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The Terror, Ep. 1.06: “A Mercy” — Madness Infects the Crew

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The Terror A Mercy

There are two unstated countdowns that have been progressing with every episode of AMC’s The Terror: the first is the steady march toward starvation. The Terror and the Erebus have a finite amount of salted meats and canned goods; discoveries of spoiled food speed up the clock, even as the violent deaths of the sailors slow it down a bit. The other countdown, which runs at a much faster pace, awaits the expedition’s descent into madness. In episode six, “A Mercy,” madness finally arrives, threatening to destroy all hopes of rescue.

Initially, things seem to have calmed down for the crews of Terror and Erebus. The beast has disappeared since being set aflame and shot with a cannonball in last week’s episode. Acting commander Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) has settled into his new role and is beginning to plan a trek south across the ice in search of outposts and rescue. At his urging the remaining food stores have been inventoried — there is a year’s worth of nourishment left, more if rations are decreased.

After the rest of the officers leave, Blanky (Ian Hart) remains to speak with Fitzjames. He now wears a surprisingly elegant wooden prosthesis in place of the leg he lost in his battle with the monster. Blanky recounts to Fitzjames a past expedition, one that ended poorly in starvation and despair. The speech, written by Vinnie Wilhelm, is one of the most chilling moments of The Terror so far, aided by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan’s sensitive and reserved direction. That a solitary monologue could be one of the scariest moments in a series that already among the best horror shows is impressive and, frankly, unexpected. Fitzjames sets off at the end of their discussion to scrounge up costumes for the carnival that he has decided to institute. It will be a last hurrah before the sun finally rises again and the men set off on their march. Even though The Terror is a very different kind of horror story, one built around claustrophobia and dread more than outright horror, the show nods toward classic slasher films with Fitzjames’s mask, a bleached white woman’s face that is chillingly dead-eyed and not too dissimilar from the masks in The Strangers (2008).

The Terror

Even the food that hasn’t gone putrid is still toxic — their only hope of survival is slowly killing them.

While Fitzjames is doing his best to lead, Captain Crozier (Jared Harris) is bedridden. He’s being cared for as he detoxes in the wake of the whiskey drying up. The end of last week’s episode marked the first time that Crozier had decided he wanted to live since sailing for the Arctic; despite his weakened physical state, he seems more determined than ever to get well and to lead his men to safety.

Crozier’s growing optimism is at odds with the experiments Dr. Goodsir (Paul Ready) has been conducting. He has been feeding the capuchin monkey from food cans and observing it. After living on a steady diet of the same food the sailors eat, the monkey begins to act wild and aggressive before dying. (The blood surrounding it raises the possibility that the monkey may have killed itself.) Goodsir finds that the animal has the same blackened gums he had started to observe on the men, confirming that lead from the can has leached into the food supply and is slowly poisoning them all. Even the food that hasn’t gone putrid is still toxic — their only hope of survival is slowly killing them. Goodsir shares the information with Dr. Stanley (Alistair Petrie), who instructs him to keep quiet for the time being. It won’t be clear until later, but the news of their impending doom finally pushes Stanley over the edge into madness.

The Terror

When the carnival arrives it initially seems like goodhearted frolicking, but alcohol and the sour mood pervading the expedition warps it into something darker. The bacchanal becomes increasingly hedonistic and deranged. Crozier, in his first trip outside the ship since giving up drinking, is disgusted to find the men in a state of complete disarray. In one disturbing tableau, he finds men sitting in a giant stew pot over an open flame, using it as a hot tub à la Bugs Bunny. Into this madness walks Lady Silence, who has convened with the still-living beast and cut her own tongue out in an attempt to be its new shaman. It’s not yet clear whether that action will help or harm the crew’s chances of survival.

Amidst all the tumult, Dr. Stanley goes nearly unnoticed as he douses the tents, and then himself, in kerosene. Without saying anything, he sets himself and the tent ablaze. Hickey (Adam Nagaitis), the first to see the blaze, doesn’t sound the alarm until after the doctor has already self-immolated and been extinguished, at which point his cries can barely be heard over the crowd’s roar. A mob of sailors frantically try to push against the canvas to escape, including Dr. MacDonald (Charles Edwards). Hickey tries to cut open the canvas from the other side, but the mindless mob is unable to back away from the other side. He cuts through the canvas anyway, killing MacDonald and leaving the expedition with no doctors, just Goodsir the anatomist. Now freed from the tent, the surviving men watch the blaze flicker as the sun begins to rise. It’s the first time they’ve really been warm since sailing to the top of the world. It seems likely they’ll know nothing but cold for what remains of their lives.

  • Brian Marks

Find our weekly recaps of The Terror here

Brian Marks is Sordid Cinema's Lead Film Critic. His writing has appeared in The Village Voice, LA Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, and Ampersand. He's a graduate of USC's master's program in Specialized Arts Journalism. You can find more of his writing at InPraiseofCinema.com. Best film experience: driving halfway across the the country for a screening of Jean-Luc Godard's "King Lear." Totally worth it.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. BridgetMacG

    April 25, 2018 at 11:30 am

    Hickey did sound the alarm. As soon as he saw the fire in the booze storage tent he ran around to to the main tent yelling ‘Fire’. No one could hear him over the commotion.

    • Brian Marks

      April 25, 2018 at 1:22 pm

      And apparently I didn’t hear him the first time either! The post has been updated.

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The Boys Season 2 Episode 3 Review: “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men”

The Boys’ marks an improvement and pays big dividends in an explosive, violently revealing hour.

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The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

Half bottle episode and half coming out party, “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” is a sneaky little showcase for The Boys, and just how big its world’s suddenly gotten in season two. Though ostensibly an episode designed around two events – the boys getting stuck on the boat, and Stormfront revealing her inner racist sociopath – “Over the Hill” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion. With a nimble script and a game group of performers, The Boys‘ second season is turning out to be a distinct pleasure – albeit one heading down a gruesome, dark path I sure hope it’s capable of navigating.

“Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion.

It does take a little while for “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” to get going; beginning three miles offshore with The Boys and the reunited super-siblings, the first quarter feels like it’s simply restating the stakes. It’s a nimble trick, though; led by Kimiko and Kenji, The Boys begins to feel like it is approaching a true moral quandary for the group. Which door descending into hell will they choose?

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

While The Boys often likes to posture its presenting characters with complex dilemmas, the show’s unnerving nihilism often upends any sort of nuance it looks for in its debates around “necessary” violence. Here, Kimiko’s presence throws a fascinating wrench into the proceedings; with most of the group’s members clinging to whatever mirage of family they have left (save for Hughie, who has… forgotten his dad exists?), even Butcher can’t deny having conflicting feelings about what to do with Kenji, and the deal that’s been offered to him if he turns him in.

Elsewhere, “Over the Hill” throws the brazen personalities of The Seven into their own little blenders, as Stormfront begins to sow discord through Vought, and abuse her powers to casually murder a lot of people – nearly all of them minorities, in a way that feels like an explosion of character, rather than an unpeeling of some complicated identity. Stormfront simply doesn’t give a fuck; and with her supernatural ability to manipulate feminist views (her speech to the reporters is magnificent, both in how it develops Stormfront’s character and nods to the simplistic ways in which the evilest people in society disguise themselves among the “good”).

While she’s kicking up tornadoes and electrocuting everyone that gets in her way, characters like The Deep and Homelander continue to benefit from the much-improved writing of season two. The show is still struggling to make Becca something more than the Ultimate Mother Protector trope, but Homelander’s warped sense of responsibility to his son is interesting, surely a bad sign for the upbringing of this world’s Superboy (will he also don a cool leather jacket and weird cyberpunk sunglasses? Who knows!). It’s clearly not going well; even he seems to recognize the danger in bringing his son’s powers to the surface, as its the first time in his life he’s facing a challenge as the world’s strongest hero (that is, until Stormfront doubles that total later in the episode, further frustrating Homelander’s attempts to hold domain over everything in his grasp).

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

It’s not going well for The Deep, either, as his slow descent into cult life is bringing his desperation for acceptance further to the surface. Like with Homelander’s stories, I wish The Deep’s story was a little tighter and more thoughtful (some of the body image stuff seems to be treated trivially, in a way that borders on insensitive and uninformed for the sake of easy jokes), but there’s no denying his character is infinitely more interesting this season, a test case for what a superhero trying to learn their own limits would struggle with. The Deep works best as a pathetic character, but not when it’s a pathetic character The Boys just kick around with bad punchlines; when he’s treated as a byproduct of a deeply flawed human being trying to find a path to good intentions, his fumbles and weak-minded rhetoric is much more amusing – and at times, the tiniest bit empathic (his sadness over Billy’s, well, butchering of his whale buddy was such an earnest, raw and twistedly funny moment).

The Boys has needed to accelerate its internal stakes for a while; the introduction of “super terrorists” to the world by Homelander, and Compound V’s reveal to the public might make the show’s world feel a bit smaller than intended – I think a lot about the “big” fight scenes at the end of Arrow‘s third season, where the ‘entire city’ is fighting, but there’s never more than six people around – The Boys does that on a narrative level sometimes. But as the stories of the show dig a little deeper into its characters – Maeve’s disillusionment, Homelander’s failure to emulate paternal behavior, A-Train’s desperation, it’s beginning to feel like the writers have a deeper understanding of its characters and world, and how to wield its inherent sadistic cynicism to more interesting ends. “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” benefits massively from that, setting up a number of intriguing dominoes for the back half of season two to knock over (in bloody fashion).

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Look, I’m bummed how the Kenji character played out; he was such an interesting character, an examination of everything horrible about what power and war can do to a human being. It’s sad to see The Boys dispose of such an intriguing presence, especially as its a death of a minority character in service of mostly white-related stories – however, with such a hateful, nasty character like Stormfront waiting in the wings, it is easy to see how the writers found their way down that path. (like, she could’ve killed Black Noir and this show would’ve literally lost nothing… just sayin’).
  • Can A-Train just collapse or whatever, so we can get this storyline moving? We’ve been doing this since the second episode!
  • Why haven’t we seen any reaction to Becca seeing Butcher in person at the end of season one? She hasn’t mentioned it or even had a longing look off-screen to violin music.
  • Man, I’m so glad they cast Aya Cash as Stormfront.
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The Best Golden Girl is Sophia Petrillo

Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won.

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Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

A seemingly harmless little old lady with curly white hair, oversized glasses, and an innate ability to tell a great story shows up on her daughter’s doorstep when the retirement home she was put in by said daughter burns down. With a simple, “Hi there,” the world meets Sophia Petrillo. For seven years on NBC’s The Golden Girlsa show about the senior set—Sophia lived with her intelligent and extremely sarcastic divorced daughter Dorothy Zbornak and her two roommates, sexy, eternally horny southern belle Blanche Devereaux and sweet but dim-witted Minnesotan Rose Nylund. Each is memorable in their own way, but it’s Sophia, “feisty, zesty, and full of old-world charm,” that stands out the most.

When TV was full of generic, sweet grandma types, Sophia was anything but. Sure, she looked the part with her bifocals, pearls, and now iconic straw and bamboo-beaded handbag, but Sophia was always trying to make a quick buck. She conned Rose into going into a sandwich-making business that pit them against the mob, faked being paralyzed to try and collect insurance, and constantly “borrowed” money from Dorothy’s purse. Instead of helping Dorothy, Blanche and Rose get out of jail when they are mistaken for hookers (don’t ask, just Youtube it). She stole their tickets to go to a party and meet Burt Reynolds. She also stole Rose’s car, worked at a fast-food restaurant, and won a marathon. Not bad for a woman in her eighties. Sophia had a sharp wit and an acerbic tongue, blaming her stroke for leaving her without the ability to self-censor. She was always ready with a zinger or a comeback, some of which she saved for her very own daughter.

Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

Sophia Petrillo is the Secret Star of The Golden Girls

That’s not to say she’s all schemes and insults. Beneath her tough exterior is a kind woman with a big heart who loves her family and friends. Viewers don’t often get to see her softer side, which makes the moments they do seem that much more special. One of the best Sophia episodes showed her reaction to the death of her son, Phil. She put up a wall of anger which Rose was finally able to break down in the final moments of the episode, revealing Sophia’s true feelings of guilt over Phil’s cross-dressing as she bursts into tears. Another favourite was when Dorothy expressed concern about her mother not doing enough with her days. We then get to see exactly what she gets up to sticking up for her friend and causing a scene at the grocery store while claiming to represent a fictional senior citizens union, volunteering at a sick kids hospital and later, conducting a senior citizens jazz band. Meanwhile, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche do next to nothing except sit around and eat. When she’s asked what she did all day upon her return, she simply says she bought a nectarine, and Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are none the wiser.

But if Sophia has one claim to fame, it is her colorful old-world tales about Sicily, which often as not, contain a pearl of wisdom or embellishment of some kind. We would have loved to have known her during her “picatta period (a wedge of lemon and a smart answer for everything),” when she was the most beautiful girl at a resort and all the men fought over her (so beautiful, in fact, that she had “a butt you could bounce a quarter off of”). She was also once painted by Picasso and was best friends with Mama Celeste. But I digress. Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won. Her hunches were never wrong, and rarely, if ever did she meet her match. Sophia was, in short, a one-woman show. And thanks to re-runs and fan appreciation, that show will never be gone.

  • Dasilva

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
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