“The Terror” (2018 – ) Episode Three
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 Three: “The Ladder”
Cinematographer: Florian Hoffmeister/ Directed by: Edward Berger
With something stalking the ships, the expedition’s commanders debate their dwindling options.
This episode takes place a few days after Episode Two where the crew of both ships are on a knifes edge following a suspected bear attack, as well as waiting for the bear to come and find the rest of the men on their ships – paranoia runs high. As with many colonists even those in the Artic, fear about the indigenous people runs high as does the very real threat of retaliation for perceived slights. We see in flashbacks Franklin being warned about the venture, his past deeds being made to haunt him even before he set out on his doomed expidetion. These are all foreshadowing the predicament he finds himself in with nowhere to turn but his own subconscious mind as well the guilt he feels for past failures in his governorship of Australia.
This show as is proven by this episode is becoming more claustrophobic than even the first two episodes. In particular Captain Franklin is being assailed on all sides by his memories as well as Captain Crozier who believes help should be sent for, which is declined as Franklin believes wholly in himself, never listening to anyone but himself which is a fatal flaw of not only men but Empires.
This is the first episode where a different director and cinematographer have taken over duties with Kolja Brandt serving as lens man and Sergio Mimica-Gezzan as the man in charge. Both have extensive experience in film as well as televison, it shows onscreen with the excellent use of not only mid shots but the use of long lenses as well. They both have brought to the screen some excellent shots sticking close to the way in which the first two episodes succeeded. They give scope to a situation where there must have been a temptation to shoot in close up to artificially give the scenes more isolation in the camera than it should. In fact, the only isolation besides the geographic one is in the mind, as there are plenty of crew members that one person never feels physically alone. The use of natural light on the ships is an interesting choice, candlelight is what is used below decks, making it harder to see what is occurring which again adds to the atmosphere of the unknown and dread that surely must come.
We are being exposed to the technology of the time, where the limitations of the time become apparent, the camera used, for example, with the long exposure where standing still and doing nothing so that an image may be captured is exactly what is happening to the men in their almost catastrophic situation. This is a show called “The Terror” so it is no surprise that there are visceral moments of horror that Ridley Scott would be proud of as the unsighted ‘thing’ moves around the crew taking what it wants with impunity. Surely there can be no better metaphor for a failing Empire than to be attacked without understanding as the situation grows dire as time moves on, with little understanding of how to regain a sense of composure or control.
The almost bookended scenes of the dark pit that ends up being a grave for two characters is masterful, as is the so-called ambush that takes place in the last third of the episode. There are long moments of introspection in this episode with officers making moves to guard not only their own situations but that of their crew – it becomes apparent that the situation is hopeless, rescue is needed but in the coming episodes I imagine that this rescue will not arrive. Of course, the ladder of the title has many meanings, there is the prayer said at the funeral, the ladder to Heaven, there is also climbing the ladder of command from rank to rank and perhaps a ladder from peril to safety, from ice sheet to ship – you would be a fool to think that in the end this will keep anyone safe.
Star Jared Harris is starting to make his mark as the hero, if in fact there is one, his decisions over the coming weeks will be vital although as we know they will be for nothing – it is interesting to think and to keep in the back of an audiences mind that this is a story being told in flashback – the end is indeed known to us, but to the vanquished.
“The Terror” has to be the most exciting new show this year, after only three episodes the tension is high, the characters have real depth, motivations are as complex as they could be in any drama, the horror and supernatural elements have really only just begun and the motivations of the ‘thing’ are starting to make some sense especially in terms of its purpose as well as what it will mean for the colonists.
If you want to start watching an excellent genre show then I recommend “The Terror” now streaming on AMC.