AMC’s “The Terror,” Bone-Chilling Horror

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At the halfway point of its first season, AMC’s “The Terror” is one of the most bone-chilling series on television of the last few years. Produced by Ridley Scott, the director behind Alien, the show is an adaptation of Dan Simmons’ nearly 800-page novel of the same name, which fictionalizes the doomed expedition of a Royal Naval crew that was charged with finding the Arctic’s treacherous northwest passage in the mid-19th Century.

“The Terror” follows the crews of the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus and the stories of Francis Crozier (Jared Harris) and Captain John Franklin (Ciaran Hands), two men with different views on how to survive brutal conditions. Crozier has more experience navigating the Arctic and has both a respect for its raw conditions and its native people, while Franklin is a foolhardy man who thinks that God and religious belief will be their salvation. Frequently, he ignores the advice of Crozier, who is far more seasoned in his exploration of the Arctic. He also expresses disdain towards the few native people/Eskimos that the crews encounter. Instead of working with them to better understand their dire situation, he boots them off the ship and treats them as the Other. Only a few episodes in, Franklin meets the fate that he deserves, thus leaving Crozier in command.

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(Captain Franklin in AMC’s “The Terror”)

Simmons did draw on history to pen the novel, and the real terror is the long, agonizing deaths that the crews face from starvation, bitter temperatures, and cannibalism. Simmons embellished the story by creating a monster that stalks and kills the men. So when they’re not worried about starving to death, they have to worry about losing limbs to some beast that is never fully seen in the TV show, at least not yet, and is only described in brief flashes in the novel.

“The Terror” has several parallels to Ridley Scott’s Alien. The film’s now infamous xenomorph is not seen until the film’s final act, which leaves more to the viewer’s imagination. It stalks the crew members on the ship and picks them off one by one, similar to the beast/demon in “The Terror.” There is also an immense sense of isolation in both “The Terror” and Alien. In the Arctic, no one can hear you scream. No one comes to save the crew, nor does anyone come to save the doomed mining expedition in Alien. Space is as cruel and indifferent as the Arctic. Visually, “The Terror” is one stunning TV adaptation, with long-shot views of walls of ice and white landscapes, to the close-ups of ice shards on the ships and the worried looks of the men when they’re alone in their cabins, wondering how they’ll possibly survive. The visuals are on par with some of Scott’s best work behind the camera.

It is unclear at this moment if “The Terror” will have a second season, but there is much left of the novel to adapt, including Cozier’s relationship with a native Eskimo, Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen), which stands in stark contrast to the colonizing attitudes of Franklin and some of the other men. Hickey (Adam Nagaitis) has yet to fully transform into a monstrous villain, and the friendship between Crozier and Captain James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies), Franklin’s next in line,  will need more than a few remaining episodes to develop.

For now, there are still a handful of episodes left to enjoy of season 1.

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