Over the past nine weeks, I have written over 13,000 words and devoted almost 40 hours of my life to AMC’s The Terror. That may seem like a lot, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat. That’s how much love I have for this series and the writers, directors and actors that brought it to life. It was a series that gave us monstrous scares, atmospheric dread and, most importantly, believable characters that forced us to care about them.
This week’s series finale perfectly brought the story back to center and completed the tragic tale of the lost Franklin Expedition. It gave us a man who thought he was a god, and showed us the lengths a good man will go to put an end to that god’s tyranny. We saw a woman who, knowing she would be banished from her tribe, nursed a white man back to health and delivered him to the safety of her people. We saw the rampage and final breaths of a mighty spirit, one who dressed as an animal and was never meant to be seen by outsider’s eyes.
What I don’t want to do is reduce this final episode into a beat-by-beat recap in my normal long-winded way. We all have seen the show, and if you haven’t yet, reading a recap of the series finale seems like a bad move. Instead, I want to memorialize three of the main characters that told us this magnificent story and examine who they revealed themselves to truly be.
One of the most despised men in recent television history, Cornelius Hickey (or whatever his name actually is) kept us guessing week after week. We were unsure of his true motivations until the last few episodes of the series, and even then, it was still just guesswork. He is formless. He is no-one. He is everyone.
He began the series as someone else, having killed the true Cornelius Hickey and dumped him in a canal. Tropical life sounded good to our man, and he thought that a year in a boat would be an easy price to pay for a life of luxury on Maui. He quickly became whatever or whoever was needed to advance himself within the ranks of the expedition. He would drink with you, sleep with you, or fight you to get what he wanted. His relationships with the others on the ships were always false shells of what he pretended they actually were. There was never any friendship or loyalty coming from Hickey, he was merely gathering men around him to serve him and to advance his cause.
We saw very quickly what his cause actually was in the second half of the series. He realized after a few years in the cold that he was never going to get out of the ice alive, so his mind began to wander and his megalomania set in. What he wanted, this whole time, was to find someone his equal. He thought that it would be Crozier, even going so far as to thank him for it in the finale, but Crozier showed his weaknesses when he became sober. This humility that Crozier showed proved to Hickey that his hopes for an equal cannot lie in man, rather, they must be placed in a true god, Tuunbaq.
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In Tuunbaq, Hickey found his match. The finale showed him teasing the beast out of hiding, singing loudly in only his long underwear (honestly, though, who hasn’t been there?). His goal was to confront the god and prove his dominance by binding the beast to himself. As Tuunbaq went from man to man, biting and clawing them to pieces, Hickey performed his last act of hubris. He removed his tongue, much like Lady Silence had earlier in the series, and presented it to Tuunbaq. The great Inuit spirit turned his head to Hickey and quickly tore him in two, thus ending his god complex for good.
Hickey was The Terror’s enigma. He was the smoke monster that flowed from man to man, whispering in their ears, warping their minds and forcing their hands. He was a chameleon, changing his face and his mannerisms to fit the situation and to become whatever you wanted him to be. In the series finale, he wore Irving’s coat and Fitzjames’ boots to become the amalgamation of the two men, thereby becoming more than they ever could be. It is fitting, then, that he met his death wearing only his own soiled underwear, stripped of all he pretended to be and becoming just another god who bleeds.
Captain Francis Crozier
To say that Captain Crozier had a rough first half of the series is putting it mildly. He was shamed by Sir John for having the audacity to want to marry the elderly man’s niece. He was relegated to a powerless position when no-one took heed of his warnings about the ice and incoming winter. The ships were stuck because he could not make his case more clearly or forcefully. He drank himself into oblivion, furthering everyone’s suspicion that he could not be relied open or trusted. Sir John, in one of their final meetings, told him bluntly that he was not his friend and would never be a member of his family, that his vices were his downfall and that he was unfit for leadership.
Instead of continuing down the spiraling path to alcoholic death, Crozier pulled himself out of it in the second half of the series. He showed his true mettle as everyone else failed around him. He abandoned ship and began marching South, which led to their deaths, sure, but was also their only chance for survival. Even though he could have resigned himself to the barbarism displayed by Hickey and his men, Crozier instead kept his morals and showed mercy by forgiving those that had rebelled against him (except for Hickey, of course). He was unashamed to show love and gentleness to his fallen comrades. When others decided to eat their dead, Crozier wept beside them and cleaned their bodies, humbling himself before them. What really set Crozier apart, however, was how he handled the situation that we saw him in at the end of the episode.
Lady Silence saved Crozier’s life. He was shackled to the chain that choked Tuunbaq to death and could not get free. She found him there next to her dead spirit and, instead of leaving him there to die, she cut off his hand and nursed him back to health. She tended to his wounds and fed him over the next few months so that he could regain his strength and march South. They walked towards her people’s camp and passed the remains of his men. Crozier found the body of his friend Jopson and mourned his death, he saw the place where the men had discarded their books and other belongings in what turned out to be a beautiful metaphor for them discarding the final remnants of their humanity, and he finally stumbled upon the last survivors. They were frozen in the cold, dead or nearly so. After their final breaths were heaved, Crozier was finally alone. He was the sole survivor of the Franklin Expedition, and as he was offered sanctuary in the indigenous people’s camp, he became something else entirely.
Lady Silence, whose true name is finally revealed to be Silna, was driven from the camp because she lost Tuunbaq. That is the way of their people, and everyone was fine with it. Everyone that is, except for Crozier. He immediately grabbed his bag and begins searching for her. He begs to know which way she went, but no-one in the tribe will tell him. That is their way and he is asked to let it go. In a final act of humility, he accepts it. As the show ended, we see that it was Crozier outside the tent in the first scene of the series. He tells the other Inuit men to tell Ross that he is dead, that they have all died and are gone. He rejects his last chance to go home and becomes a true part of the tribe, but not as an act of cowardice as some have suggested. After everything has been stripped away from him, Crozier revealed himself to be a man of honor, and he owes Silna and this tribe his life. Instead of running off to England where he would be heralded as a hero, he instead hunts for seal on the ice, giving his life to the men and women that have earned it.
Finally, we come to Mr. Goodsir, the man who many have come to love and admire. I have been known to refer to him as my “Boyfriend” and comment on his “Thicc-ness”, much to the chagrin of my fiancé. He began the series as an honest, loving, and pure man who put the needs of the others ahead of himself, and he ended the series as an honest, loving, and pure man who put the needs of the others ahead of himself. Sure, he become a little more gruff and straightforward in his diagnoses, foregoing the usual comfort and bedside manner that he displayed in the first few episodes, but he never lost the humanity that he showed early on. Instead of losing the false aspects of his personality like Hickey or the crutches that propped him up and propelled him forward like Crozier, Goodsir proved himself to be a genuine man. So, instead of focusing on the things that he lost along the way, I would like to take a moment and look at what he was able to hold on to, even as everyone else descended into madness around him.
In the final conversation Goodsir and Crozier share in his medical tent, Goodsir hints at the guilt he feels over what he has done to survive in Hickey’s camp. Crozier, in return, offers his true feelings about the man and echoes the audiences feelings, as well.
“If ever I was a doctor, I am one no longer.”- Goodsir
Even amongst the death and destruction surrounding him, Goodsir still sees that there is beauty in the world. He sees beauty in the ice, the snow, in Lady Silence. He asks if Crozier thinks she made it back to her people, to which the Captain says “yes”. The look of relief in Goodsir’s eyes was enough to break and melt any man, for he shared a platonic love with Lady Silence that comforted him and kept him going when he was just about to break. His last words to Crozier are a warning: instructions to only eat the soles of his feet when Hickey inevitably serves him tot he men after his death. He spends the last moments of his life covering his body in poison and slitting his wrists, knowing full well that Hickey will have him eaten and at least he can take out some of the men on his way out. It is a final sacrifice from a man that has given everything to the expedition and has fought against the evil of Hickey and his cannibalistic goons at every turn. He is not a fighter, Goodsir, but he is braver than any marine on that expedition.
His final moments on this Earth were shown as flashes on the screen of images set against a white backdrop. First we see an orchid, then a seashell, then a crystal formation, all set against the stark white of his conscious mind and interspersed with images of his bloody sacrifice. You see, even in his death throes, Harry Goodsir is able to recall the beauty that exists in the world. Not human beauty, per se, but the beauty that existed long before our species arrived and will be here long after we are gone. Goodsir may have lost faith in his fellow man on this expedition, but his dying moments filled him with the love and joy one can gleam from the beauty in the natural world. It was a fitting and beautiful way to send off a beautiful man.
This episode finished the tale started by Dan Simmons in his incredible book, but as is the case with any story based on true events, it will never feel completely finished. The final credits may have rolled, but we are still left with the questions and the mystery surrounding the expedition. So we shouldn’t look to The Terror as the end of the story, but rather the beginning of a broader, much more important conversation. Who are you, really, when the going gets tough? Are you a James Fitzjames, driven by ego and false manners to achieve your own personal goals? Are you a Silna, thrust into a position that you are unprepared for, yet willing to accept the consequences for your actions? Are you a Thomas Blanky, willing to wrap yourself in a rope studded with forks to choke the beast stalking you and potentially save your friends? Or, are you a Hickey, brimming with schadenfreude at the thought of someone dying so that you may fill your belly?
This is the value of The Terror. Not the story that was told, but rather the questions that the series made us ask of ourselves. Who would you reveal yourself to be when the nights get longer? When the air gets colder? When the blood starts to flow? These questions need to be asked of ourselves every once in a while, and I am grateful that The Terror forced me to do just that.
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