BBC Two’s The North Water
Ep. 4: “The Devils of the Earth”
Directed & Written
by Andrew Haigh
* For a recap & review of Ep. 3, click here.
* For a recap & review of Ep. 5, click here.
Sumner’s made it through the worst of his withdrawals, yet he and the other men remain out there, lost without a ship. They’re quite literally stuck on a rock in the midst of the ocean. They don’t have many rations left, so Sumner thinks they ought to get hunting. They’re going to split into groups and look for food nearby. It might also just keep them going longer if they get up on their feet. Sumner warns of blood clots if they don’t stay active out there in the cold. Then there’s Drax, still a prisoner there amongst the other men. They’ve soon got to break up the first whaling boat to start a fire.
Weeks or months past. The time doesn’t quite register anymore. The men start to fall apart mentally, as well as physically. Sumner, having battled “the tyranny” of addiction mostly, is feeling stronger in body and mind. But it won’t matter much if he’s the only one trying his best to survive. One day, there are noises nearby. Sumner leaves the tent to see some Innu paddling kayaks in the water, arriving on shore. The Innu have seal with them, they offer a trade with the men who try to gather a few items. The Innu men accept a blade for a slice of seal meat. After that the men get cooking and they all eagerly tear into the food. This doesn’t thrill Cavendish, though. He doesn’t like “heathenish fuckers” or “savage bastards.” He wants more for trade, worried the survivors are being taken advantage of by the Innu hunters. He wants ten seals for a single rifle, but the older Innu man will only offer four. You can already see Cavendish may do something stupid and violent eventually if the Innu men stick around much longer. Or maybe Drax. Either way, I worry for these Indigenous folk.
One day when the Innu hunters are coming back off the water they’re greeted by Drax, wanting to help them carve up a big fat seal. He tries to ingratiate himself to the Innu. The older Innu man goes about cutting into the seal and Drax watches like it’s something sexy. The three of them share a few raw seal organs, including the eyeballs. Drax doesn’t care about eating “brains, bollocks, arseholes.” He later sits smoking with the Innu men, listening to them sing. A while later, the Innu men are deciding to head off as the ice freezes up more around the area. Cavendish doesn’t want the men to leave, telling the younger one to stay while the older goes. He’s about to get aggressive when the Innu won’t cooperate, so Sumner must step in. The surgeon tries to work out a deal, offering the older Innu man the ring from India. And it works. The older hunter agrees to leave the younger one behind with the ship’s surviving crew. But will that only bring further tragedy? Hmm.
Meanwhile we see Drax attempting to escape. He knows he’ll only be hanged eventually. He needs Cavendish’s help to make his escape. He has to get his chains off, then the old Innu man will take him out of there. He doesn’t care about the deal with Baxter anymore. So Cavendish gives him a file. And he starts thinking about escaping, too. He knows they’ll all likely die out there anyway. Thing is, Drax later sneaks into the Innu tent and kills the men. He makes sure to get Sumner’s ring, as well. When Cavendish comes down to the beach in the morning he finds Drax preparing the boat to leave. He has a look inside the Innu tent at Drax’s suggestion, getting his throat cut in the process. Holy shit.
Then ole Henry pushes the boat off and leaves.
The others find the dead Innu and Cavendish with his throat cut. They’re left at quite a disadvantage. They bury Cavendish and Otto says a prayer. But they’re no better off now than before. They’re also falling into superstition, some of them imagining Drax is the devil taking on human form. Otto urges the others not to descend into such thinking. The men are scared Drax may come back, they want to leave. Several of the crew, including McKendrick, decide they’re going to leave, while Otto and Sumner stay behind. The surgeon and Otto have little hope left, even though the latter holds onto his Christian faith as some last bastion of strength.
Otto and Sumner are determined to get hunting, in order to continue surviving. They’re going to use the Innu corpses to potentially draw out a bear they can kill for food while they ration out the minuscule portions of seal left to eat between them. They take turns staying on watch for a bear while one watches and the other rests, warming up. A grim existence. Sumner falls asleep on watch, waking up to see Drax on the ice; but it isn’t really Drax, it’s a hungry, thinning polar bear, and great imagery of Drax as animal. The surgeon readies his rifle and takes a shot, sending the bear running. He goes on hunting the animal while Otto sits by a small fire to read his Bible. He tracks the bear and gets another clear shot but doesn’t take it. He continues to follow it on a long trek across the ice. He’s freezing and almost totally going off the psychological deep end when he decides to finally take another shot. The polar bear starts running back towards him, then it disappears, bursting into a mirage, a flock of birds. So Patrick can do nothing except scream into the wind.
The surgeon goes on wandering in the snow and the wind, screaming. He hears Drax out there, calling to the man to come out and face him. But he is all alone out there. Sumner falls to his knees and seems to finally be going totally insane when the polar bear returns. He picks up his rifle, turning to fire as someone emerges in the distance. Is it Drax? No, it’s the bear. Sumner kneels next to the dying animal and touches its fur. He puts his face against the bear’s body, feeling what warmth he can, and the bear soon dies.
And you guessed it! Sumner opens that bear up, doing a Han Solo-saving-Luke bit. First he has a drink of warm blood, then he slips into the bear’s belly to ride out the storm. Probably doesn’t help the madness. But, hey, at least the guy’s able to stay warm in there. Somehow someone finds Sumner in the bear, taking him out and pulling him to safety. He’s brought back to a cabin, where a priest (Peter Mullan) watches over him.
A stunning, somewhat surreal episode. My favourite thus far in a series that’s been stellar every step of the way.
Also, I am Peter Mullan’s biggest fan, so any time he shows up I’m ready for a good time.