dan’s last words about his obsession with Elena might easily describe what one might say about the majestic mountains around Fortitude.
At the same time, there are also repeated sequences wherein nature dwarfs man and even isolates him from civilization. Take for instance, one of the last frames at the close of the finale. Even though Dan stands above the town, the haze and smoke almost seem to taunt him. Despite being in a position of authority as sheriff, he is still rather powerless to get things under control.
Such imagery also appears to be a play on the ruckenfigur, a visual trope made popular by the Romantic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich. We’re invited to join Dan in his state of powerlessness, shock, and horror at what’s transpired in the past 12 episodes. In spite of its name, Fortitude has not weathered these storms well.
With the news of another season for “Fortitude,” one wonders what will come next, since many of the characters have died already. Richard Dormer is perhaps the next strongest actor in the cast, but I don’t think he can carry an entire season on his own shoulders. Both Hildur and Morton have said that others will come from London or the mainland; that casting decision may be pivotal in determining whether the second season will succeed. (Naturally, I couldn’t resist using the word “pivotal,” considering that distribution rights are held by the Pivot network!) Or will we end up with a situation like “Broadchurch,” where the first season was stellar overall and then the second season just left everyone scratching their heads? I am hoping that the creative team behind “Fortitude” will come through and deliver more surprises and “fun” next season.