Though The Terror is a fictionalized account of the Franklin expedition, it’s still just as at risk of falling into the trap of sensationalism as any true-crime documentary or disaster story. The men were real, after all, and the truth of what happened to them is still being pieced together. With that in mind, “We Are Gone” is The Terror’s pièce de résistance. As the series reaches its conclusion, there’s no sense of rubbernecking or glee to be found. This isn’t “misery porn.”
In fairness, it’s a difficult distinction in a show like this. The moments that anchor the finale are accompanied by loss and violence, but it’s not blood that lends those scenes impact — as always, The Terror is a show more invested in long-term emotional payoffs than cheap thrills. As Goodsir (sweet baby angel that he is) says to Crozier, despite all of the death and despair, “This place is beautiful to me even now.”
Paul Ready has done incredible work in this series, in a tremendous lead, but billed as supporting, performance as Goodsir. (If he’s overlooked come awards season, it’ll be a criminal offense.) The wear and tear of the passing years have subtly built up in his demeanor and physicality (to the point that he is a completely different man from the Goodsir we met in the premiere), and never more so than when he tells Crozier that he knows his time is up, and handing over that fateful ring.
His suicide, which marks the end of the first half of the finale, isn’t a surrender but a self-sacrifice. Knowing that Hickey and his men will eat him once he’s dead (and ensuring that Crozier knows not to partake or, if he must, to eat only of his heels), he covers himself in poison as well as ingesting it, and slits his wrists. The scene, scored to a piece by the late Marcus Fjellström (to whom the episode is dedicated) from his “Fairytale Music” series, feels as though it could have been torn from 2001: A Space Odyssey. As Goodsir bleeds out, we see flashes of objects from nature against a pure white background — an orchid, a shell, a crystal formation — simple visions that stand as a polar opposite to the frantic mess of id and anxiety that colored Franklin’s death. Even after seeing the worst of what men will do to each other and to the world around them, he still believes there’s some beauty in the world, and returns to it in his final moments.
The second half of the finale hinges upon Crozier. It’s telling as to just how purely this story has been told that his final confrontation with Tuunbaq — in which the creature destroys what remains of Hickey’s camp, including Hickey himself — is a step in the road rather than the destination, as it likely would be in any other series.
Killing Tuunbaq might just get the men the food and fur they’d need to survive and return to England, but Hickey has other plans. He reveals that he’d never intended to return to England to begin with; he’d killed the original Hickey (well, now we know) upon hearing that the expedition would offer him the opportunity to run off to a tropical climate and start a new life. The Arctic is hardly temperate, but he’s found something more important in Tuunbaq: an equal.
Tuunbaq doesn’t think so. Its attack coincides with the effects of Goodsir’s poison, and Hickey’s men fall apart like a house of cards. When Hickey attempts the binding ritual, cutting out his own tongue and offering it to the beast, it bites off the proffered hand (and the tongue in it), and tears Hickey in half. But, as it chokes on Hickey — and the chain it’s swallowed, to which Crozier is still attached — it finally gives in to the wounds and poisoning that it’s suffered as a result of its pursuit of the expedition. Crozier is the last man standing, though he passes out almost immediately afterwards.
Following the screams and roars of Tuunbaq’s attack, the show moves into a sequence that’s nearly entirely devoid of sound or dialogue. After being rescued by Lady Silence, who cuts off his hand to free him from his shackle, Crozier and Silence set about finding the rest of the men.
At the first camp, they find the rest of the ill — and Jopson, who, in a wrenching scene, desperately crawls from his tent, unaware that Crozier has been kidnapped, as the men who are still able to walk take their leave — amid collapsed tents and remnants of tins. At the second camp, they finds books, dishes, and other ephemera, all of the signifiers that Crozier had once called crucial to the men’s sense of themselves. And at the third and final camp, they find Little, who is somehow still alive, among the corpses of men who have either been eaten or otherwise perished. The only word he manages to get out before dying is “close.” (Recall the reprimand Crozier gave Jopson in the premiere: “‘Close’ is nothing. It’s worse than nothing. It’s worse than anything in the world.”) The only other real dialogue in the sequence is the list of names that Crozier whispers to himself before sleeping. They’re the names of his men, the 132 dead. But he has yet one more loss to suffer.
When they reach the Inuit camp, they agree to let him stay the winter, and that he will decide where he wants to go in the spring. But the next morning, Silna — Lady Silence — is gone. “She lost Tuunbaq,” Crozier is told. “Alone is the way for her now.” Just like that, every single fragment of the expedition — every person that he’s ever cared about — is lost to him. Still, she’s left him a token: a small carved boat.
Two years later, Ross arrives at the camp. Once again, we see the very first scene of the series play out (drawing a perfect circle), but with a key revelation: The man seated outside of the tent is Crozier. For two years, he’s lived among the Netsilik, and presented with the explicit chance to return to England, he gives it up. He’s not lying when he says, albeit through a proxy, that he’s gone. There’s nothing for him to return to. And though the story is certainly a tragedy, this isn’t quite a tragic ending. To quote Goodsir once more, “There’s wonder here.”
Notes From the Captain’s Log
• Jared Harris and Nive Nielsen are also incredible in this episode, communicating volumes through just their expressions. The last ten minutes of the finale alone should net Harris his Emmy nomination, as he channels almost every known emotion on the human spectrum without ever breaking the bounds of believability. And Nielsen in particular has been shouldering a particularly heavy burden in the back half of the series, as she’s completely reliant on physicality and expressions to communicate. Given that this is her first major acting role, it’s doubly impressive.
• Seriously, this is a show that bears rewatching. Not to keep repeating myself, but much of what happens in the last half of the season is seeded throughout the first half, and there’s a lot that comes to light towards the end that will completely differently inform scenes early on.
• And with that (and “The Silver Swan” which plays over the credits, last heard sung by all of the men), I send you, my beautiful icy children, out onto the waves. You can blow out those prayer candles now.