Fans of Season One of Sky’s (and now Amazon’s) sci-fi thriller, Fortitude, already know this: If you really want to be creeped out beyond all reason, head for the Land of the Midnight Sun, home of the World Seed Bank, a lot of polar bears and glacier tracking, and, in the fictional researcher-hamlet of Fortitude, inexplicable murders that the town’s four police officers are ill-equipped to deal with.
Those just tuning in will probably want to start from the beginning, but it’s worth noting that you don’t really have to-you’ll miss a reference here and there or take a little longer to catch up on who’s secretly having an affair with whom, but they do a great job of getting viewers into the thick of things within the boundaries of the second season.
The disquieting tone of the series is established in the first minutes of the first episode, with the appearance of the rare (and real) “blood aurora,” a bizarre manifestation of the Northern Lights in which the sky turns crimson or brilliant red. For centuries, these unusual light phenomena have been seen as omens of foreboding, and it’s not hard to imagine why (you don’t have to be a superstitious ancient to see a sky full of fire or dripping blood). For the members of the small outpost of Fortitude, this quickly proves to be the case when, once again, the citizens are presented with an intriguingly headless cadaver. Newcomers to the series will quickly learn what those who watched the first season already know: that the rash of deaths that recently terrorized the Fortitudians appear to have been caused by ancient parasitic wasps that have thawed out of the tundra.
As Season Two opens, one remaining victim, Elena (Veronica Echegui), appears to be in an irreversible coma. Or is she? There is some controversy around keeping her at the research facility rather than the hospital, and the steely Dr. Khatri (Parminder Nagra) isn’t really open to discussing it. Sherriff Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer) isn’t looking too good, either, leaving deputy Erik (Bjorn Hlynur Heraldsson) in a bit over his head, trying to handle a murder case with his two eager and slightly inept deputies, Ingrid (Mia Jexen) and Petra (Alexandra Moen, who is hilarious). A hideous bureaucrat from Oslo (Erling Monk, played by Ken Stott) comes in gunning for Governor Hildur Odegard (Sofie Grabol), and Michael Lennox (Dennis Quaid) has a dying boat and a dying wife (Freya, played by Michelle Fairley). And that’s before you get into the really messed up stuff.
Combining elements of horror and soap opera, thriller and comedy isn’t new (David Lynch says you’re welcome), but Fortitude is a fabulous reminder of how effective it can be. The campy soap elements actually make the grisly stuff grislier; the comic moments make the tragic ones sadder (and vice versa). The landscapes of Svalbard make you cold just looking at them, and the endless stretches of bleak tundra almost seem to be trying to say something about impenetrable, incomprehensible mystery, as if the setting itself is antagonizing and stalking the researchers, and I’m not just talking about rogue polar bears with bleeding eyeballs who lumber into schoolrooms, although that is sometimes a thing. Also, by the fourth episode you will probably be convinced that it is unwise to feed psychedelic mushrooms to a reindeer and then drink its pee. And if you’re not, you know what? That’s on you, because a very strong case against it is presented.
Fortitude’s second season is suffused with a kind of icy dread. These people are on the precipice of some kind of disaster—personal ones for many of the characters and a likely environmental one that won’t spare any of them. Atmospherically, it’s pretty perfect. All the story lines hold the viewer’s interest and the acting is strong throughout. If you want to be thoroughly unnerved and creeped out, this is your show.
Season Two of Fortitude premieres Friday, April 14 on Amazon Prime. Season One is available now.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.