It speaks to how well The Terror has built up its story and its characters that in its final stretch, just as things are starting to move at a desperate clip, it can get away with opening “Terror Camp Clear” with a seven-minute conversation between two characters. Of all of the action in the episode, this scene is arguably the least narratively important, but it’s emotionally crucial. The Terror wouldn’t be The Terror without it.
If you recall, Crozier and Fitzjames began the expedition completely at odds (may “Bird Shit Island” live forever), but their interaction as they trek to and from a cairn is the furthest thing from butting heads. It’s a confession and absolution. “I’m a fake,” Fitzjames tells Crozier, explaining that the supposed acts of valor he’s performed throughout his life were all done in an effort to be seen, to shed the social stigma of having been born out of an affair. This knowledge puts everything we’ve seen of Fitzjames into a new context, from his habit of telling stories of his own accomplishments at dinner, to his insistence that the men keep themselves neat. When Crozier issues a rebuttal for each of Fitzjames’s self-issued damnations, telling him that they’re brothers, here at the end of all things, it’s enough to reduce Fitzjames to tears.
Though years have passed since the beginning of the expedition, we’ve only gotten a handful of hours of it. That isn’t a lot of time to execute a complete 180 with a character dynamic. Yet, here, the contempt with which Crozier had once looked at Fitzjames is completely gone, and the shift in their relationship has been so well seeded that it feels like the breaking of a dam.
Of course, credit where credit is due: Jared Harris and Tobias Menzies absolutely knock the scene out of the park. (I cried!) The emotional waxing and waning can be read in the slightest shifts in their expressions — the look that the Irish Crozier gives Fitzjames when the latter says he’s “not even fully English” is heartbreaking — and, in Menzies’s case, the strain in his voice.
On a slightly smaller scale, it’s also worth singling out the scene between Peglar and Bridgens, our resident beacons of tenderness. Peglar, too, has begun to succumb to lead poisoning, and comes to the medical tent to seek out Goodsir’s advice. Finding Bridgens there instead, he asks if there’s any truth to the rumor that’s been floating through the camp of an impending Inuit attack. Bridgens tells him to disregard it, that the facts would seem to dispute the whispers, but Peglar’s response informs everything that’s to come: “Fear tells me something else.”
It’s fear that sets the soldiers to kill the group of Inuits who’d fed Irving after Hickey pins Irving’s death upon them; it’s fear that causes Little to start giving out guns without consulting Fitzjames because Tozer manages to convince him of a retributive attack. As the split between Hickey and Crozier becomes definitive, it’s their respective reactions to fear that demarcate them as leaders. Crozier refuses to succumb to it. Hickey exploits it.
When Hickey returns to the camp with tales of savages (after having killed Irving — and then scalped and castrated him — and murdered Farr as well), the entire temperature of the camp changes. Only Crozier and those closest to him manage to resist the shift given the way that Hickey has acquitted himself so far. When they find definitive evidence that Hickey has set it all up, discovering the seal meat that the Inuits had offered Irving and getting Lady Silence to corroborate that scalping and castration aren’t custom, Crozier orders for a gallows to be made. Hickey and his accomplice Tozer are to be hung.
The scene that follows is something of a nightmare. In what is effectively Hickey’s second trial, the J. M. W. Turner–like aesthetic returns with the fog settling over the camp: Only the character in focus at any given time is properly visible, while every other man appears dimly in the background like a collection of ghosts.
Speaking to the gathered men, Crozier finally reveals that the remains of the rescue party were discovered, and that their options have dwindled even further with the deaths of the Netsilik due to Hickey’s deception. He also stresses that Hickey’s plans would never have included the whole camp, let alone valued their lives, but those points become moot as soon as Hickey is allowed to give his last words.
Letting Hickey speak before hanging is obviously the honorable thing to do, but it’s also a huge mistake, mostly because Hickey’s right more than he’s wrong. He’s right that a smaller group would have a better chance at surviving; he’s right in feeling betrayed that Crozier had planned to mutiny prior to Franklin’s death (which he colors, to some degree, as exactly the same plan he’s enacting now). As he speaks, he slips into an imitation of Crozier that is utterly grim in how spot-on it is, and in the way it speaks to how much of a chameleon we know him to be.
But before the tide can really turn one way or the other, Collins, hopped up on a mixture of cocaine and wine in an attempt to find some peace, crashes in — with Tuunbaq hot on his heels.
The attack is staged like a ballet: In several long takes, the camera weaves through the camp, with the fog making locations and men almost indistinguishable as they all scramble to escape the creature. In the ensuing chaos, Hickey quickly assembles his crew, steals a load of guns (as well as abducting Goodsir), and makes his getaway.
Notes From the Captain’s Log
Even Tuunbaq’s rampage through the camp is chock-full of beats that serve the characters as much as the action. Jopson, the definition of lawful good, nearly charges the creature himself, all the while telling everyone else to get to safety. Fitzjames, despite his earlier confessions of self-doubt, quite clearly proves that he truly is brave, holding his ground as the creature runs directly at him and managing to hit it with a rocket. And Little, who had earlier been so easily convinced that they were under threat of attack, can’t help but hesitate when he’s given the chance to keep Tozer from getting away.
And then there’s Collins! This is, unfortunately, the end of the road for him, as he’s devoured by Tuunbaq, but it’s a suitably horrific and slightly supernatural end. As the creature tears him apart, we seem to see his soul being ripped from his body — he only goes still once it’s gone. RIP Collins, you sweet, mad prince.
The other key emotional beat in this episode is Goodsir and Lady Silence’s farewell. Given the stir that Hickey has kicked up, the camp is no longer safe for her, and so she takes her leave. His reaction — “Wait! Yes, go, be safe. Stay with us!” — makes it patently clear just how torn he is, as does his protesting that he owes her, and saying once again that Englishmen are fundamentally good. But it’s a lost cause and she knows it. As she leaves, you can practically see Goodsir’s resolve change. (Did you all catch the last word that Goodsir says to her?)
Doomsday clock updates: The lead poisoning has really kicked into overdrive. As previously mentioned, Peglar is starting to feel the effects; so are Jopson and Fitzjames, who both complain of bleeding gums. Fitzjames in particular is falling apart: Lesions are forming on his skin, and his old wounds are beginning to open back up.