The Terror can lull you into a weird sense of comfort. It uses political maneuverings between the captains, illicit affairs between shipmates and simple geography to make you think that you’re watching a BBC production on public television. You sit back on your couch and fall in love with the world that this show has built, and just as you start to wonder about how the crew will circumnavigate the issue of spoiled provisions, the attack comes. The screams are carried far away on the freezing Arctic wind. The bleeding begins. [Playing Catch-up? Read our Recap of Episodes 1 and 2, here]
The third episode of AMC’s The Terror takes it’s name from the Biblical story of Jacob’s Ladder, found in the book of Genesis. To keep it brief, Jacob is on the road to Haran and finds himself in a very inhospitable place. He lies down, with only a rock as a pillow, and dreams of a ladder leading up to heaven. He sees angels descending and ascending, God is there as well. Essentially, Jacobs is given the ability to see the parallel world that is adjacent to our own, and he realizes that this place that seemed like the worst place on earth, is actually the gateway to heaven. This story is brought to us in a speech written by Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds) to be read at the funeral of one of his men. No other story better encapsulates Sir John’s psyche than that of Jacob’s Ladder, for no matter how terrible the conditions are, or how dire their situation may be, Sir John refuses to see it in any other way than a blessing from his God.
The episode flashes back several times to the weeks leading up to the expedition, and one scene is especially poignant. In it, Sir John is almost accosted by another Arctic explorer, Sir John Ross (Clive Russell). Ross demands to know what Franklin’s plans are for rescue, and almost loses it when he realizes that Franklin has none. He knows what happens when 135 men are stranded. He knows what it is like to eat your shoes, and worse. This scene plays a special importance in this episode because Franklin is approached by his second in command, Francis Crozier (Jared Harris) about a plan to send for rescue. Crozier wishes to send a crew of eight men south to a fishing outpost. The post is 800 miles away, and they have very little time to leave before winter hits.
Franklin refuses to hear the plan, going on to verbally destroy Crozier within earshot of the other officers. In his most pointed critique of the man, Sir John professes that they can no longer be what they wished they could be to one another, a friend, in Sir John’s case, and a relative in Francis‘. It was shown last week that Crozier proposed marriage to Sir John’s niece several times, and was refused by Sir John every time because of his Irish heritage. This showed that, even though the young lady was fond of Crozier, Franklin could never see past his ancestry, deeming him well below the standards for his family. Franklin goes on to tell Crozier that he is weak in his vices, makes himself impossible to love and will never be fit for command.
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“I will not lose another man!”- Sir John Franklin
“We may lose all our men.”- Francis Crozier
Francis decides that the only way the men will survive is for him to commit treason in the eyes of the Admiralty, and resign his office to immediately lead a team away from the ships in search for rescue. After commanding his man Blanky (Ian Hart) to gather the men for the mission, he goes below to write his letter of resignation (and drink a bottle of whisky, it seems) when Sire John decides to visit his men that are hunting the great bear that has attacked their party.
You see what I mean about being lulled into a false sense of security? It’s like you’re watching a totally different show, full of characters that you really care about, when you are rudely reminded that there is a beast still out there that is thirsty for English blood. The Inuit woman from the last episode (now dubbed Lady Silence by a crew member due to her absolute refusal to speak) has left the ships, but did not venture far. She draws a circle in the ice, still within eyesight of the vessels and begins constructing an igloo shelter. Her father, then man killed by accident by a scared marine, has been unceremoniously discarded, at Sir John’s command, down a hole in the ice. He was dumped into the water like any other animal, simply because he was deemed unworthy of his own hole in the ground.
“Educate this creature as to the dominion of the Empire, and the will of the Lord behind it.”- Sir John Franklin
At the makeshift hunting blind set up by the crew, Sir John offers his comfort and a shot of liquor to try and raise the spirits of the freezing men. They have set out bait for the bear, and now await its arrival with a dozen muskets at the ready. After taking a photograph with the men, Sir John is convinced to stay there awhile with them, deciding that it would be good if he were present for the killing of the beast.
He did not stay long.
Almost immediately after taking his seat with the marines, one of the unlucky souls was ripped from the blind, his body shooting upwards into the sky and falling back to the ground. His head, ripped from his neck at the upper-jaw, stared at Sir John with damning eyes. All hell breaks loose. Shots ring out, musket smoke fills the icy air, and blood-curdling screams can be heard back at the ships. Francis stops his writings of resignation to go above, searching the horizon for any sign of what is going on. Sir John screams “Erebus” over and over, trying to rally the men to his aid. They cannot see him for the icy crags that his the blind, but they come running anyway. They do not reach him in time.
“God sees you, Mr. Hickey, here more than anywhere.”- John Irving
The death of Sir John Franklin is brutal. It was shot in such a disorienting way that we were never quite sure what we were looking at. The camera showed his Franklin’s terrified face, then the soulless white of the ice, then the ceiling of the great hall where Sir John Ross gave his dire warning, then nothing. The camera swoops and whirls as he is dragged across the ice, on to stop when his leg is torn from his body. He has been brought to the edge of the open hole in the ice where he ordered the body of the Inuit man to be dumped. Tuunbaq wastes no time on the man, throwing his body into the hole so that he may freeze to death in the waters of the Arctic, knowing fully that he has failed.
Tuunbaq is the mystery The Terror is based upon, and no matter how comfortable we may get with the other goings on on the two ships, the show snaps us back with horror and blood. Why is the beast attacking the crew? The way that it killed Sir John was no mistake. It was taking revenge for what he allowed to happen to the elderly Inuit man. So does that mean that Tuunbaq is some sort of protector for the indigenous peoples of the area? Does the fact that, in the final scenes of the episode, it approaches Lady Silence’s igloo with a seal for her to eat a sign that it is there to help the Inuit? If that is the case, then why is Lady Silence so afraid of the beast, and why did she tell her father that Tuunbaq will not obey her in the last episode? Does her silence protect her? These are all questions that, hopefully, we will get answers to in the upcoming weeks. But for now, Crozier is in charge, a rescue team has left the safety of the ships, and Tuunbaq awaits.
If you haven’t been watching this show, then shame on your house! It continues to amaze with it’s combination of historical drama and blood-chilling horror. It’s like watching an episode of Poldark, only there is a gut-twisting sense of dread filling every inch of the screen and there is a (possibly) Inuit-Avenging beast tearing people’s limbs off. i will continue to recap this incredible show every week, so do yourself a favor and bookmark Nightmare on Film Street to catch this and all of the other awesome horror content on the site. Head over to our official Facebook Group, Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street and let us know what you thought about this weeks episode.