The Terror: or how to successfully pace horror for TV (Spoilers hidden)


For those of you who haven’t seen this series, The Terror is set on a British expedition in the mid-19th century to find “The Northwest Passage” in the Canadian Arctic. It’s based on a novel by author Dan Simmons, who in turn based it on the real and famous expedition of Sir John Franklin. Without trying to give too much away, the show deals with horrors of being stuck in the Arctic wastes, and a little more.

The reason I strongly recommend this if you’re even slightly interested is because it is one of those rare shows which glitters in quality in all corners. Everything from cinematography to casting and acting to set design to audio to pacing and atmosphere is absolutely nailed. Almost from the outset the tension sets in, and whilst it rises and falls throughout the ten episodes, it never really fades away. Considering that most films that call themselves horror will struggle to maintain tension over 90-120 minutes, this is a pretty stunning achievement!

I think a number of comparisons have been made to The Thing and Master and Commander. Whilst I’d tend to agree as much, The Terror is a gem of its own.

Nothing is entirely perfect, and there were a couple of things which did bother me somewhat, and I’d be interested in hearing other people’s opinions [SPOILERS]:

  • Two gay characters; one is portrayed as a deviant, and the other as generally submissive. With a crew of over 100 members one would expect more scope for portrayals of sexuality that didn’t rely on pretty negative tropes.

  • The mystic natives is also a well-worn trope. Whilst it’s performed relatively sensitively and is one of the main elements of the plot, this still bugs me a little.

  • Entirely white, male crew. There are a few records which suggest that non-white people worked in the navy during this time, and women disguised as men/transmen are known to have worked within the navy for centuries. I’m sure including PoC and/or non-cismen would have attracted vitriol from the usual suspects, but a) they could have been interesting characters in their own rights, b) would have provided more opportunities to show other facets of characters, c) it wouldn’t have been ahistorical, d) even if it had, there’s a massive, soul-stealing fucking bear-spirit monster.

These slightly disappointed me, but at the same time I think it does a rare and fair job of portraying a variety of masculinities. All the characters are flawed (though some more than others), and I felt that they all acted consistently with what we knew of them. Seriously damn good show - I wonder if there’ll be any follow-up?