For eight weeks, Stephen Smith and Russell Potter have reviewed each episode of the AMC show The Terror for Canadian Geographic. Their take on the series’ 10th and final episode — “We Are Gone” — appears below.
Our scene opens on an apocalyptic world, its men and its landscape blasted clean of all hope. Crozier, bloodied in some incident we’ve missed, arrives at Hickey’s camp, compliant with his captors yet aloof. There is a sort of weird bond between these two utterly opposite men: Crozier, whom Hickey calls “near an equal,” and Hickey, the only man Crozier will not forgive. The captain and the madman, each leading an equally beaten, bedraggled and recalcitrant group of men onward, onward, onward … to what? To where? To paraphrase the great Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen from her epic Terror and Erebus, we have “come to the end of science.”
We knew it was coming, of course. We knew that we would, in the end, lose everyone and everything — and therein lies the genius of this show, which over nine episodes has wrung extraordinary tension and transformation out of what we know to be inevitable. Our fractions have been simplified and reduced, in the end giving us two last parenthetical equations stuck between a sign — but we never quite know whether it is equal or unequal; perhaps it is both. Hickey’s men follow him doggedly, though it’s clear that many have begun to doubt his sanity; Crozier’s men follow him with a devotion that even Edward Little, their senior surviving officer, cannot bend to his will. The full horror of cannibalism, epitomized in Goodsir’s inert and partly eaten body, is reduced by this mathematics to a frozen zero: we can go no lower, yet on we go. It’s not the first time the series made me think of Samuel Beckett.
Jared Harris’s performance as Crozier is extraordinary: he who was once the man with an alarm in one hand and a bottle in the other now emanates an almost spiritual sobriety, a total abstinence from it all. Even when, at the beck of a rifle butt, he’s forced to eat a piece of Goodsir, he remembers his promise and eats only the heel, the toughest part, and manages to do so with defiance. Hickey, that calculating Iago, moves on, looking for easier targets, and finds them almost until the end.
I have to say that I thought the final scene with Tuunbaq somehow less than satisfying. What was the meaning of Hickey cutting out his own tongue? And a shaman-summoned creature, it seems to me, should not come to such a distinctively carnal and earthly end — but who am I to say? As Crozier himself admits, “About the creature I have no answers, Mr. Hickey. We were not meant to know of it.” Lady Silence — whose name, we learn at last, is Silna — offers a kind of belated baptism, pouring water over her father’s creature’s broken jaw.
But what comes after seems exactly right: Crozier, seeking out the last tents of his fallen men, makes a night-watchman-like inspection, without guilt or rancor or self-reproach. What has happened to them now cannot matter; it is part of the way of all flesh. Even when he finds the last man living, Edward Little, with golden chains pinned to the skin of his face, his look is only that of compassion. (As a side-note, the detail of a man with gold chains attached to his ears comes directly from Inuit testimony, as enigmatic there as it is here). Crozier has made his rounds, blessing his men with his cauterized absent hand as best he can.
The very last scene is the most powerful and painful of the series — or perhaps the most liberating. We learn that Crozier himself has told the “Netsilik Man” (brilliantly portrayed by Johnny Issaluk) to tell those who come after “not to stay. There is no way through, no Passage … tell them we are gone.” And he himself, concealed within his caribou-skin parka and hood, is there to hear it said. We sense Crozier’s impassiveness, his lack of all desire to be discovered — and we feel it with him. We will go on, away from this scene of carnage and curiosity; we will live and eat and breathe and travel the great miles with our families — and we will forget, forgetfulness being in some strange way the best memorial of all.
So, Stephen — glad to have you here, at the end of all things! — I wondered what insights you might have into Hickey’s final moments, his rambling confession to no one in particular, and his bizarre self-glossectomy? And did you feel satisfied with the way the finale tied up — or left untied — all the many loose threads of this densely-woven story?
Don’t mind me here: just trying to find my feet again after that knock-me-down finale. There a few threads I find myself tugging at, in the bleak aftermath of what we’ve just seen, mostly in an effort to assess whether any of the sympathetic survivors we’ve been following ended up in a manner that could be counted as anything other than horrific. Jopson? No. He dies abandoned, believing his beloved captain has forsaken him. Goodsir? I guess he does seize back some of his independence, thwarting Hickey while grasping on to a wisp of serenity (“This place is beautiful to me now”) — but none of that makes his the death and what follows any less frightful.
I agree that Crozier’s fate here feels right. I like your thoughts, Russell, about what constitutes the core of The Terror’s genius, and endorse them wholeheartedly. I agree that the end is painfully perfect, both in terms of the drama we’ve watched unfold and as a nod to the history of speculation regarding Aglooka and “the last man standing.” The notion that a lone Franklineer might have wandered the Arctic for years and years seeking rescue is a provocative one — almost as tantalizing as the idea that he might have been trying to avoid it.
And Hickey, whoever he really is? How does he attain this final threshold looking so amazingly refreshed? Among the woebegone staggering remnants of the crews, he alone appears to be healthy to the end, upright and bright-eyed, soreless, scurvy-free, seeming to find pleasure in the suffering that’s all around him. And yet for all that, of course, his disease runs deep: Hickey’s is a stage-four moral malignancy. If we didn’t realize the extent of it before, there’s no doubting now what an evil lunatic he is, if not quite a raving one — yet.
And so to the showdown with Tuunbaq. I won’t say that I understand what Hickey is hoping for here. In his curdled reasoning, at this late hour, he seems to believe that he’s discovered his destiny, which is … to ally himself with / take command of / become what Goodsir calls, in Dan Simmons’ novel upon which the series is based, the White Monstrosity?
Hickey’s time as Tuunbaq-wannabe is short enough. In seeking communion with the beast, finally — finally — Hickey bites off more than he can chew. Coincidentally, he also turns out to be more than can be chewn. After all the tragedy of Jopson’s demise, and Goodsir’s, and — well, just about everybody else’s, to date — this is one death we might grimly approve of, if not outright cheer. Here’s a man so execrable in his thinking and his conduct that not even an all-devouring monster can stomach him without choking to death. That seems about right.
And yet. Like you, Russell, I’m not sure how satisfied I am with the end of Tuunbaq’s dreadful reign. I have questions.
Is it just me, or weren’t we building towards the idea that the monster was the vengeful spirit of the land, punishing the kabloona for violating the sanctity of the North, for disrupting the natural order of things? How, then, to explain this abrupt and all too mortal ending? Was Tuunbaq somewhat supernatural, or not at all? Is the lesson of his death one that parents everywhere eternally preach: don’t bolt your food? If he’d only taken his time with his meal, would he have survived?
I did steer back, briefly, to browse Dan Simmons’ novel. The story takes many different turns there, especially toward the end, from what we’ve been seeing. I’m not here to be second-guessing either way, but the novel does include an entire chapter detailing Tuunbaq’s background and the rationale for his marauding, as Crozier comes to understand them. Tuunbaq doesn’t die, on the page, I guess because he doesn’t have to — as the kabloona drop one by one, balance is restored.
That said, watching the screen, I’ve been absorbed by The Terror from stem to stern, as much by the virtues of the storytelling and the performances as by the attention to historical detail. This is, as they say, going to leave a mark. Seems almost cruel to say it, after all the desolation of these 10 harrowing chapters, but The Terror leaves me wishing there were more.