The Terror season 1 episode 4 review: "Slowly upping its threat and levels of outright horror"

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Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that the crew of the Terror and the Erebus were a hell of a lot more confident with Captain Franklin around. The Terror episode 4 - Punished, as a Boy - sees indiscipline creeping deeper into the crew, with the gap between haughty Victorian authority, and the desires of the crew growing far smaller. Crozier may be a good Captain, but he’s no superstar, and his stern pragmatism is no match for the creature, which is now picking seamen off the frozen ships like a hungry customer taking sushi off a kaiten belt.

Despite the increase in violence and threat in episode 4, the scene that stands out most is undoubtedly when Hickey is punished (as a boy) for kidnapping Lady Silence and bringing her aboard the Terror. It’s a harrowing reminder of the savagery of men, but also the extreme actions of a Victorian culture struggling to keep order when faced with a threat it simply doesn’t understand. You can’t blame Crozier for trying to keep order amongst his restless men, and it’s technically the right thing to do, given how badly Lady Silence is treated (yes, despite the fact it’s becoming glaring obvious she’s in league with, or controlling, the monster), but the rational side of you knows that Hickey is probably right. His punishment, then, is a confusing moment of justice administered at the wrong time, and therefore feels a little hollow.

Seeing someone punished so brutally is going to do nothing for the crew’s morale, nor is the fact that they’re starting to get picked off, even inside their former safe-haven of inside the ships. There’s a brilliant stillness and suspense to the scenes where Crozier checks the watch himself, and the show is doing a great job of making us fear the darkness as much as the icy void. It’ll undoubtedly tighten those particular points of tension as the show rolls on.

The funeral for Franklin is another great scene, and one that almost generates sympathy for the man who - essentially - has doomed his crew to a horrific fate. There’s clear fondness for his character, even if some of the crew are a little less complementary, and you can sense the discomfort of the surviving officers, who are not only worrying about their own survival, but how to keep a handle on the crew. Crozier, as we’ve already discussed, is under significant pressure. But that’s the fun of a show like this.

Finally, there’s Lady Silence herself. There’s no doubt she’s been treated poorly, and the desperate attempts to get through to her made by Henry Goodsir are some of the most compassionate moments of humanity in a show that otherwise delights in denying it. She’s clearly the key to the whole supernatural element, and while we know how much trauma she’s been through, it’s tough to find much sympathy for her at the moment. Perhaps that’s a deliberate move by the show itself, to keep us firmly rooted in the perspective of the crewmen who have walked into this nightmare. 

The Terror is slowly upping its threat and levels of outright horror, yet it retains the deliberate and considered characterisation that provided such a great platform at the start. Right now it feels like a fine balance of the two, and episode 4 is a good one, even if it comes at a time when some shows tend to suffer mid-season bloat. The only downside is that it suffers for losing Franklin because - love him or hate him - much like the crew, the show isn’t quite as confident without him. It’s still great TV, but the loss of Franklin highlights the downside of shocking an audience by killing off a major character so early in the story. 

The Terror premiered on AMC in the US on March 26, and comes to BT TV in the UK on April 24.