[Editor’s Note: Before we say anything, this recap will obviously go into detail about last night’s episode of The Terror, so there are going to be a ton of SPOILERS. Beginning now.]
The Terror‘s first episode quickly reveals another nuanced, and brilliant, delivery from AMC. Purportedly based on true events, The Terror follows an arctic mission seeking northern passage by two British Royal Navy vessels in the mid-1800s, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror. A true story, in so far as there were two vessels so named that undertook such a journey and did in fact vanish (though both wrecks have recently been discovered, in 2014 and 2016, respectively).
The series premiere, “Go For Broke” sets up the reality of this series quite nicely. These ships and their crews are in an environment that “wants them dead,” utterly cut off from civilization or hope of deliverance (should something go wrong) and, mostly, at the mercy of the elements and the decision making abilities of the men leading them. Even without supernatural suggestion (which does make an appearance), the concept is terrifying enough. And while we quickly learn that the series title is, of course, a reference to one of the ships, it’s also quite obvious that it portends to much, much more. The Terror‘s premiere promises suspense and horror and a premise set to deliver one of the best surprises of 2018.
1845. The arctic. It’s cold AF. You’re a crewman on the HMS Terror, certainly one of the shittier name willingly assigned a sailing vessel ever. Unless the meaning of that word has changed in the prevailing years, it’s pretty much a guarantee that no one from a modern audience would willingly sign up to work on a vessel named Terror, HMS or no–it’s too obvious a death sentence from some machete-wielding lunatic, or monster, or testicular cancer.
But, all the same, a boatload of British sailors have been sent onboard that ship, and another, the HMS Erebus. Oh fuck, in Latin erebus means a place of darkness between earth and Hades, aka Hell. Who the fuck came up with these names? Well, these dudes are all doomed.
Let’s move along. The Captain of the Erebus and the full expedition, John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds) is a toe-the-line navy man, getting the King’s mission done. Captain two, of the Terror, Francis Crozier (Jared Harris), is more wary of their surroundings and urges caution. As usually happens, caution is thrown to the wind, thus condemning both ships to a fate frozen in the arctic seas.
Before we get there though, The Terror outlines just a few of the horrible ways you can die on this pleasure cruise, including falls from the rigging into icy waters below and horrible internal infections that lead one to cough up pints of blood.
In between the tension that needs no coaxing to grow, there are beautiful moments like when someone is sent below in an early diving suit to free ice from the steam-powered propeller on the Erebus. It’s spooky as all get out, and yet utterly beautiful–an incredibly imagined and executed scene.
There’s also some production humor, as Franklin and officers are entertained at one dinner by First Mate James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) speaking of Brutus following Caesar across the Rube–of course, in HBO’s Rome he played Brutus and Hind Caesar. That was an awesome moment, and probably vastly under appreciated. Clearly, there is careful thought being put into the production of this show and it is delivering all sorts of results early.
The episode ends with both ships frozen in the winter ice sheet and an arial drone view that highlights the devastating circumstances these men are now trapped in. Everything about this first episode leads you to want to know and watch more. It’s a 10 out of 10.