The Terror: Season 1 created by David Kajganich (EMJAG Productions, Entertainment 360, Scot Free Productions, AMC)
Starring Jared Harris, Ciarán Hinds, Tobias Menzies, Paul Ready, Adam Nagaitis, Ian Hart, Christos Lawson, and Nive Nielsen.
Is structure enough to save us? As the adage goes, the times of chaos—the proverbial moment where things fall apart—these moments surface long-held, dormant instincts. We don’t know who we really are until we face these moments of bedlam.
It seems true. We all can look back to those moments of high stress and remember certain people snapping, certain people withering, and others rising to the challenge.
Taken as a given, we believe structure to be the antidote. If training can kick in during the worst-case scenario, logic suggests we can mitigate the most problematic outcomes.
But is it true?
AMC’s latest hit, The Terror, gives serious pause to such belief systems.
A true story—with added supernatural elements to spice up the narrative—The Terror follows the mission of HMS Terror and HMS Erebus as the ships and its crew seek the Northwest Passage in the mid-1800s.
Certainly, a foolhardy expedition from the start, considering the centuries of searching to that point, The Terror slow burns its narrative, ratcheting the tension from episode to episode.
The show takes its time introducing the many characters about to face unspeakable horrors. Captain Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds) leads the expedition with Captain Francis Crozier (Jared Harris) as second in command.
Early on, the uncertain dynamic between Franklin and Crozier emerges. Ever a sunny disposition, Franklin moves forward with the optimism of an explorer that found passage and smooth sailing is just around the corner. On the other hand, Crozier sees doom in the sun dogs on the horizon. Where Franklin wants to proceed at all costs, Crozier believes safe harboring over winter is the best approach.
Quickly, the quasi-warmth of an Arctic summer transitions into the dark cold of winter, both ships ensconced in ice. When winter turns to summer and then winter again, the weary sailors begin to fear a point of no return.
As it happens, the long period of living iced-in meets a supernatural horror, as a beast—named the tuunbaq by locals—hunts the sailors picking them off one by one.
These men of the British navy only know one way, that of commander and soldier. As their plight becomes direr, leadership doubles down on the structure trained into each and every sailor.
But is such rigidity the optimal decision when harsh winters, lead-poisoned food tins, and an evil-spirit-turned-polar-bear seek the demise of every living soul?
Worth Watching, Even If History Tells Us the Ending
For those familiar with this expedition, the end ought to be no surprise. And yet, the masterful slow burn of this series creates drama and tension because the viewer becomes invested in these characters, despite such dire circumstances. Ultimately, this result is a testament to a combination of fine writing and acting.
The Terror asks some deep questions about the roles we play in communities, where codes of masculinity work and where they tear people down, and ultimately, it asks questions about humanity’s role in nature.
The Terror is an exquisite piece of television and it is a strong front-runner for my show of the year.
Verdict: 5 out of 5