Fortitude, the Sky Atlantic drama co-starring former Lucy Saxon Alexandra Moen as PC Petra Bergen, returns for a third and final series. All episodes are now available on demand.
Fortitude, which features Doctor Who’s Alexandra Moen in one of the central roles, has always been an unusual beast of a show. It began by basically tricking its audience by pretending to be a completely different type of serial. Starting off, it presented the audience with what seemed to be a standard case of the ‘Nordic Noir’ genre. A polar bear has killed one of the townspeople of the remote Norwegian outpost of Fortitude. But was it actually a murder? And who had to gain from the second death – the brutal killing of the local scientist? (Christopher Eccleston – promoted as one of the leads as part of the show’s campaign of misdirection)
But quickly this turns into a hunt for a deranged serial killer. Then in transforms further into a body horror epidemic. For the killer is actually multiple killers. And they themselves are victims of a prehistoric parasite accidentally released from the permafrost. It’s a wild ride.
By the time we left Fortitude at the end of Series Two, we had an evil mega-corporation covertly experimenting on the infected to try and turn their super-developed healing abilities to the company’s advantage. And then there’s Sheriff Dan, the morally ambiguous anti-hero who’d do anything to protect his town – even murder. He’d managed to pass through the other side of the parasite inflicted psychosis. Yet keeping the superhuman strength and healing abilities it had given him to become a bit of a super-sheriff. Quite a far cry from the ‘Broadchurch in the Snow’ the series originally presented itself as.
Dormer and Moen’s Dan and Petra are the increasingly twisted couple at Fortitude’s cold heart
Series Three ups the ante still further. Dan has lost the battle for his own soul and, while clear of the compulsion to infect others with the parasite, the infection has destroyed his capacity for moral restraint. In fact he’s now completely blase about murdering anyone he perceives as threatening Fortitude or his position of power within it. As Dan, Richard Dormer (Game of Thrones) does a tremendous job. He bridges the gap between the old, dryly cynical Dan and the wild eyed loon now inhabiting his body. If nothing else, it’s astonishing that he keeps finding new, deeper, reserves to draw on as Dan becomes wilder and bolder.
Equal to Dormer is Alexandra Moen’s performance as Dan’s loyal sidekick Petra. Petra’s self-effacing professionalism and social awkwardness have always defined her as a character. But also her ability to accept the escalating oddness of events in Fortitude with nothing more than mild surprise. Her boss’s transformation into an unpredictably short tempered serial killer is just one more thing to accept and get on with. And she readily falls in line as his accomplice. More than that, though, she describe Dan as having ‘freed’ her from her old self.
As with Dormer’s Dan, Alexandra Moen does a stellar job of making it seem like a natural evolution. The charmingly childlike pathologist of series one transformed into an emotionally empty vessel looking for Dan to define her. Their twisted joint dynamic is one of the highlights of this final series. It sees them become lovers even as Petra seemingly accepts the probability that Dan will one day kill her too.
Never content to stand still, Fortitude Series Three adds another strand of madness to the frontier town’s troubles
Thrown into the mix as a parallel to this is the arrival of Elsa Schenthal (Aliette Opheim) and her consort Boyd (Abubakar Salim). Elsa is the billionaire owner of the same corporation behind much of the shenanigans last season, and turns out to have a vested interest. For the same parasite infected her almost a century ago. A kind of ‘Countess Dracula’ figure, she’s since maintained her youth and sanity by dastardly means. For she lures young men back to her home where she and her lover harvest them alive for their cranial spinal fluid. And in true vampiric style, when suicidal town drink drunk Michael “I’m NOT the town drunk!” Lennox (Dennis Quaid) is targeted as their next victim but instead kills Boyd, she immediately seduces him as Boyd’s replacement. Through their encounter Michael realizes he actually does want to live again, but is he willing to kill?
Fortitude Series Three is severely truncated however. At four episodes it’s actually less than half the length of the previous series. While it does its best to wrap the story up, it’s not without its problems. Some of the ongoing storylines of earlier seasons are dropped almost entirely. For example, if you’d been hoping to ever get an answer as to why the reindeers are being born with two heads, or why and how the adult reindeers are eating the local polar bears… sadly, we’ll never know. The nearby Russian community with its own parallel problems to Fortitude’s disappears from the plot without mention, too.
The shortened final season means some questions will never be answered, but Fortitude leaves us with a mostly fulfilling capstone to Dan’s story
And while the shamans who appeared in the first two seasons are briefly referenced, the question of whether an ancient demonic force is put aside. The very final few scenes do seem to at least attempt to answer whether there’s a genuinely supernatural aspect to Dan’s hallucinations, though. Events also move at a breakneck pace compared to Fortitude’s typical slowly rising tension. The Elsa and Michael storyline suffers the worst due to this. Its resolution, more so than the others, is both perfect for the characters yet strangely abrupt.
Ultimately, Fortitude pulls off one final trick in the show’s magic show of pushing events beyond all reason while still holding together. So often it’s set up situations that leave the audience feeling it’s backed itself into a corner, it can’t get out of, only to truck on with the new reality with style. Fortitude moves full circle in series three and ends almost where it began. But over the twenty-six episodes, it’s pursued a marvellously insane and thrilling route. It’s just a shame it didn’t last a little longer.
All three seasons of Fortitude are available now on demand from Sky Atlantic.