Television/Streaming review: “The Terror” (2018) – Episodes One & Two

“The Terror” (2018 – ) Episode One & Two



10 Episodes

Developed by: David Kajganich

Featuring: Jared Harris, Tobias Menzies, Paul Ready, Adam Nagaitis, Ian Hart, Nive Nielsen, Ciarán Hinds

“The Terror” is a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to the Arctic, in 1845–1848, to locate the Northwest Passage. Franklin and his crew are plagued by starvation and illness, and forced to contend with mutiny and cannibalism, they are stalked across the bleak Arctic landscape by a monster.

Most of the characters featured in The Terror are actual members of Franklin’s crew, whose unexplained disappearance has warranted a great deal of speculation. The main characters in the novel include Sir John Franklin, commander of the expedition and captain of Erebus; Francis Crozier, captain of Terror; Dr Harry D. S. Goodsir; and Captain James Fitzjames.

Episode One: “Go for broke”

Cinematographer: Florian Hoffmeister/ Directed by: Edward Berger

In 1845, the Royal Navy set sail on the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror to complete a crossing of the Northwest Passage, trying to make it through a blanket of ice in the Arctic. However, misfortunes at sea, including a sailor falling gravely ill and an accident on deck, cripple the expedition 200 miles away, and the captains have to make a risky decision in order to continue their voyage.

Episode Two: “Gore”

Cinematographer: Florian Hoffmeister/ Directed by: Edward Berger

Eight months after Captain Franklin first steered the Erebus and the Terror into thick ice, the ships are still stuck. When summer comes, he sends out lead parties to figure out which direction the ice has melted. The men who trekked east find nothing, while the men to the west travel into dangerous territory and accidentally shoot an Inuit man, thinking he was a bear, but something killed one of their own.

There is a long tradition of framing fictionalized events around real people or events that really happened, here author Dan Simmons has framed a gothic horror story in one of the most deadly and desolate places on the planet. Simmons who has been writing books for decades should be a familiar name to any of those people that either love or read genre novels. It is inspired that this should be his first novel to be turned into a television show, we can only hope it will not be his last.

After the successful adaption of the ‘Walking Dead’ series of comics AMC found the ‘The Terror’ deciding there was enough of a bite to at least create a ten-episode series with an option of following on from there. This is a series with a great pedigree with original author Simmons on as a producer as well as being shepherded by Ridley Scott who is no stranger to isolated horror stories. Scott (and his late brother) have been champions of all kinds of television projects over the past twenty years, “The Terror” is another in a long line of amazing success.

Wisely the television series has cast some excellent character actors of different ages as well as experience from both film, stage and television. Starting with one of the best actors of any generation is the Irishman Ciarán Hinds as Captain John Franklin of the Erebus who is a staunch brave realist knowing that the lives of his men and compatriots rely on his decision making alone. Although he suffers from the notion that he is at the center of the Universe being both English as well as a man – he suffers no-one lightly making all the major decisions himself. Jared Harris plays Francis Crozier the Captain of the ship The Terror, the namesake of this show who is the hero of the piece, a plain-spoken man who is a rival to Franklin. The cast is rounded out by the excellent Tobias Menzies surely a star in the making a number of other character actors who are below stairs always beholden to their ‘betters’.

“The Terror” itself is set over a number of time periods with the entire show being told in a flashback – as well two separate time periods so far, one when the ships are trapped in the ice and the other before the crews left to go on their journeys. We see in the Artic that there are alliances as well as rivalries, and when we flashback we see the origins of both. What is made clear from the outset is that this will be a journey where no matter the decisions made, as well as who is listened to their will be no happy ending. The journey is of course tinged with death, but as we move through the story the idea of some supernatural force is going to come to the fore as more and more of the crew meet grisly ends.

The very idea of isolation in horror is not new, in fact it is a trope that is used over and over again, the closest thing this show resembles is the timeless John Carpenter directed “The Thing” (1982) where we have a similar situation except in this new show we will have ten episodes to slowly get to a point where, as the audience we will have an inkling as to what is actually going on (or maybe not). These first two episodes are all set-up and atmosphere as we are plunged into the darkest of situations, two ships trapped by the encroaching ice sheets, the possibility of food running out as well as a hint of contagion amongst the crew, as well as an ‘other’ always lurking in the shadows.

As we will see the class split between the crew and the officers is as stark as any classic examples seen before, with the officers eating and drinking the finest foods off the most expensive plates, with silver and china while the crew eats the barest of food – the crew of course have to risk their lives on an almost hourly basis whilst the officers are the ones ordering them into certain death. The best example is when Franklin orders one of the men to don a diving suit and submerge himself beneath the ice cold ocean to investigate damage, when the sailor reappears Franklin states he only wishes he could have taken his place – I am sure!

“The Terror” is going to be a very interesting, tense and scary show to keep up with from week to week, the tension as well as the loss of life will grow as will the mystery, the superstation versus what is real and what is imagined as it will be easy to blame some monster instead of bad decision making by mortal man. Don’t get me wrong there is going to be some old-fashioned horror from the thing that is stalking the ships as well the all of the men, although very natural dangers do exist in the form of hunger, the freezing temperatures, the hostility from the animal life as well as many other dangers that will befall these explorers.

The first two episodes have given a good example of how genre television should be executed, take an extremely strong story, cast very good actors, have some inspired production values, keep the story simple but throw in some narrative flourishes and involve a cinematographer and a director with not only great taste but an eye for what makes a good genre project look inspired.

Smartly the producers have chosen German born cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister and director Edward Berger to helm the first two episodes, both are experienced in both genre shows as well as series with very different themes and multi-leveled thematic stories. Here both excel with some great shots and decision making in terms of story. I can only hope the directors that follow make unique choices as do their respective cinematographers.

If you want to start watching an excellent genre show then I recommend “The Terror” now streaming on AMC.

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