For about the first 5-6 episodes, I was ready to declare that Fortitude was one of the greatest murder mysteries ever made. Fortitude is the name of a fictional small town in Arctic Norway, home to miners, scientists, or outcasts who have run away to the one of the most remote places on Earth. The cast has A-list talent: Stanley Tucci as a DCI (somehow an American works for a British police force), Michael Gambon (Henry Tyson, who we view accidentally kill someone in an opening scene), Christopher Eccleston (a researcher living in Norway). Even the cast I had never heard of before was stellar, especially Richard Dormer as Sheriff Dan Anderssen, who is a great cop but very flawed, tortured by personal demons and often making bad choices that put in the crosshair of Tucci's Detective Morton, who has come to Fortitude to investigate not one but two murders.
This show reminds me a bit of Twin Peaks. In Fortitude, the initial two murders happen in episode one. Lots of red herrings are strewn about, we see partial truths and innuendos and are led down to rabbit holes to who the suspects may be. Like Twin Peaks an outside force comes to investigate, however in this show, Anderssen doesn't welcome Morton, because it will draw light on his own corrupted behavior. Complicating things for Anderssen is Tyson, who is dying of liver cancer, drunk off his ass and cold calling police hotlines. Fortitude makes all the supporting players come alive, including the Governor (more like a mayor of Fortitude); Elena, a fugitive from Spain who killed someone in the past; Frank Sutter, a war veteran involved in an affair with Elena while his son is terribly sick with a case of the mumps. What is bad for Sutter is that Anderssen has a powerful, unrequited love for Elena. And then there is Shirley, an overweight young woman who has a German boyfriend, Markus; Markus indulges Shirley a little too much, force feeding her to fatten her up.
Unlike Twin Peaks, Fortitude's plot moves along with each episode. You find out who murdered one of the victims around episode 5 or 6; at that point I wondered how the show was going to continue. But even though the murderer was revealed, there was more to the story. By the end of season 1, Fortitude, the town where people seemed safer than in any big city, becomes the murder/suicide capital of Norway!
Now here are some major SPOILERs so beware after the jump....
SPOILERS ahead mateys!!!!
Fortitude does spin off into Twin Peaks territory with a science fiction element out of a Michael Chrichton novel. A pre-historic strain of wasps that lay their eggs inside people and hatch, is the thing apparently causing people to go crazy and kill in a very specific way - a way of shredding their victims flesh to implant the eggs. It is also, as others have suggested, a bit of a Lovecraftian idea, dredging up some evil from the past that invades the present. Except this phenomenon is science based in the story, and what is partially the cause is mankind, through the abuse of the environment and global warming.
I didn't see that coming at all, though to be fair if you go back and watch the first episodes, that whole idea is there strewn about in the discovery of a mastodon and the "mumps" on Sutter's son Liam. What a huge story wrench, I felt like I had the rug pulled out from under my feet. In the beginning I felt like this was a Noir tale set in the Arctic North, and indeed there is a lot of that, but by the end there are elements from Jurassic Park and Alien. I might have preferred the conventional structure of the former, but I was drawn into to watch and finish the whole season. I felt disturbed by it and also the graphic violence on the show - no punches are pulled in the scenes of the murders, even in cases involving children. I had to avert my eyes on many such scenes.
Even stranger is that there will be a season 2 continuing this story forward, with 10 more episodes. They will lose the star power of Tucci and Gambon; presumably new actors will come in to help keep things interesting, although they will have to get around the fact that Fortitude will have to be quarantined.
I cannot say this is one of my favorite shows ever but it was very well done, much better than most American shows but not one I will re-watch because it was so dark. Nuff Said.