There are many questions that have dogged AMC’s The Terror, but one of the most pressing has been about the nature of the creature that has slowly picked off the members of Terror and Erebus. This week’s episode, “First Shot a Winner, Lads,” finally reveals the identity of the beast. That information is packed within a relatively strong episode, even if the ultimate reveal is a bit of a letdown.
At the start of the episode, things have calmed down aboard the two stranded ships. A group of soldiers and marines are testing explosions from their cannons — something about measuring distance and temperature that isn’t well explained. The men of the dramatically tilting Terror have transferred to the Erebus, which is now bustling. Among their ranks is Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen), who will only communicate with the anatomist Harry Goodsir (Paul Ready). He has resorted to trying to create a dictionary of her language after multiple refusals to reveal anything about the beast that hunts them. Captain Fitzjames orders that Lady Silence be sent back to the Terror, claiming that she “upsets” the men.
On Terror, Crozier (Jared Harris) is starting to fall apart. His alcoholism has become more apparent, either because he’s no longer able to hide it or because his supply of whiskey is nearing its end. When Lady Silence is brought to the Terror, he questions her with the other officers. His efforts to learn a way to destroy the beast are wasted — Lady Silence asks why he even wants to know since he wishes for his own death. There’s no answer about the beast or Crozier’s mortality.
There’s little hope for the men on The Terror, yet the end of this week’s episode gives us just a glimmer.
Shortly after their conference, the beast returns to the Terror, killing some of the men posted on deck. It displays remarkable speed — when it pulls a sailor off the deck he seems to go flying through the air. We also get our first real look at the creature’s feet, which looks more like fingers or talons than a bear’s paw. Blanky (Ian Hart), Crozier’s second-in-command on the Terror, finds himself face to face with the creature. He climbs all the way up the ship’s mast, to which he’s pursed by the monster. We see it in full or the first time, a bear-shaped creature, but short-haired, and with a flatter, more man-like face. It’s a bit disappointing, considering that it isn’t inherently scary looking. But it’s an appropriate creature considering its importance to the indigenous people. Blanky is able to set the creature on fire with kerosene, which provides enough illumination for the crew to partially strike it with a cannonball. Blanky and the beast come crashing down, he with a terrible gash in his leg and it bleeding and running off into the night. Blanky’s attack clears up a crucial question the show left in the air: does the beast target sailors because of some moral failure, or does it hunt indiscriminately? Blanky has presented himself as one of the most righteous men on the Terror, so it seems that no one is truly safe.
Blanky’s leg is too damaged to maintain, so he’s immediately prepped for amputation. This being the mid-1800s, the only anesthetic available to the doctors is alcohol. Crozier unexpectedly donates one of his last two bottles of whiskey — he refuses to touch gin — and the men all share a shot after the doctor starts sawing away at the leg.
After the surgery, Crozier calls the other officers to his quarters to announce that Captain Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) will be taking command for the next few weeks while he is incapacitated. He refuses to say it out loud, but the withdrawal will leave him in no condition to lead the men. Fitzjames is unusually noble about the temporary tradeoff. He’s gone from being an insufferable brag to someone much closer in temperament to Crozier.
We know how this series will probably end. After all, it’s based on historical events, even if the show chooses to follow a fictional novel’s version of those events. There’s little hope for the men on The Terror, yet the end of this week’s episode gives us just a glimmer. Lady Silence refused to help Crozier battle the beast because he wished for his own death. Now it seems he might actually want to live.
- Brian Marks
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