The Terror – “Go for Broke” and “Gore”
Director: Edward Berger
Starring: Jared Harris, Tobias Menzies, Paul Ready, Ciarán Hinds
Writer: David Kagjanich (“Go for Broke”), Soo Hugh (“Gore”)
Review by Michael Walls-Kelly
This place wants us dead.
Most people’s fears can be summed up with “fear of the unknown” if you’re feeling reductive. That’s almost literally what being afraid of the dark is about. Even being afraid of clowns or spiders is more a fear of not knowing that there’s a clown or spider (or clown-spider) nearby. So was there ever a job more terrifying than someone exploring the unknown?
AMC’s The Terror is a new miniseries, based on the book of the same name by Dan Simmons. Two ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, were exploring the Northwest Passage when they disappeared. Neither ship was found until recently. The book — and this miniseries — is a work of fiction, posing a tense and terrifying vision of what could have happened.
The Captain of the Erebus, and leader of the expedition, is Captain Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds), who seems to be constantly trailed by Commander James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies), a pompous man who seems to see himself as a bit of a rogue. The Captain of the Terror is Francis Crozier (Jared Harris), the type of leader who is realistic, reassuring and has the ear of his men.
When “Gore” begins the Terror, and the Erebus have been firmly a part of the ice pack for months, drifting God knows where. The main plot involves two expeditions searching for the summer’s melt and which direction they should be headed. Meanwhile, at the ships, the tension continues to grow between Sir Franklin and Captain Crozier.
The benefit of having actors like Hinds and Harris to portray your Captains is that they’re skilled enough to bring dimension to roles that seem, on the surface, extremely similar. If you wanted to exaggerate a lot, you’d call Franklin by-the-book and Crozier the heroic realist. However, they’re both still stuffy ships Captains. Hinds is able to imbue Franklin with warmth and positivity. He’s very obviously trying to seem in-the-know, so the rest of the crew doesn’t panic. Harris plays Crozier like he’s resigned to his ignored pessimism, even though it seems warranted in these deadly waters.
In the second episode, we start to explore the secondary characters a little more. Dr. Henry Goodsir (Paul Ready) is a well-meaning physician who watched over a dying sailor in the first episode. In “Gore” he goes out on one of the expeditions to look for the thaw, making sure to carry his weight and not just act like he’s along for the sight-seeing. He’s with the expedition that witnesses the manifest danger the crew may face.
Lt. Graham Gore (Tom Weston-Jones) is taken and killed by a large, fast, grey-skinned creature. It could be some diseased polar bear or something more supernatural. We don’t get that good of a look because, rightly so, the expedition gets the hell out of there fast. When they return to the ships they bring with them an Inuit they shot in the confusion and his companion, Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen) is calmed by Crozier, since he can speak her language. Presumably, word of this creature will quickly spread through the ranks and make it even harder for Crozier and Franklin to keep things together.
The Terror has a really easy, approachable vibe. When I found out that this miniseries was happening, with this cast and crew, of course, I was excited. I did have some doubts about the adaptation though. Would it end up being pretentious and embarrassed of any genre trappings? Would the action be spread so thin in the hopes of stretching out to 3 or 4 seasons? It turns out I had nothing to worry about. The series so far has moved briskly, giving us enough time to settle into the characters and the setting. It’s also clearly not afraid to lean into the superstitious or even the interesting minutiae of sailing life.
It also helps that the show is beautiful. The sets of the Terror and Erebus are perfectly rendered, and the cold, ominous, surrounding whiteness of the ice is striking. The standout sequence of the show so far was in “Go For Broke.” A sailor donned a diving bell and went underwater to inspect the ship’s rudder. He’s suspended in the freezing water when the body of a sailor, who fell overboard earlier, floats ethereally towards him like a spirit trying to warn them off.
We leave the crews of these ships with death and no sign of the thaw. Going forward, it will be interesting to see the continued tension between Crozier and Franklin and how much more can actually go wrong for these sailors in this deadly new world.
Verdict: Keep watching! The Terror is an incredibly moody, stylistic and entertaining series. The cast is stacked, and the production design is top notch. If the idea of John Carpenter’s The Thing crossed with Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is in any way intriguing to you then you owe it to yourself to give this show a chance. So far, it’s a fantastic addition to AMC’s standout programming. I hope they manage to continue upping the tension and ultimately stick the landing in the coming weeks.