I can sympathize with the stranded men aboard the H.M.S. Terror and H.M.S. Erebus. In high school, my team and I were playing in a national basketball tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We, being a pretty decent squad, were in the semifinals of the tournament set to play a team from Kentucky for the opportunity to compete for the national championship. We were confident as we warmed up for the game, having not encountered much opposition so far in the tournament, when the other team entered the stadium. These guys were wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts for their uniforms. What kind of tools were we about to play? Our coach mentioned that they were from a Mennonite village and believed that their young men should be covered when they compete in sports. Ok, so we are about to play a bunch of scrawny farm kids wearing swishy-pants and long-john tops. No problem. The only question I had was whether I would drop 40 on them, or if I would take it easy and only give them 30. We finished warming up and walked to the bench, already mentally preparing for our championship game match-up.
Then the game started. What followed was 32 minutes of complete and total annihilation at the hands of those young Mennonite men. It was a bloodbath. We were completely and utterly destroyed by the Breakaway-Pants-Brigade, ending our season and the basketball careers of several of my friends.
The men and officers in this week’s episode looked a lot like we did after the first quarter of that game. The shocked look of desperation when you begin to realize that you are completely and totally outmatched. That the adversary you thought you were facing is different from what you thought it was. In “Punished, as a Boy”, Captain Crozier and his crew finally come to the understanding that they are not dealing with a bear anymore. They are dealing with something different, and much, much worse.
The episode begins back in London as Lady Jane and her niece Sophia beg the Admiralty to send a rescue team to find the two missing ships. Lady Jane knows her husband and knows his limitations and his strengths. She knows that he would never neglect to send word if everything is just fine on the mission. They are brushed off by the stodgy officers, who assure the women that if no word is heard from Sir John by 1850, they will then send a rescue mission. Unfortunately for the men stranded in the Arctic, it is only November of 1847. Leaving the office, Lady Jane tells her nice of her plan to start their own search. She feels that Sir John’s spirit is with her, telling her that he needs help. She has no idea how correct she is.
“We have confidence absolute in your husband’s command.”-The Admiralty
“Are you sure that is merited?”- Lady Jane
Aboard the H.M.S. Terror, Captain Crozier is losing it. He is drowning his despair in liquor and avoiding any interaction with his men. He has no idea what time it is, and almost forgets about an officer’s meeting he is supposed to be leading. A commotion above decks rouses him from his stupor, and he finds out that the beast has taken one of the men on watch from the ship. Amazed at the brazen attack, Crozier send out search parties to find the man, leading one himself out into the frozen wastes.
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He leaves the ship with ship’s boy Thomas Evans (Joe Hurst) in search of the missing man. In what is one of the most beautiful shots on television this year, the pair trudge along the ice in mid-afternoon darkness, the only light coming from the green auroras dancing in the skies above. In a classic Scooby-Doo move, Crozier runs ahead to find the body of the missing marine, only to hear the screams of Evans behind him as he is swept away, leaving only his hat and his blood behind.
Fitzpatrick, handsome as ever, has lost the little bit of confidence he had in Crozier. He begs Crozier to lay off the booze, and asks him why in the hell he took this job in the first place. It was for love, we find out. He has asked Sophia to marry him twice so far, and has been turned down for his lack of station and his overall Irish-ocity. The only way he will ever gain enough respect for her approval is if he takes this last mission as a first-mate. Disgusted with the outcome of the mission and the dismal prospects for himself in the real world, Crozier leaves the room to fins that there has been yet another body found on the ship.
“You’re going to need all the pity you have… for what’s coming”- Francis Crozier to James Fitzjames
It is the body of Thomas Evans, bisected by a claw. Hickey finds the body, stood up on the deck of the ship, placed there by the beast to, again, try to get them to chase. The doctors tell the captains that this was a deliberate cut by a claw. One slice after another, in the small location, to intentionally cut the boy in half. Fitzjames refuses to believe that an animal has the cunning necessary to torment the men in this way, but he is assured that no man has the strength to pull this off. Only the beast’s tracks were found outside the ship, and it is decided that the indigenous woman camping near the ships must know something about the attacks. Crozier orders them to find her in the morning and to bring her to the ship unharmed and with all due respect.
Hickey, in his self-confident way, decides on his own to go after the woman and bring her back to the ship. He takes two men with him and, through obvious force, brings her aboard the Terror and sets her before an angry mob of seamen and marines. Crozier puts an end to the almost-riot pretty quickly with a shot from his pistol, and orders that no harm will come to the woman. Below deck, he questions Hickey and the other two men who perpetrated the abduction of the indigenous woman. Hickey tells him that he saw the beast with the woman. She was attempting to put a spell on the beast, and it was spooked away by the woman’s actions. He reports that it is three times the size of any bear that he has seen, with a “different set to the head” and indescribable eyes. They seem almost human, the way they search the horizon.
For their mutinous actions, the three men are ordered to be lashed 12 times. After Hickey objects, telling the Captain that he should be thanked, not punished, Crozier orders that Hickey will receive 30 lashings, and that he will be “punished as a boy”. As Hickey is brought to the lashing table, his pants are lowered and the rest of the crew is forced to watch as his backside is sliced and decimated by the thirty swings of the cat. The faces on the men show their disgust with the actions of the captain, and the look on Hickey’s is one of murderous determination. The title of the episode, and the way they forced us to watch this brutal punishment unfold, sets up the rest of the series as Hickey will surely attempt to get his revenge for this humiliation.
During Hickey’s interrogation, he tells Crozier that he doesn’t think that it’s just a bear they are facing. Crozier looks him in the eye and simply states, “We know”. This matter-of-fact statement that this creature that is hunting them is more than they originally thought is what drives this show. They know that they are outmatched, they know that they are doomed, but they are stuck. What can they do? They started this mission with supreme confidence and hubris, only to be struck down and demoralized by a superior foe. Much like those young Mennonite boys from Kentucky did to my basketball team all those years ago, Tunbaaq has psychologically destroyed these men. When a man is scared and faces a superior foe, he turns against those around him, which is exactly what the men of the H.M.S. Terror are about to do.
This week’s episode of AMC’s The Terror might seem like a “filler” episode to some, but I assure you that it is anything but. It is yet another example of expert storytelling from the show runners. It advances the story while losing none of the momentum brought to us by last week’s bloodbath. It develops side characters while also setting up their motivations for the advancement to the forefront of the story. It is another hour that we get to spend inside the universe of the best show on television, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Keep an eye right here on Nightmare on Film Street as we continue to recap each week’s episode. If you haven’t already, join our Facebook Group, Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street, and let us know what you think of The Terror. Are you loving this show as much as we are? Join the horde and let us know!