As a driver, there are few things more terrifying than black ice. For the unfamiliar, black ice is a phenomenon that happens in road in cold weather, where mist or rain combine with low temperatures and form a thin layer of nearly transparent ice on roadways, making it indistinguishable from other merely wet sections of the road. Generally, by the time you realize you’ve hit a patch, you’re already skidding, the situation rapidly escalates into something you can’t control. This is when the panic sets in. You may try to slam on the breaks, to stop what’s already been set into motion, but that will only exacerbate your skid. You may sense your mistake and furiously try to overcorrect, attempting to erase your errors and right the past through brute force. But the only way to navigate black ice once you’ve come upon it, is to steer into the skid, ease off the gas, and stay calm.
Black ice isn’t a practical concern in Fortitude, not really. That’s probably not surprising in a community that depends primarily on snowmobiles for transportation. But all the same, the concept surrounding black ice plagues the town all the same, and has from the start. Time and again, characters get spun out by events they could not see coming, situations they then exacerbate through overcorrection.
No character better captures this mentality than Henry, a development that’s simultaneously predictable while also being shocking in its breadth. Henry has always been a bit plagued by extremes, as evidenced by the fact that he begins the episode camped out on the side of a glacier, listening to classical music and waiting for the sweet release of death. He’s not been the same since shooting Billy Pettigrew in the head but, more significantly, since making the anonymous phone call bringing DCI Morton to town and casting aspersions on the governor and sheriff. We’ve seen Henry punishing himself for this behavior from the start and never completely understood why this apparent betrayal cost him so much peace of mind, but “Episode 10” clears all of that fogginess up in short order.
But not before Henry’s latest act of extreme overcorrection. Morton finds Henry, confronts him with the truth about his killing of Billy Pettigrew but, more importantly, with Henry’s photographic evidence of Dan handcuffing of Pettigrew to the beach. It’s a tense moment and one that seems primed to be the turning point for the final episodes, though perhaps not in the way originally anticipated. Because in the middle of Morton’s accusations, Henry, still prone in his sleeping bag, shoots Morton in the gut, before yelling at him that interrupting him in the process of his death was unacceptable, “Look at what you made me do!”
What happens between the two for the rest of the episode feels a bit like a slow-motion car crash by way of a Samuel Beckett play, in which two men wait for death, one more willingly than the other. It’s during this time that we find out that Henry is actually Sheriff Andersson’s father, though Dan has no idea, and that much of Henry’s life has been consumed by the guilt of leaving both Dan and his mother, the woman Henry loved, in the grips of an angry and abusive man while Henry skipped town and traveled the world. Henry, throughout the season, has been grappling with the idea that he abandoned his son yet again, turning him over to authorities, again failing to protect him like a father should.
Throughout Henry’s Gethsemane, Morton is rapidly cycling through the stages of grief, while slowly and painfully bleeding out of his gunshot wound.
“I can survive. That’s survivable.”
“I don’t want to get your hopes up.”
“I don’t deserve this.”
“I can’t help that. I’m not your judge. This is just a thing that happened. Like cancer.”
The snowmobile is out of gas. He pleads with Henry to radio the police, to save him, to fix what he’s done, a plea that Henry takes him up on but later, perhaps too late. He radios to Dan and tells him what he’s done, but not who he really is. He tells Dan what Morton knows and the burden of doing the right thing shifts from father to son. That is the legacy Henry has left Dan before placing a bullet in his own head and leaving this world.
So it’s left to Dan to become judge and jury for DCI Morton. Does he attempt to save the only man left in the world who knows of his crime or does he leave him to bleed out on a glacier? In an early episode of Fortitude, Natalie and Vincent discuss Dan’s character, theorizing over whether he is a good sheriff or a bad sheriff, and that Fortitude doesn’t offer enough opportunity to decipher between the two. This is Dan’s moment to decide what he really is and eventually he is spurred to action. It’s just a question of if it’s already too late.
Dan is as bad of at overcorrecting as his father, Fortitude has shown us nothing, if not that. It’s why he’s in the situation he is, having chained Billy Pettigrew and left him for dead, for what? A question we still can’t answer and one that clearly still plagues Dan and likely always will. He ends the episode rocked back on his heels because the time has finally come for him to deal with the aftermath of his decisions and he is not alone.
Frank ends this episode alone, in his home, Jules having taken Liam and tried to run away from this man who only knows how to use violence to try to protect his family from the mistakes he makes. Markus ends the episode on the beach, giving Shirley a Norse funeral, sending away the only person he connected to, that he treated so poorly, left only with his wounds, both physical and mental, and the scars that will last a lifetime. Again and again you see these men in shots that obscure them, lost in a haze, fighting with the clear cut reality of their situation, still unable to see the black ice that surrounds them.
But what else?
Well, a bunch of other stuff that’s a bummer, too!
Despite doing a spinal tap on Liam, they can’t see the environmental toxins they expected to find. However, Natalie is working on a theory that what they really need to be searching for in the victims (see also: perpetrators) is antibody similarity, which would suggest everyone is suffering from the same infection. Vincent is feeling very underwhelmed by the entire endeavor, as this was not what he signed up for when he came to town. Since there’s no clear explanation yet for what is befalling the citizens, Hildur and Dan decide to declare a rabies quarantine, meaning that no one can leave town and everyone must have their blood tested.
Meanwhile, it seems clear that it was Jason who attacked Ronnie and who is still suffering from the ill effects of whatever is plaguing the town. Carrie isn’t dealing with the idea of her father being dead well and lashes out at Elena, shoving her and bloodying her head. Elena uses the opportunity to wax poetic about her stabbing adventures in her past life, none of which Carrie seems to hear.
Also, Pettigrew’s treasure is an elephant graveyard, but with mammoths.
I don’t even know what to tell you guys at this point. I’m very upset by what happened to our favorite DCI in this episode and I’m deeply worried about his fate in episodes to come. And it’s worth mentioning that Tucci, more than ever this episode, was tremendous. But worst of all…
Did he smirk?
…on a completely different show. Ronnie, still a zombie. Worst Walking Dead spinoff ever.
- This is legitimately one of the best directed shows on television.
- If Morton dies I’m going to be so mad. So, so mad.
- Also, many hearty accolades for Michael Gambon’s performance throughout the series. Just lovely.
- Jules and Frank sure seem to leave the house a lot without taking Liam with them. That feels like a bad idea.
- “Hey Erik, you’d make a good sheriff.”
- Former A.V. Club TV Editor Todd VanDerWerff has a great interview with the creator about some of the season’s biggest moments here. Worth checking out.