This The Terror review contains spoilers.
The Terror Episode 3
The third episode of The Terror is a bit too slow to ever build up the appropriate tension for its big death. “The Ladder” banks more on the surprise of it, although there are some hints throughout the episode that someone else is going to fall victim to the tuunbaq.
That it’s Sir John who gets thrown into that horrible hole with one appendage is a complete shock. Ciaran Hinds delivered a nice performance as the arrogant John, a man too stubborn (and wrapped up in his own vanity) to see that he’d completely doomed his men to death as soon as he decided to push forward into the Canadian Arctic against a harsh winter.
If John ever had a moment to redeem himself, it was during his scene with Sir Francis, who implores him to send out eight men to an outpost 800 miles away in search of help. The captain takes Francis’ request as a weakness of character and wholeheartedly rejects the idea that the ships need rescue. John thinks back to an encounter with a Sir John Ross (Clive Russel), who warned him that he might need a rescue plan were things to go south during the mission. Being the vain leader that he is, John interprets this as jealousy on John Ross’ part. How fitting that it should be this memory that bookends John’s inner conflict throughout the episode.
I really loved the imagery that accompanied John’s death: quick cuts between the present on the bloodied ice and the past in the lavish British theater. There are those quick seconds of blood trickling down on the blue-ish ice that would make John Carpenter absolutely squeal.
In terms of John’s gruesome grave, I guess we should call it Chekhov’s hole (er) in this instance since the episode does a great job of teasing a terrible end for someone in that horrifying opening in the ice. Watching the men poke a corpse through the small opening and into the water below is uncomfortable enough, but nothing when compared to John’s final moments before falling through.
In a strange way, a bit of comedy accompanies the death too, as Dr. Goodsir tucks John’s severed leg – wrapped in the finest of stockings – into a casket. Maybe it’s just that the doctor himself is a bit funny, but I struggled to stifle a giggle during that scene. I also loved the quick shot of John’s sermon to the men. You can see Lt. Gore’s name crossed out and replaced with “Captain John Franklin.”
Things really turn out for Sir Francis in this episode, even if he’s not willing to admit it. He was always the more seasoned sailor – and John admits this – and that experience and foresight begins to show here. While John is happy to keep up appearances and pose for pictures with his men – how beautifully poetic that John spends his final moments taking the most painfully macho picture the Canadian Arctic has ever witnessed – Francis is more than happy to admit that they are all fucked.
The stage is now set then. Francis takes control of the expedition – I guess we should call it “failed expedition” since he’s sent out for rescue – with Sir James as his second. We don’t need to know the real-life story to know that this is definitely not going to turn out well. The Terror is slowly headed south now that there’s no passage north.