Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cleaning the Slate: TV (Fortitude)

Making a decision. As I watch too much TV, I have too much to comment on, some great, some good, and mostly only meh. As I always have a massive backlog of movies and TV, and even some video games, I am going to pare that down. Only four five remaindered TV shows will get posts, and after that, only things that leave a great impression will end up here. Well, maybe if I actually clean house on the Movies, I will do the occasional What I Am Watching post.

Fortitude, 2015-2017, Sky -- download

Svalbard, an island off the coast of Norway in the Arctic Circle. Mining and research are the primary things going on there. Technically its not part of Norway, but they run the show. Now, add the fictional town of Fortitude, populated by an international group of hundreds but only four cops, and introduce a murder. And something more than just murder.

One of my fondest regrets was a logical choice I made in my youth, when I was offered a 6 month position in Alert, Nunavut. I was working for the Dept of Defense then, and they are always looking for short term computer nerds; nobody is allowed to be there for more than 6 months. The money would have been incredible, but I was at the beginning of my relationship and I don't deal well with unknowns and loneliness. Imagine the isolation, being trapped with the same people day in, day out. And the fucking cold. I sort of fantasized bringing a giant box of BFFs (big fat fantasies) with me, and teaching all the military types how to play D&D. But I chickened out. I still think about it to this day.

That memory attracted me to the show.

The show begins with a bear mauling and an accidental shooting, that is quickly covered up by the Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer; Beric Dondarrion on Games of Thrones). Not long after, a local scientist (Christopher Eccleston) is horrifically murdered, slashed and stabbed. As the investigation continues, an American detective based out of London flies in, Stanley Tucci. Friction between competing investigations is escalated by the presence of a mysterious ailment, one that drives people mad and is connected to the original murder. On top of this, the Governor of the community is doing her best to keep alive her dream of setting up an ice hotel, to prop up the failing mining interests. Murders and primeval diseases don't make good PR.

The mixture of standard British procedural with plague story is enhanced by the myriad of different cultures interacting with each other. Brits, Irish, Americans, Russians, Norwegians and even local Sami folk are all tossed together in close quarters in cold weather and the ever present fear that a polar bear may wander in and eat people. Flawed characters are the norm, as no one comes to Fortitude because their lives were going well elsewhere. It makes for grand drama.

The most chilling part (pun intended) is the virus. And not just virus but the transmission method, a parasite that inhabits wasp larva that have been frozen in a mammoth graveyard under a glacier, for millions of years. Hundreds of thousands? The virus/parasite forces the infected to attack someone else, and expel more maggots/parasites into the other person. Aspects of The Thing creep in, and we don't know who is infected and who might turn at any moment.

Season One ends with a climax but very little in the way of answers. The infection has been identified, the infected caught before they can do more harm and a a woman has been eaten alive, from the inside, by wasp larva. Horror has supplanted procedural. But Fortitude has survived, as it is a town of survivors.

Season Two picks up weeks, months later. The WHO has come in, cleansed the infection vector and isolated the surviving infected. Dan Anderssen has disappeared and his second is barely hanging on. While the season begins with a murder, there is no procedural here at all. This is all thriller tension and mystery. The plot of the infection has altered much the way the infection does itself, and there are scifi aspects of the infection leaving some of its hosts with miraculous powers of regeneration. There is political intrigue, betrayal and again, aspects of horror.

Dan was and still is my focus of attention. Is he a good sheriff or a bad sheriff, is a line that describes his whole character in the show. He's a good cop, skilled and even toned, supportive of his staff and protective of Fortitude. But he's also obsessed with Elena who works at the hotel, in a rather scary, stalker manner. And we find out he's a murderer. When Season Two comes along, Dan has lost his mind, survived his own infection and we are even more unsure of whether he is Good or Bad. But damn, is he compelling. He does this tilt of his head, not a cute dog "baroo" at all, with a Cheshire smile that could eat your whole head. The infection has merged with folklore, and Dan becomes the Demon that threatens the whole town. And yes, he is still here to save it, as more of its inhabitants are taken by the chaos.

Another aspect that I loved about it, may just be inherent in its Iceland shooting locations, but so reflective of the character of a town on top of glacier, is the architecture. There are the expected corrugated metal shacks, built quickly and reflective of a place that wants cheap and quick. And there are old structures, that must have been built by the original inhabitants, the Norwegians. And then there are these crazy, ultra modern structures with massive glass windows and cold concrete walls, that I could only conceive reflect advances in environmental technology. How else could they stay so warm in the -50 C weather outside at all times?

Again when this season ends, we sum up very little and leave a lot of open wounds for the viewers. Beloved characters have died, the plague is expanding its impact and Dan Anderssen is once again Sheriff. I cannot wait to see what happens next.