This The Terror review contains spoilers.
The Terror Episode 2
The Terror‘s second outing is a bit weaker than the first. While the show’s excellent premiere was the bait to reel us in, with plenty of creepy moments and beautiful icy visuals, the second episode is a bit of a slow down. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – you can’t use all of your scares up at once – but it does take “Gore” a bit longer to get to the scary parts. But when the episode does get going, it’s full speed ahead.
The series really is working on two fronts, as a historical drama and a horror story, and that’s made all the more apparent in this episode, which focuses more heavily on the former than the latter. It’s been eight months since Sir John’s expedition became icebound in the Canadian Arctic. Relations between the two ships are holding up surprisingly well. Even the dour Sir Francis, who has more than a few reasons to be cross with Sir John, remains relatively composed despite the fact that the ships wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for his commanding officer’s hubris.
When John shows up on the Terror to patch things up with Francis, there isn’t any cannon fire at all. What is clear is that it’s a conversation between officers, not old friends. We learn this episode that John and Francis’ friendship might have soured long ago and that John’s latest fuck up is just the nail in the coffin. Certainly, Francis being rejected by John’s niece has made things rather messy between the two, and John’s continued arrogance and half-hearted apology don’t help much. Here it’s more clear than ever that John is more comfortable playing the bureaucrat and that Francis is the hardened seaman.
Jared Harris and Ciaran Hinds continue to shine in this episode, particularly Hinds, who plays John’s dickishness with such an enjoyable subtlety. You can’t help but roll your eyes at every arrogant word that comes out of the Admiral’s mouth, but Hinds is also able to expose a bit of what’s hidden behind the man’s bravado in this go around. After both the east and west expeditions return without leads regarding a possible break in the ice, you can see the change in John’s demeanor from “We’ll be fine” to “We are fucked.”
Things only get worse when one of the expeditions is attacked by a monster called “Tuunbaq.” We only get a brief snippet of the beast, as it quite literally gores Lt. Gore before Dr. Goodsir’s eyes. There’s really not much build up to the monster and I feel that he’s shown up a bit too soon. The first episode seemed to indicate that The Terror wasn’t going to be so much about the monsters out on the ice as those waiting to be unleashed inside the ships. Theories of mutiny, sickness, murder, and cannibalism have always circled this real-life expedition, after all. The monster is an added bonus, but perhaps we could have done without it for another episode or two, while the men unraveled back at the ships. Or perhaps Goodsir’s story of the giant “bear” waiting to wreak havoc on the men is what will drive these sailors to madness. Either way, I can’t wait.
“Gore” does a good job of better establishing its other main characters. While much was said about John, Francis, and the egotistical Sir James, we didn’t spend nearly enough time with Hickey (Adam Nagaitis), who is keeping a pretty big secret, one that’s discovered by his shipmate John Irving. I like that Hickey doesn’t react in fear of being exposed, but with confidence about his sexual preference. On a different show, this could have gone a bit differently, but Hickey’s homosexuality is instead portrayed as an intimidating element and not a “weakness.” I love the swagger with which Hickey confronts Irving later in Francis’ office.
Goodsir, played by Paul Ready, continues to be the most likable guy on this crew, which probably doesn’t bode well for him since this is a horror story. In this cold reality, the petulant bigot Dr. Stanley (Alistair Petrie) is more likely to survive the winter. Still, it’s nice to spend a bit more time in Goodsir’s shoes, as he clumsily ventures out into the ice with the more seasoned sailors, exclaiming that ice formations all around him are “beautiful!” The men pulling that raft through the snow aren’t quite as enthused. A funny little moment.
The good doctor also tries his best to save the old Inuit man – the same one who appeared before that one poor sailor’s bed right before his death – when Stanley refuses to touch him. Goodsir fails to take out the bullet in time, but this emergency surgery does reveal a few things about the monster that stalks the desolation outside. It seems that the old man was able to control the monster somehow – I’m assuming with his mind? – a responsibility that’s now fallen to his daughter, who warns Francis that her father must die in the ice and not on the ship.
“Tuunbaq won’t listen to me,” she begs the old man as he takes his final breaths. Their arrival on the Erebus is a harbinger of doom for these men, one that is fast approaching. Like in the real-life story, it won’t just be madness, hunger, or fear of the forces beyond man’s control that will do in the 129 men of this ill-fated expedition, but a combination of all of the above. I can’t wait.