NEW YORK — A sick child. Buried treasure. A bit of wiggle room in honoring wedding vows. An all-important tourist project suddenly imperiled. Plus polar bears that outnumber humans, which means everyone (kids included) totes a rifle just in case.
That’s about the size of it in tiny Fortitude, population 713.
Oh, there’s also the weather. Fortitude is poised near the Arctic Circle north of Canada, on an island in the harsh embrace of ice, snow, frigid waters and glaciers that help make it (as the locals like to say) “the one place on Earth where we are guaranteed a quiet life.”
Quiet, that is, until a brutal murder (perhaps this crime-free burg’s first homicide) shatters the peace of an otherworldly refuge where — get this — it’s against the law for anyone to die. And for good reason, as befits a place that functions by its own set of rules.
The killing casts suspicion on any number of the town’s citizens in “Fortitude,” a 12-hour psychological thriller that kicks off with a two-hour premiere at 10 p.m. Thursday on Pivot. The network’s first original scripted drama, it stars Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones,” “The Hunger Games”), Richard Dormer (“Game of Thrones”), Michael Gambon (“The King’s Speech” and the “Harry Potter” films) and Sofie Grabol (star of the original Danish version of “The Killing”) among its array of international players.
The saga would be plenty engrossing for how it entangles so many characters in a multi-strand whodunit.
But the setting (a character itself) takes the series to another dimension with a unique look and feel. Gorgeously filmed in eastern Iceland, “Fortitude” overwhelms the screen as vast, wild, exhilarating. Nature shares top billing in this drama, or should.
The premiere episode provides a leisurely introduction to the town’s residents, setting the stage for the carnage to come. Then the investigation gets cooking with the arrival of DCI Eugene Morton (Tucci), a London-based detective who has flown in to contribute his forensic skills.
Morton immediately clashes with Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Dormer), whose considerable pride prompts him to freeze out this intruder, or try to, even though he has no experience with murder cases. Of course, he may be a party to the crime. Like so many in this town, Anderssen knows more than he’s letting on or wants Morton to discover.
It is Morton who serves as the audience’s surrogate penetrating this exotic world, a place most viewers will experience, transfixed, with awe and dread.
And with so many questions! In flight to Fortitude, Morton voices one all-too-obvious inquiry to a fellow passenger: “How do the people there enjoy the dark months? I mean: the isolation, the cold, the desolation, the loneliness!”
The resident informs him that, even at its darkest, the citizens routinely show fortitude, even against loneliness as they respond to a signal posted outside any home where a drop-in bedmate would be warmly received.
“They look out for the wind chimes,” she tells Morton.
“Okey-dokey,” he manages to say. Wind chimes in Fortitude: just another unexpected clue.