Photo: BBC; Screens: Pivot, Starz

Battle Of The European Small Towns Confronting Shocking Murders

Broadchurch, Fortitude, and The Missing fight to top the list of TV vacation dead-stinations.

Whether it's the Arctic, the British seaside, or rural France, TV's making small-town Europe look like a downright dangerous (and climatically uncomfortable at best) place to spend time. But if you must wager your air miles in a travel game of Death Is More Than An "Option," which scary, chilly burg is your best (or least bad) bet -- Broadchurch? Fortitude? or Chalons du Bois?

Which town has the best weather?

Fortitude is literally on a glacier, so it's out. Broadchurch's cliffs and seaside views are lovely, but it's often windy and raw. Chalons du Bois looks a bit humid and muggy in the summer, but gets picturesque snow in the wintertime.

Winner: Chalons du Bois

Which town's married people stay the most faithful to each other?

Fortitude again gets knocked out with a quickness thanks to the Tammany Hall attitude ("early and often") of its citizenry towards infidelity: the Widow Stoddart was cheating on the professor with Eric; Frank's cheating on Jules with Arctic Pixie Dream Girl; Jason's boning Natalie; and that's just the pairings we know about so far. Natalie's "forget it, Gene, it's Fortitude" take on it would indicate it's not considered that serious in those parts, buuuut still.

Broadchurch is slightly less soap-operatic with the extracurricular activities; Mark had an affair with Becca, but that's kind of it, unless you count Joe Miller's sick fuckery as "cheating," which, barf.

Chalons du Bois is again the most successful in this regard. Again, we'd have to count Alain's secret rendezvous with booze as a marital indiscretion.

Winner: Chalons du Bois

Whose hotel staff is less of a disaster?

Fortitude's hospitality community appears to consist solely of Arctic Pixie Dream Girl so far. She doesn't remember basic facts about the few visitors to town, walks around her quarters with no bottoms on and has noisy sex while the sheriff listens, and when her married boyfriend's son slips out and gets frostbite because the boyf was boning APDG in his toolshed instead of watching his kid, she cheers the boyf up by putting his hand between her legs and then mounting him. Appropriate! There's also a mysterious "incident" we've not yet been told about involving APDG, AND Stoddart may have gotten killed in the first place because he wanted to stop a new hotel going up in the glacier thanks to the discovery of the mammoth bones. It's complicated.

Broadchurch's hotelier, Becca Fisher, turns Alec Hardy down for a drink on the grounds that he might have another fainting spell; she's rewarded by her better-late-than-never sense of romantic self-preservation by having Beth smash up her things and throw a bunch of bags of chips (?) around. She's in the middle of something she shouldn't be, but she's trying to do the right thing.

Chalons du Bois, oo-fah. Sylvie is very sweet and supportive to the Hugheses and lets them stay for free when Ollie first disappears, but it's her wasted husband and corrupt brother-in-law who run over Ollie and cover up the crime, respectively. Not great, Bois.

Winner: Broadchurch

Whose A-plot crime is the least sordid and/or shocking?

Ollie is hit-and-runned in Chalons du Bois, then taken to a safe house of sorts -- then, when the cold-blooded Romanian-mob accessory/cleaner realizes he's still alive, he's killed. Before that, though, we think he's been snatched and sold into sex slavery by said mob, or maybe by Vincent Bourg, or maybe by that pig Ian Garrett. So, not as sordid as we first thought, but still quite shocking.

Broadchurch is the inverse: for a while we think it's just garden-variety sordid, but it's actually even worse than that, as local cop Ellie's husband is the one who bad-touched and killed Danny.

Fortitude...hard to say. We've got two deaths so far, with the sheriff lurking suspiciously around both and quite a number of not-unrelated secrets flying about; Stoddart's demise is gnarly, for sure. But it's early enough in Fortitude's run that we don't know the full depths yet. Nobody's felonied a child, though, so:

Winner: Fortitude

Speaking of which, which town is the least dangerous for minors?

In Broadchurch, local law enforcement's spouse could fall in love with your 11-year-old and then kill him. In Chalon du Bois, the town drunk could run over your five-year-old, not quite kill him, then get him murdered during the cover-up -- and the municipality seems to attract paedos for some reason.

Fortitude offers a different breed of dangers for younguns, like weird long-dead diseases (as we're told several times this week, nothing decays in the permafrost, and some of the bodies in the cemetery still have active plague in them), frostbite, and inattentive fathering. Also the school is basically a one-room log cabin and polar bears just walk through town, but to date, nobody under 18 has died.

Winner: Fortitude

Whose constabulary is the most effective and welcoming?

Chalons du Bois's didn't seem that bad, but Laurence is rather ineffectual, and the city hired a murderer and blackmailee as a detective in Ziane -- and is presumably overseen by the corrupt and obstinate Georges. Not great, but at least they don't resist accepting help from Mark and Baptiste.

Broadchurch PD brought Hardy, a disgraced big-city investigator, in and promoted him to a job Ellie wanted while she was out on mat leave...when he's in the almost literal act of dying of heart disease. She's really not happy about that; she's really not great at setting boundaries with her neighbors; it takes them both weeks on end to figure out her husband is the culprit. Also not great, but eventually she learns to get along with Hardy and he learns to get along with the town.

Fortitude's sheriff, Dan, seems to materialize at the pertinent crime scenes awfully quickly for someone who's supposed to be called to them; he's creepily lurking outside Arctic Pixie's room (and given her pointing a gun at the door while he's doing so during the pilot, I don't think she's unaware that he's doing it); and he orders Eric -- who not for nothing is hors du combat with a "bear-trap" leg wound he's lying about -- not to cooperate with Gene. Gene and Dan come to a cocktails understanding at the end of the third ep, but who knows whether that lasts.

All fairly incompetent and compromised, but because Chalons du Bois is less salty about calling in the big guns, we'll give it to them.

Winner: Chalons du Bois

And whose mainland/big-city big gun is biggest?

Hardy is ill, dishonored, and estranged from his daughter. Baptiste also has daughter issues, and Ziane almost cost him his leg, so he's not too spry either -- but when Ollie first disappeared, Baptiste was THE guy to call in France to solve crimes like that.

We don't know much about Gene yet, except that he's an American who's risen to the rank of Detective Chief Inspector in the London Met. Before that he worked for the U.S. government (FBI, I think) and has experience in forensics...and he plays the piano.

This is very hard to call; I really like all three. In the end, though, I think Baptiste should have figured out what happened sooner, and Hardy shot his own career in the foot by covering for his (now ex-)wife when she lost evidence.

Winner: Fortitude.

Verdict

It comes down to Fortitude and Chalons du Bois for the least terrible small European town confronting a shocking crime or crimes. On the one hand, Fortitude looks drafty and bleak, and the all-sun/no-sun thing is not for me. Chalons du Bois probably has better food, but then there's the drunk driving and the bad touching, and no Tucci. Pack your Sorels, friends!

Winner: Fortitude.

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