In the past few years, Scandinavian or Nordic Noir has given new meaning to the word ‘bleak’. The Bridge, The Killing and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy have found fans all over the world with their dark, morally complex but minimalist storytelling. Last year, HBO dropped some of that bleak into the swamps of Louisiana to create the memorable True Detective. The somber and eerie opening sequence, powered by the song Far From Any Road (by the alternative country act The Handsome Family) sets the tone for the show. Series creator Nic Pizzolatto’s layered non-linear script is marbled with some seriously mind-bending dialogue; little wonder that twin leads Harrelson and McConaughey were both nominated for their acting at the Golden Globes, the Emmies and the SAG awards.
I typically don’t watch crime dramas, so I’m not in the best position to comment if True Detective is influencing the look and feel of other American and British crime dramas. But one show that very obviously seems to borrow from it is Fortitude, the new murder mystery airing on Sky Atlantic and available on Amazon Instant Video.
The title sequence, like that of True Detective, features stark visuals set to an eerie theme song performed by husband-and-wife Swedish duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums. Even the all-cap title fonts appear similar! In both shows, nature itself is a significant character in the story – the deadly Louisiana swamps being replaced by a polar bear infested Arctic landscape. But once again, it’s the humans who prove to be deadlier than nature, especially those wielding political and administrative power.
In the show, the township of Fortitude is home to an international community of professionals, mainly researchers but also the people required to maintaing the supporting infrastructure of a school, convenience store, hospital, police station, transportation, etc. It’s this amalgam of muti-national and multi-ethnic characters which forms the real landscape of Fortitude. Into this landscape steps Detective Chief Inspector Morton, sent from London to investigate the suspicious death of a British citizen.
Just as Woody Harrelson and Matt McConaughey lit up True Detective with some big screen acting chops, it’s Stanley Tucci who does the honors as DCI Morton in Fortitude. Sharing the screen space with him is the reigning queen of Nordic Noir, Sofie Gråbøl, star of the original Danish version of The Killing. Other familiar faces include Michael Gambon (professor Dumbledore from the Harry Potter films) and former Doctor Who star, Christopher Ecclestone. The other actors come from the small screen or stage and as with most British produced dramas, it is refreshing to see ordinary faces, not the square jawed, surgically enhanced features of actors cast in most American shows; in fact True Detective (and most HBO signature shows) is a welcome exception to this trend and that is what added to its appeal.
Having watched the first 3 episodes of Fortitude, I cannot say that it matches up to the quality of Nic Pizzolatto’s writing, but it has made for compelling viewing so far. However, with 13 episodes in the season (and no guarantee that it will complete its story in one season), there is certainly a risk that the viewer may lose his fortitude before the story is over and done with.