The frozen wastes of the Arctic Circle are more likely to be the home of some historic exploration drama than a murder mystery. However the ABC’s new series Fortitude manages to reinvent this location for detective fiction is a way that is both fresh and chilling.
The township of Fortitude nestles on an icy island somewhere to the north of Norway, the chosen residence of miners, naturalists and researchers. Its surroundings are severe and unforgiving with blasting winds, months of darkness and a deadly native population. There are 3,000 polar bears living in close confines with the 750 human beings and the series opens with a startling attack that seems to label them as the most obvious threat to life and limb. However it soon becomes clear that the deadliest creature in this icy waste might actually walk on two legs.
The death of a scientist by polar bear attack begins to unravel as the ulterior motives of several key characters become clearer. Fortitude’s mayor is desperate to see the completion of a revolutionary arctic hotel that will showcase the famous Northern Lights for lovers looking for a pristine retreat. However the archaeologist who ends up dead in his home was about to bring down a report that would have stopped the development in its tracks. But does the hotel provide the right economic motive for homicide? The revelation that the scientist had been approached to buy the carcass of ancient woolly mammoth casts suspicion on local miners. Yet do their hopes of graft explain the presence of the local police chief at the scene of several violent killings before the alarm is sounded?
Fortitude is a delightfully complex example of the crime procedural genre that always leaves you wishing the episodes were just a few minutes longer – which is a good thing. The setting is also surreal enough to keep the audience off balance, even if the ‘hunt for a killer’ is somewhat familiar. The plotline is also well supported by veteran actors like Michael Gambon and Stanley Tucci. However the most interesting aspect from my perspective is the quest for paradise buried beneath the permafrost.
Fortitude is supposed to represent something of a paradise. Early one resident explains the conditions that are supposed to guarantee this, before the bodies start falling. Since you can’t come to the Island without a job and remain without a place to stay, everyone is gainfully employed and relatively well off. There is no crime because there is no poverty, and there is no homelessness because remaining outside means death. Consequently the population is forced to get on with each other; in fact the isolation means much closer relationships than would be normal in any community – that is, a lot of ‘harmless’ extra marital affairs. As the mayor and wife of a member of the island’s tiny police force puts it:
“We live on the one place on earth we’re guaranteed a quiet life. Where lovers of the wilderness, lovers of the Northern Lights or just lovers, can witness the wildest things they’ll ever see from the safest place on earth.”
However this natural – if extreme – paradise is ultimately undermined by the people who come to live there. The polar bears might be a brutal force of nature but they continue to operate within the boundaries established by their Creator. However human evil, powered by jealousy, avarice and rage, finds opportunities to destroy every hope for peace. From a purely secular perspective Fortitude concludes what the Bible has long taught. We are our own worst problem. As Jesus puts it,
“For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts com – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Fortitude is a captivating eleven part series that is three weeks underway but well worth catching up through iView. At this stage I have no idea who the villain will turn out to be, but you can bet your bottom dollar it won’t be a polar bear.
Release Date: Sundays, 9:30 PM