You may know about my passion for the North-West-Passage. It´s one of the remotest areas in the world and still very rarely visited by man. It´s the global warming that is slowly more and more opening up these fateful waters to ordinary yachtsmen and maybe my preference of aluminium made sailing yachts is also a harbinger of my strive to sail these waters. When I heard that there is a new mini-series coming up about one of the most gripping stories of the search for the North-West-Passage, I was thrilled: AMC aired “The Terror” this year and I was eating through the 10 episodes in literally one night.
“The Terror” is named after one of the two scientific vessels of the fateful Franklin-expedition of the years 1845 to (possibly) 1848. Two ships, called TERROR and EREBUS under the command of Sir John Franklin were in search for the North-West-Passage. None of them survived, both ships lost after spending two, possibly three winters in the ice. This expedition was doomed. It´s a tale of people fighting the inevitable against all odds, yet they might know that there was no chance at all. I was excited when I learned that the series was produced by Ridley Scott.
The story of “The Terror”
The series, this I might state at first, is neither a historically correct series nor is it focused on seafaring or the real intentions of the expedition. It is closely related to the 2007 novel “The Terror” by Dan Simmons. The series is categorized as a horror-series but I wouldn´t go so far to agree. Yes, there are some graphic elements and shocking moments, yes, there is always a very strong underlining feeling of horror and fear and yes, there is a gruesome “monster”, but the don´t take the label “horror series” all too serious.
For the TV-series, historical events and the real names of real people are very nicely interwoven with a fictional storyline about a “monster”: A giant, ice bear-like supernatural kind of animal that is more ghost than animal. This ghost is hunting down the people of the expedition one by one. It´s a holy ghost of Inuit legends that takes the souls of people who aren´t respecting traditions and rules of this area of the world.
In short: TERROR and EREBUS are frozen by the pack ice after making it halfway through the North-West-Passage. Stocked with goods and food to survive for more than three years, the Englishmen kind of arrogantly “invade“ the countryside and take possession of the land. Just like it was imperial manner in the Victorian age. They try to survive, make themselves comfortable in the cold, dark surroundings and stick to their “civilized” way of English living. Than, one by one, everything breaks down. Both inside of the characters and their relations to each other as well as with their hostile environment, embodied by “the monster”. It´s a huge tale of human arrogance, of incapability or unwillingness to adapt, to learn and to accept.
Most gripping aspects of “The Terror” series
Most gripping aspect of the show in my eyes is who the characters – it´s a dozen main characters you will get to know during the show – are developed throughout the show. Some leaders, strong and mighty, will become as childish and weak as you can imagine. Nice and friendly guys will turn out to be perverted, merciless killers. Young men will turn stone old, rookies will become experts and characters you may find sympathetic will turn out to be hated people. The series shows us how man can truly be in the face of no way out-situations. It shows how civilization breaks down. And how people struggle to remain human when all around them the world is breaking apart.
The story develops towards a climax of course. But the makers of the show managed to raise expectations and keep up tension high inspite of the fact that we all know what this climax will be from the first minute of the show: All will die, that is for sure. But this knowledge does not derogate the tension. The most gripping moment is when all see clear, when the riddle is solved, when there is no doubt anymore and everybody knows what is going on. Then “The Terror” is a full-fledged human tragedy, a drama that brings up the deepest fears. It´s as exciting as it can be!
What I like about “The Terror” and why you should watch it
What I found particularly great about “The Terror” were three aspects of the show which make it really worthwhile watching it. First I would say that the set-design, the backdrop and clothing are so well executed that from the first minute on the viewer will accept the dive into the Victorian age. Everything is done so meticulously and true to the original that it is visually compelling and mindblowing. Secondly, for anybody who is familiar with the real story of the Franklin-expedition, time and again real events are interconnected with the fictional story that it turns out to be believable at all. That´s great storytelling!
And third, most of all, the story has a very strong subtext, a message, that is powerful. It shows human arrogance and the ill-fated believe that we can control nature, that some humans are more valuable than others, that some cultures are destined to rule over others. “The Terror” destroys this false belief. It re-boots us. It shows how self-destroying this human hybris is and therefore “The Terror” has a very powerful message for us. In the end, one single member of the expedition will – painfully – learn this lesson and is eventually spared from the gruesome death. A light at the end of the tunnel.
My overall rating of “The Terror” is 10 of 10 points
All pictures courtesy of AMC
You may also like to read:
Review of the Donald Crowhurst movie “The Mercy”
The perfect yacht for cruising high lattitudes