The patience we showed during the opening couple of episodes of The Terror is starting to pay off. While the slow pace of the premiere does a great job of setting the scene and creating an overarching sense of dread, there’s no substitute for a splash of gore and a moments of extreme panic to really bring a horror show to life. The Terror episode 3 The Ladder does just that, but also continues to tell more stories about the excellent characters we’ve gotten to know over the past hour or so. Well, those who are still alive...
The highlight of the episode is undoubtedly the interactions between Crozier and Franklin, which add real context to the tension between the pair. Not only does it make Franklin a far less sympathetic character, it tips his stubborn, colonial optimism into hubris and arrogance - the comment about “You will never be fit to command” shedding the final scrap of sympathy we had for him, and shifting our allegiance firmly to Crozier. And that arrogance, ultimately, is his undoing at the end of the episode as The Terror - like the boldest of modern TV shows - proudly announces that none of its characters are safe from a grizzly, untimely death. And what a way to go… if you were in any doubt that The Terror was going to pull any punches with its violence, this really should have convinced you that anything can and will go.
Interestingly, it’s the knock-on effect for the crew that will likely have the biggest impact on how The Terror unfolds, because they’ve mostly bought into Franklin’s personal, heroic delusions. The foreshadowing of Franklin telling Fitzjames that he’s going to one day be Crozier’s second-in-command seems rather obvious now, but it’s unlikely the relationship between the two will be any better. It all makes for great horror TV, though, as personal grudges and stubborn beliefs start to creep ahead of common sense and the greater good. The cast of characters feels wonderfully balanced in that way, even if Franklin’s death significantly changes that dynamic.
The below decks scenes are ramping up neatly too, with the discovery that Hickey has not only been having sex with another member of the crew, but that he’s also willing to manipulate the religious prudishness of his superiors to his advantage. And while it’s all smart psychology on his behalf, it all points to a subtle unravelling of the crew, as each member or group starts to lean on their own agendas to try and survive. Adam Nagatis, who plays Hickey, really is making the character his own, and while few would say they admire him, there’s something hugely relatable about his behaviour, which is free from Victorian restraints and all about keeping himself alive and well.
Then there’s the Inuit plotline, which is clearly linked to the appearance and motivations of whatever the monster is. Again, the arrogance of British imperialism is shot through this whole story, and you can’t help but sympathise with Lady Silence and suspect that the crews (or at least the Officers) of the Terror and Erebus really have brought this horror on themselves. She - and likely the spirit of her father - have a much bigger role to play here, and they definitely hold all the knowledge to explain what the monster is, and why it’s picking off members of the crew. Speaking of which… we’re definitely not dealing with a polar bear here. The way it rips through the unfortunate members of the hunting party (who stop to pose for a photo), without really showing itself, is delightfully gruesome and very, very Alien.
Episode 3 really delivers on the potential of the season premiere, and while some of the foreshadowing and twists are a little obvious, there are some tense moments here. After all, part of the fun of horror is knowing what will happen, hoping it won’t, and then watching it all play out anyway. And maybe shouting at the TV. A bit. If that theme continues throughout The Terror, we’re in for a real treat over the next few weeks.