[Editor’s Note: Before we say anything, this recap will obviously go into detail about this episode of The Terror, so there are going to be a ton of SPOILERS. Beginning now.]
Interesting episode title, isn’t it? What exactly do they mean by punished as a boy? I’d have had no idea either–in fact, when the line of dialogue it derives from is uttered, I didn’t. Yet, punishing a man, as a boy, onboard a British Royal Navy vessel frozen in ice for over a year in the arctic sea, is really the heart of this episode. It is brutal. While the men onscreen certainly flinch, the filmmaking (yes, I’m calling it filmmaking) does not. You’ve probably seen some realistic violence in the film and television realms, and in terms of lashings, I know that The Passion of the Christ is ranked highly, but this portrayal of military justice in life or death dire straights, was hard to watch. It’s precisely why this series continues to (bad pun warning) break ice and remain so highly watchable.
We begin our episode five months after the conclusion of the last, in London, where the wife of the now deceased Captain Franklin, and his niece, make their case to the admiralty to take action now to attempt to locate the two vessels and rescue the men, if the situation warrants it. Obviously, no one has heard from the vessels since long before they became trapped in the Arctic, over a year (and likely more months) gone. It’s a fascinating moment, meant to emphasize that there are other realities still happening in the world outside the frozen north, and highlighting, through the inaction of the admiralty, just how hopeless things are for our protagonists on The Erebus and The Terror. No one is coming for them anytime soon. They are as adrift and the concept of adrift allows, adrift in a world where they’re frozen in place, kept from everyone and everything, and simultaneously in a world that keeps all from them.
Visually, the scene is a stunner. The sets, whether found or created are beautifully depicted. The historical accuracy, I would wager, top notch. AMC has a proven track record of going to great lengths to depict period pieces with high levels of such; Mad Men was renowned for it, and with ample justification. An acquaintance of mine is the head of a local municipal historical society in Westchester County, New York. Series producers reached out for consultation on historical points of interest of every size from the great to the trivial in order to most accurately reflect the times in everything they did.
This aspect of The Terror alone has made it a breathtaking experience from the get go, but still continues to astound as we accumulate episodes. Similarly, its eerie score doesn’t disappoint. Composer Marcus Fjellström’s scoring credits are far too limited on IMDB.com–in fact, half-defined by The Terror. I would expect this to change. The sepulchral notes haunted my mind this week past as I couldn’t help but dwell on The Terror.
Of course, The Terror, in every episode, continues to be a two-act division: in one, men face the specter of certain death due to their incredible surroundings and circumstances. In the other, they face the promise of stalking death in the form of a murderous polar bear, a bear whose actions become less and less likely owing to a mere animal as the series progresses. It’s dual storytelling of horror unimaginable delivered by both nature and the fantastic. It’s in Punished As a Boy that the deaths leave behind evidence to warrant speculation as to the nature of what stalks these ships. And yet, while grisly prizes decorate the ice and ships’ decks alike, the “creature” is still the background to the natural setting as foremost antagonist–a fact highlighted by the deadly beauty of northern lights dominating a night sky, or the final ‘day’ of the year, as the men witness a sunrise, day, and sunset in a span of moments, the last they’ll see as winter runs its long, dark-uninterrupted course until spring.
Suddenly, three sailors take it upon themselves to capture the Eskimo woman. Apparently, known the sailors, she’s been living nearby all these months, surviving, but not interacting with them. Once the men come to conclude that she’s connected to the appearance of the thing killing them at a quickening pace, they decide to bring her in and question her. Only, these three sailors did so on their own, without orders, and are subsequently punished.
As the music dies, our resident miscreant, the low-ranking Cornelius Hickey is unstrapped from the bulkhead of the upper decks, his back visibly lashed to ribbons by ten lashes. Mr. Hickey earned himself 30 lashes with his loose tongue and errant judgement (already witnessed at earlier points in the series). He also earned himself the added benefit of having his drawers lowered for all lashings to be applied to his rear end, hence the ‘as a boy’ reference. The action follows Hickey’s reactions from his face, and the reactions of the assembled men witnessing his maiming–until they suddenly cut to a view of his ass mid-lashing. It’s horrific. As it is again when they do so mid-lash stroke, so that you actually witness his flesh split in one moment. The length of the scene, drawn out in full effect to capture the cruelty and pain inherent in 30 strokes with a lash is realism that will offend some viewers, but heightens the authority of its show in not wavering from its vision of horror.
Until now, nature and beast were the only opponents to these mens’ survival; now, the human element comes into play. Grudges are being spawned with the seeds of violence, resentment, and desperation. At some point, it will surely come to play when men will hold each other’s lives in the balance.
I’m intentionally avoiding a scene by scene recap in favor of something that attempts (and no doubt fails) to do justice to this show. Another review lauded it last week, urging those missing Game of Thrones to check our The Terror. There’s no genre comparison, only a recommendation born from informed perspective recognizing that those missing greatness will find greatness here. And, of course, both are unflinching in their depiction of brutality that will shock every time and keep you thinking about it long after the viewing has concluded.