This The Terror review contains spoilers.
The Terror Episode 6
I was beginning to worry about this episode and the show in general. Things have been moving a bit more slowly midway through The Terror, as the show continues to build tension before. But what starts off as a rather dull catch up with James and Francis ends up being the most haunting episode of this show to date.
It’ll be pretty hard to erase the image of Dr. Stanley’s painted face seconds before he lights himself on fire during James’ carnival. There’s an emptiness there. I wouldn’t even call it resignation. For a few minutes, the show just plunges headfirst into chaos – something The Terror (and the many historical theories of what happened to the real-life crew) has been teasing since the very beginning. It’s pure madness on Stanley’s face – and how ghastly it looks in that pale clown makeup – as he looks upon Captain Francis one last time.
“A Mercy” sets up the disaster at the carnival perfectly, doesn’t it? While watching it for the first time, James’ conversation with Mr. Blanky about how close the first mate came to killing John Ross (Clive Russell) on another stranded expedition felt like information we didn’t quite need at this point. And why would James ask about this anyway? But the scene is actually a perfect prologue for the evening’s events, as Stanley burns his doomed shipmates alive as “a mercy.”
Stanley almost seems possessed, a rational man (one so preoccupied with reason as to come off as a total asshole) brought down by something more sinister than just the cold or the monster waiting beyond the ships. But the episode does a great job of pushing Stanley in this direction. The doctor’s always seemed a bit on edge, but his conversation with Collins and Goodsir’s revelation that the preserved food is poisoning the men are quite enough to send Stanley down the path of murder-suicide.
I have to applaud Alistair Petrie for his brief appearances on the show. He played the sour-faced doctor with such relish, his slow approach into insanity so subtle that it’s impossible to see Stanley’s final horrible act coming.
There are a few horror films about slow, creeping madness leading into pandemonium that I hold quite dear. There’s The Terror‘s obvious inspiration: John Carpenter’s The Thing, but there are also movies like Event Horizon and mother! that explore the deepest depths of that chaos. While “A Mercy” can’t deliver death, gore, and disaster of the same caliber as these movies (this is cable TV, after all), the episode’s horror moments are just as effective.
Things grow weirder and weirder throughout the hour. I can’t quite shake the scene where James is modeling that dress in front of a mirror – such an odd little moment for an otherwise stern man. And then there’s Francis’ journey through the different sections of the tent: Blanky drinking ale from his wooden leg, the men feeding the scalped man whom they’ve dressed as a king, James galloping in a Roman soldier’s uniform and shouting alongside his men… All the while, Stanley’s white face waits in the background of these scenes. It’s all too good.
Hats off to The Terror this week. The show’s turning out to be something quite special.