AMC surprised me with The Terror, their long form adaptation of Dan Simmons’s horror novel. This is a horror story, but it’s also so much more, an entire world of storytelling woven into ten episodes that feel almost like real time, or at least that’s how invested I was. I also binged the whole thing in one sitting yesterday (don’t judge) so that probably helped to make it an immersive experience as well. This is flat out fantastic work on every level and probably the best thing the network has done, or at least my favourite.
The time period is the mid 1800’s, as the two real life Royal Navy ships the H.M.S. Eberus and H.M.S. Terror wind their way through the arctic, trying to find a Northwest Passage. Now anyone who knows their history ahead of time (I didn’t) recalls that these two vessels infamously disappeared out there, and all one hundred twenty nine of their crew were sadly never heard from again. This story blends fact, fiction, Inuit mythology and esoteric aspects to envision what might have befallen them, and the result is mesmerizing. Captained by Sir John Franklin (the great Ciaran Hinds) and Francis Crozier (Jared Harris), their situation becomes dire when the ships are moored in impenetrable ice and stuck for literal years. They face just about as many hardships as you can throw at a poor band of marooned sailors including dwindling food supplies, madness, mutiny and the elements but there’s also something else out there, something big, mean, savage and out to hunt or maul anyone who strays too far onto the tundra. Hinds does a stellar job as the brave but unsteady Captain, while Harris blasts into the stratosphere with a role that will probably define his career and serve as a glowing example of how to embody a brilliantly written character arc. Game Of Thrones’s Tobias Menzies is superb as Fitjames, their fussy third in command who learns some hard lessons. The cast are all absolutely on fire and there’s too many performances to praise here but standouts are Ian ‘Professor Quirrell’ Hart as the resilient badass Mr. Blanky, Christos Lawton as conflicted senior officer Hodgson and Paul Ready as Goodsir, a compassionate, thoughtful doctor. My favourite performance/character is that of Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen), an Inuit woman who crosses their paths and must tangle with the creature alongside them, she plays the fear well while holding her own in scenes that require careful internal intuition.
This show gets severely bloody and realistic in depiction of the monster attacks and all the other horrors that befall these poor souls. It’s violent, disturbing on a soul level, unrelentingly bleak at times and the depraved human behaviour on display is chilling. But despite all that, there’s a warmth, a fellowship among these men and you really come to care about them as much as they care for and try to help each other through an unimaginable ordeal. The environment around them is brutally indifferent to their plight, but there’s a sombre beauty as well and though much of it is CGI, it’s always breathtaking. Ice caps, frozen inlets and desolate plains open up to greet them, it’s a lonely place inhabited only by Inuit and the beast that hunts them. The original music by Marcus Fjellström is beautifully haunting and makes this journey all the more atmospheric. I’ve heard that AMC plans to make this an anthology and kick off season two with a different setting and story. If it’s anywhere close to as top quality as this, I’ll be there. One of the best season of television I’ve seen in a while.