This The Terror review contains spoilers.
The Terror Episode 5
It’s commendable that The Terror takes its time to get to its horror moments when other series are content with jump scares and cheap thrills, but “First Shot a Winner, Lads” is a bit too slow. Things get going near the end with an entertaining action sequence that provides our best look yet at Tuunbaq, but that can’t quite make up for all the time the episode spends on Captain Francis’ alcoholism.
Francis has been on a downward spiral since last week and things aren’t much better now that winter has truly taken hold. When we return to the Terror, it’s to an empty, sinking ship populated by the few men still loyal to the captain and those being punished by him. Of course, Francis is less interested in the actual state of the Terror and much more focused on whiskey – or the lack thereof.
I found the “whiskey war” between both ships a bit silly. Too much time is spent on Francis trying to get Lieutenant Little (Matthew McNulty) to steal bottles of whiskey from Captain James’ stores on the Erebus. When things come to a head, it results in another yelling match between the two men. As per usual, they don’t really arrive at anything except that Tobias Menzies’ character has too little to do on this show at the moment besides confronting Francis about one thing or other. Hopefully, James will get a bit more to do now that he’s the new commander.
James doesn’t push Francis to confront his alcoholism, although their confrontation does feel like an intervention of sorts. It’s the monstrous Tuunbaq who convinces Francis that he needs to get his shit together for the sake of his remaining men.
While the series has remained a bit shy about revealing the full size of Tuunbaq, undoubtedly saving it for a big reveal later on, its appearance is no less frightening when shrouded in the haze of winter. We get glimpses of its dark eyes as it chases poor Mr. Blanky (Ian Hart) up the Terror’s mast and a good look at just how sharp the monster’s claws are, as it cuts through the first mate’s leg in the episode’s culminating action sequence.
Tuunbaq continues to show an impressive intelligence as it picks off the men one by one. This week, it even separates the men inside the ship from those poor souls outside. Lady Silence reveals that she’s not controlling the beast and that it’s acting of its own accord, which makes Tuunbaq all the more frightening.
The Terror is sort of taking the form of a slasher creature feature, isn’t it? A monster shows up every night to claim a few more victims, as the men inside the ships slowly go mad. Certainly, the paranoia has hit both Francis and Mr. Hickey, who watches closely as Lady Silence is brought back aboard the Terror. But there also seems to be something more sinister to Tuunbaq’s plan. It’s pretty clear that there’s not much that could stop the monster. Not even a cannonball is enough to bring it down, so why not kill everyone on both ships in one swift stroke? Is its plan actually to divide the remaining crew so that they kill themselves?
I’m not sure I believe Lady Silence when she says she’s not tried to communicate with the beast. We know Tuunbaq isn’t interested in hurting her and has at least a hint of affection for her (the scene from a few episodes back where it brings her a seal to eat comes to mind). Could Lady Silence actually be playing the men in order to avenge her father’s death?
Either way, Francis’ interrogation certainly doesn’t help gain Lady Silence’s trust. By the end of the episode, she’s run off to Goodsir’s dismay. Perhaps that was what Tuunbaq was up to all along: distracting the men so that Lady Silence could escape.
Many of the smaller details shine through in this episode, too. The Terror has done an absolutely excellent job showing us the effect of the cold on the men. From a spyglass getting stuck to a man’s eyelid to frostbitten toes and fingers being snipped off nonchalantly by the unbearable Dr. Stanley, this show really knows how to use its setting as another source of fear. And there’s something even more frightening afoo inside the mouths of the men – a disease that might slowly be making its way through the crew. Goodsir’s on the case as one of the few sane men left on this doomed expedition, but as we all know from the history books, he’s already too late.