AMC’s The Terror
Episode 3: “The Ladder”
Directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
Written by Gina Welch
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Gore” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Punished, as a Boy” – click here
The title of this episode has two meanings, you’ll see throughout the episode. Mainly, it refers to Jacob’s Dream at Bethel; an event in the Book of Genesis.
June, 1847. Both the HMS Erebus and Terror are icebound. The men keep watch in shifts for the bear by which the men were supposedly attacked. Henry Goodsir (Paul Ready) is the only one who actually saw it any bit clear, yet they were obviously attacked by a beast of some sort.
Down below, the dead Inuit man is tended to, and the men find “charms” on him. One of them looks similar to the shape of a Plesiosaurus. The other is part of a human body. Meanwhile, Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen) is left by herself there on the ship, amongst all those men. Firstly, she’s seen as a bad omen; a typical seaman-type of folklore fear. Then there’s the fact there’s a ton of men, some of whom are inclined towards the baser aspects of human nature, y’know? It’s saddest to see the men, despite Goodsir protesting, handle the corpse of the Inuit man with such carelessness.
All the same, Lady Silence might be alone, but she’s not helpless. She’s sly, and she knows the Arctic better than any of those white Naval men.
There’s more to the relation between Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds) and the others in his company. We get a look back at before he ever left, when he was questioned about his “rescue plan.” This plays into the idea of pride, particularly when it comes to the exploration of men back before the days of better technology, when journeys were undertaken at amazing risk that’s almost totally incomprehensible in today’s age. Because Franklin had already experienced hardships in his career as an adventuring explorer; hardships related to the inability of masculine pride to concede to defeat and failure when it’s all that exists. Not to mention his removal from office as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land. And so, the Arctic expedition was a point of pride for Sir John – one he intended on seeing through, no matter at what brutal costs.
More butting heads, too. Francis Crozier (Jared Harris) suggests sending a party to the Hudson Bay Outpost on Great Slave Lake. It’s a long journey of 800 miles. Sir John doesn’t believe it will be feasible, and instead of just refusing the plan he makes things more personal between him and Crozier. Meanwhile, Francis is ultimately just trying not to see more people die. They’re on a lonely journey, at one of the ends of the Earth. Franklin’s more content to go down swinging than to try understanding Crozier’s concern. It all makes their relationship more tense than ever before.
Nevertheless, Crozier is determined to go behind his own Captain’s back, and find a group of men willing to go with him leading. He agrees to take all the blame should they be discovered.
A cook on the Terror starts noticing “bad seals and grey meat” and other nastiness amongst the ship’s provisions. It’s beginning to pose a problem, though not everyone feels the same. The cook on Erebus doesn’t seem to find it as worrisome as the one from Terror, and this could really lead to a bit of a horrific gastrointestinal situation, should they choose to ignore it.
Lt. John Irving (Ronan Raftery) runs into Cornelius Hickey (Adam Nagaitis), who thanks the man for “discretion” about what he saw in the belly of the ship before between him and William Gibson (Edward Ashley). Seems Mr. Gibson told Irving he was coerced, so the lieutenant warns Hickey he should seek redemption on their journey rather than succumb to temptations. This only starts more trouble. Hickey goes right to Gibson with malice and anger.
Out on the ice, Sir John and a bunch of men sit in a constructed blind to start hunting the bear. Only they’re quickly surprised by a vicious attack. One man is decapitated, and this prompts Franklin to cower in the background, as his men fire at the hidden, beastly threat. On the ship, Crozier hears the commotion, and orders action. Franklin soon wanders back towards the ship, only he’s grabbed hold of by the beast and pulled through the snow. His leg is bitten off, and he winds up thrown down into one of the holes burned through the ice, the same one where they disposed of the Inuit’s corpse.
When others come upon the bloody scene, they find a sole leg, as well as massive paw prints left across the snow and ice. Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) tries to throw a line down into the hole in the ice; it’s of no use. They’ve lost Sir John. And there’s no sign of the creature that attacked him, either.
Men are already talking about coincidences between shooting the Inuit man – they all refer to them as Eskimo; a blanket white people term for any indigenous peoples living in the Arctic – and when the beast turned up to kill members of their crew. The men also sign a song – “The Silver Swan” – in the wake of Sir John’s death.
Captain Crozier takes over command of the mission, setting into motion his own plan to set out for the Hudson Bay Outpost. Even if Fitzjames opposes it on the grounds that Franklin didn’t want them to go. The new Captain of the mission allows a day of mourning, after which the party will set out for Great Slave Lake.
There are many issues beginning to present themselves, as there threatens to be a bigger divide following Sir John’s demise. Crozier doesn’t even want to be Captain, though he feels a responsibility to try saving the men on board of those ships. Fitzjames and others will, and surely already are, questioning Francis. Not to mention Hickey’s playing dirtier by the day.
Out in a freshly built igloo, Lady Silence receives a visit from the beast on the ice. It stands outside her door making noises and breathing loudly before running off again. She goes out to see if it’s near, finding nothing but a dead seal. Is it perhaps an offering to her? And if so, an offering for what?
I’ve already read the Dan Simmons novel, so part of what’s compelling for me in The Terror is watching how the various writers adapt his work. So far, so good! Can’t wait for more. Really dig how the mystery and the atmosphere are being treated with care, almost the first and foremost concern. That’s part of why I loved the book so much, because Simmons really takes you into that world.
Something fantastic about The Terror is it shows the perils of a masculine centred world in which so many lives are given up in the name of conquering, exploration, and above all else pride (or rather, hubris). At a time when Western society particularly is experiencing a fallout in the wake of people finally realising there’s a way to be positive re: masculinity rather than dangerous and destructively masculine, such is the case with Sir John’s downfall, this is a great bit of history crossed with fiction that provides us a metaphorical way of exploring these concepts.
“Punished, as a Boy” is next.