I’m still afraid of Fortitude’s sixth episode. This thriller’s atmosphere has become so dark and oppressive that you can hardly breathe or blink during its 48 minutes. Mainly because you believe that the most horrifying monster can appear and tear everyone and everything apart in any second. The scariest part is that it never appears.
This brilliant aspect of Fortitude, the omnipresence of an intangible evil force, can be seen in other TV shows as well. Usually the big secrets, small towns genre gives us this feeling of insecurity, breaking the illusion of the utopian town as J. has explained. But the evil force we are talking about here appears in other kinds of series and not only in those about crimes in small communities.
Let’s think about NBC’s Hannibal for a moment. Since the first moment we know that the chef and therapist Dr. Lecter is a serial killer. However, the show does not focus on that, it focuses on the horror that he carries wherever he goes and how it perverts every other aspects of the story: the rest of the characters or even the killers-of-the-week seem only a reflection of the real monster: Hannibal Lecter.
Besides this reflection, the ultimate symbol that stands for Dr. Lecter is the wendigo: a mythological monster that represent the chaos he spreads. In other words, evil appears to be more powerful within the symbology realm than when we face the bare dreadful reality.
In Fortitude, one of the main symbols of the whole mystery are the remains of the mammoth. As we see in the image that heads this post, the remains of this creature are melting an leaking through the sewerage. Again, an important symbolic aspect of the crime is its ability to spread out into the collective subconscious of the town and of the TV shows while the real killer remains as an anecdote.
Twin Peaks told us that “the owls are not what they seem” but it also taught us that BOB has many ways to destroy our lifes. This time the killer is all over the owls’ eyes, the forest, the red room, or even in people like Laura’s father or detective Dale. The same story happens again and again: the omnipresence of the symbol is scarier that the actual killer (which shouldn’t have appeared at all).
Another obvious example would be True Detective. The Yellow King, Carcosa, the one that eats time, they all were abstract representations of an evilness that didn’t need to confine itself into flesh and bone. The bird traps, spirals, stars, antlers, etc. create much more tension (and better fandom articles) than the disappointing Erroll Childress.
Therefore, the reason why we are always scared in these shows is the omnipresence of the symbols as I’ve pointed out in the previous examples. The actual killer is a minor problem, the real issue is that whatever he represents it is poisoning, like a cancer, that contaminates everything it touches. In our postmodern, virtual and overconnected world when “the real is not longer what it was” as Baudrillard says in his book Culture and Simulacrum, there is a “resurrection of the figurative where the object and the substance have disappeared”.
The Homecoming Queen