Readability

Review: The Terror

By John Ruberry

It [the Thames River] had borne all the ships whose names are like jew­els flash­ing in the night of time, from the Golden Hind return­ing with her round flanks full of trea­sure, to be vis­ited by the Queen’s High­ness and thus pass out of the gigan­tic tale, to the Ere­bus and Ter­ror, bound on other con­quests — and that never returned.“
Joseph Con­rad, Heart of Dark­ness.

Last Mon­day I com­pleted watch­ing AMC’s ten-​episode mas­ter­ful series, The Ter­ror, a telling, with many needed embell­ish­ments to fill in the miss­ing details, of John Franklin’s Lost Expe­di­tion of 18451848.

The voy­age was a British Navy attempt to nav­i­gate an ice-​free route through the Cana­dian Arc­tic, the North­west Pas­sage, an envi­sioned short­cut to China, that to this day, is a rarely nav­i­ga­ble by large ships. The expe­di­tion was led by Sir John Franklin, who was also the cap­tain of the Ere­bus. Fran­cis Crozier cap­tained the Ter­ror. The ships were last seen between Green­land and Baf­fin Island in 1845. After win­ter­ing off of Beechey Island, where three crew mem­bers died, the ships became trapped in the fol­low­ing year, it’s believed they never sailed again. Franklin died in 1847, and the last com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the expe­di­tion, a note left in a cairn on King William Island, reported that an astound­ing 24 men died before the ships were aban­doned in 1848. The crew of the ship totaled 134 when it departed the Thames. Only a few bod­ies and some bones – some of which betray evi­dence of can­ni­bal­ism – and a smat­ter­ing arti­facts were dis­cov­ered after an exhaus­tive series of res­cue mis­sions. Over the fol­low­ing decades it was ascer­tained that the men may have been debil­i­tated, both phys­i­cally and men­tally, by lead poi­son­ing from shod­dily sol­dered cans of food.

There were no survivors.

That’s the essence of what is known of the expedition.

The Ter­ror series, based on a novel by Dan Sim­mons, imag­i­na­tively fills in the details of what might have hap­pened to the crew.

Franklin (Cia­rán Hinds) ignores the advice of Crozier (Jared Har­ris) and they get stuck, well you already know that part of the story. The ships are men­aced by a mys­te­ri­ous crea­ture, Tuun­baq, which appears to be a polar bear. An Eskimo woman (Nive Nielsen) becomes their only human con­nec­tion to the Arc­tic, of which Crozier says, “This place wants us dead.”

True, very true.

About Tuun­baq: Is it real, or an elab­o­rate exag­ger­a­tion where Inuit leg­end melds with lead-​poisoned induced dementia?

The most com­pelling char­ac­ter is a young petty offi­cer, Cor­nelius Hickey (Adam Nagaitis), who in a role rem­i­nis­cent of George Segal’s in the Japan­ese pris­oner of war movie, King Rat, uses the cat­a­stro­phe to recre­ate him­self as a leader. As so often hap­pens, when order col­lapses cun­ning oper­a­tors such as Hickey move in. Some­thing bad becomes some­thing worse.

Of course they don’t real­ize it right away, but the crew of the Franklin Expe­di­tion are impris­oned just as the inmates in King Rat were.

Crozier finally decides to aban­don the ships – and the crew embarks on an 800-​mile jour­ney by foot to a remote main­land Cana­dian out­post – pulling many of their belong­ings, includ­ing unneeded books, in lifeboats refash­ioned as sleds.

The sit­u­a­tion becomes dread­ful for them as the series gets even better.

The Ter­ror was filmed in Hun­gary, superbly done CGI repli­cates the ice-​bound ships and the rocky ter­rain of Beechey and King William islands. If you per­form a Google image search of these for­lorn islands, you’ll swear the series was filmed on location.

Paul Ready’s por­trayal of sur­geon Harry Good­sir, who remains kindly even while he gen­tly declines the request of a dying man that he not per­form an autopsy on him, is also praiseworthy.

I enjoyed the series, although I have to call out an over­done flog­ging scene that devolved into sado­masochis­tic torture.

Then again, like Conrad’s steam­boat in his novella, the Ter­ror and the Ere­bus sailed “into the heart of an immense darkness.”

AMC is still show­ing The Ter­ror and it’s avail­able where I live on Xfin­ity On Demand.

This show is not for the squeamish.

John Ruberry reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit.

By John Ruberry

“It [the Thames River] had borne all the ships whose names are like jewels flashing in the night of time, from the Golden Hind returning with her round flanks full of treasure, to be visited by the Queen’s Highness and thus pass out of the gigantic tale, to the Erebus and Terror, bound on other conquests—and that never returned.”
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.

Last Monday I completed watching AMC’s ten-episode masterful series, The Terror, a telling, with many needed embellishments to fill in the missing details, of John Franklin’s Lost Expedition of 1845-1848.

The voyage was a British Navy attempt to navigate an ice-free route through the Canadian Arctic, the Northwest Passage, an envisioned shortcut to China, that to this day, is a rarely navigable by large ships. The expedition was led by Sir John Franklin, who was also the captain of the Erebus. Francis Crozier captained the Terror. The ships were last seen between Greenland and Baffin Island in 1845. After wintering off of Beechey Island, where three crew members died, the ships became trapped in the following year, it’s believed they never sailed again. Franklin died in 1847, and the last communication from the expedition, a note left in a cairn on King William Island, reported that an astounding 24 men died before the ships were abandoned in 1848. The crew of the ship totaled 134 when it departed the Thames. Only a few bodies and some bones–some of which betray evidence of cannibalism–and a smattering artifacts were discovered after an exhaustive series of rescue missions. Over the following decades it was ascertained that the men may have been debilitated, both physically and mentally, by lead poisoning from shoddily soldered cans of food.

There were no survivors.

That’s the essence of what is known of the expedition.

The Terror series, based on a novel by Dan Simmons, imaginatively fills in the details of what might have happened to the crew.

Franklin (Ciarán Hinds) ignores the advice of Crozier (Jared Harris) and they get stuck, well you already know that part of the story. The ships are menaced by a mysterious creature, Tuunbaq, which appears to be a polar bear. An Eskimo woman (Nive Nielsen) becomes their only human connection to the Arctic, of which Crozier says, “This place wants us dead.”

True, very true.

About Tuunbaq: Is it real, or an elaborate exaggeration where Inuit legend melds with lead-poisoned induced dementia?

The most compelling character is a young petty officer, Cornelius Hickey (Adam Nagaitis), who in a role reminiscent of George Segal’s in the Japanese prisoner of war movie, King Rat, uses the catastrophe to recreate himself as a leader. As so often happens, when order collapses cunning operators such as Hickey move in. Something bad becomes something worse.

Of course they don’t realize it right away, but the crew of the Franklin Expedition are imprisoned just as the inmates in King Rat were.

Crozier finally decides to abandon the ships–and the crew embarks on an 800-mile journey by foot to a remote mainland Canadian outpost–pulling many of their belongings, including unneeded books, in lifeboats refashioned as sleds.

The situation becomes dreadful for them as the series gets even better.

The Terror was filmed in Hungary, superbly done CGI replicates the ice-bound ships and the rocky terrain of Beechey and King William islands. If you perform a Google image search of these forlorn islands, you’ll swear the series was filmed on location.

Paul Ready’s portrayal of surgeon Harry Goodsir, who remains kindly even while he gently declines the request of a dying man that he not perform an autopsy on him, is also praiseworthy.

I enjoyed the series, although I have to call out an overdone flogging scene that devolved into sadomasochistic torture.

Then again, like Conrad’s steamboat in his novella, the Terror and the Erebus sailed “into the heart of an immense darkness.”

AMC is still showing The Terror and it’s available where I live on Xfinity On Demand.

This show is not for the squeamish.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.