FORTITUDE: Episode Three Review

Tony Fyler begins to thaw.

‘Do it – put me out of my misery’ says Michael Gambon’s character Henry Tyson early into episode 3 of Sky Atlantic’s new Lost On Ice. It’s fair to say that after the first two episodes, I knew pretty much how he felt. But then, just at the point where you’re ready to tear your hair out and scream ‘Freakin’ do something or get off the air!’ – Fortitude finally does something.

Not much of particular interest, true, but at least something to set the iceberg of a show into motion, as miner Ronnnie Morgan – he of the original potential-mammoth find, and as it turns out, taker of anti-psychotic meds - escapes with his daughter so he can hack the tusks of what is, definitively, a bloomin’ mammoth, to sell for money. There follows a chase to find him and keep his daughter safe, with misanthropic Sheriff Andersson and Search and Rescue guy Frank Sutter eating up some budget and chewing some scenery in moody silence on a boat to try and track him down.

It’s a chase that eats up not only budget but also most of the episode and leads ultimately nowhere but back home without him. There’s the first thread of genuine action thrillerism here too, with secret ground penetrating radar reports being stolen by one of the two men whose purpose in Fortitude appears to be To Be Sinister And Skulk Around, Waving Weaponry. Stanley Tucci continues to do solid, intriguing, underplayed work as DCI Morton, getting under the skins of the town’s residents, particularly in this instance Gambon’s Tyson.

Coming more and more into the foreground too are the creepy  pair of Shirley Allerdyce, played by  Jessica Gunning (of Who – Partners in Crime – and Pride fame) and Markus Huseklepp, played by ‘that guy who’s in lots of things’ (including Spy and Dirk Gently), Darren Boyd. We’re not as yet remotely sure why they’re keen to bend Morton’s ear with weird cryptic lines, but there seems to be something altogether grotesque and Lynchian about them, so doubtless they’ll develop into something moderately meaningful by the end of it all.

Is there any danger of Fortitude being in the same room, or indeed on the same street as any kind of sense yet? Well no, but the idea imposes itself forcefully that that’s pretty much the point of it. But this episode was make or break for those who like their drama to move about a bit, rather than just the hardcore mystery-buffs who are happy to watch people sitting around being miserable and grim and baffled for an hour a week. It’s also developing its audience from a ‘What’s this about then?’ demographic to a more traditional hardcore crime audience as things begin to actually happen. With people able to jet in and out and boats available for the jumping on, the base-under-siege air of earlier episodes has been lessened and the whole thing allowed to take a breath. That means that those who might have been wanting to be put out of their misery at the start of episode 3 will probably, after that episode, give it at least another hour, maybe two, to allow the new threads of action – particularly the one delivered in the last ten minutes – to develop and run.

Even if it continues to move now that it’s started though, there’s a sense of a show growing beyond the limits of challenging TV. The town is bigger than we’ve seen, but drip-feeding in new characters, including Allerdyce and Huseklepp, makes Fortitude notsomuch challenging as exhausting to watch, as you’re forced to juggle everything you think you know, then add new balls, new figures into the equation that might – or more likely might not – change the way you look at everything about the show. Likewise, although welcome, the idea of Ronnie Morgan suddenly being on anti-psychotics, seriously wounding and tying up a man and stealing a boat to sail off to visit his mammoth, while providing much-needed energy and oxygen to the storyline, is a case of new balls being thrown in, leading Morton to honestly reflect in this episode that we now have two entirely different explanations for the death that set the whole thing off – either, it seems, the Governor and the Sherriff are colluding to kill people in order to remove obstacles that stand in the way of their glacier hotel, or ‘some random guy who’s off his meds went crazy in someone’s home.’ He regards the likelihood of each of these explanations being the right one to be ‘fifty-fifty’ and again, he’s not wrong. The point of which though is that the actual explanation may not even yet have appeared on the radar, but may be waiting for another character-introduction down the line to make sense of it.

Elements of Fortitude continue to be simply baffling. Was the killing a ritualistic one, as Morton mentioned earlier? Was it planned or spontaneous, as perhaps indicated by the use of a potato peeler as the weapon? What the hell is up with the pig in the research centre and the graveyard being full of plague victims and so much more? Why did the Governor delete the dead professor’s last message to his wife? 

Who knows? The point is that while at the start of episode 3, I’d have added an increasingly desperate ‘Who caaaaaares?!’, after episode 3, I’m at least prepared  to give it a couple more episodes to start making, if not sense, then at least some semblance of connection and some dramatic impact. Part of me still years for a big-ass polar bear to come and kill everyone, including me through the screen. But now it is at least a slightly smaller part.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at
Warped Factor
Daily features, news and reviews from the world of geek!