I’ll be honest, I cried through almost all of “The C, the C, the Open C,” but there’s one moment in particular that stands out. As Fitzjames looks at Crozier, who has left food and supplies for Hickey’s men in case they should need them and who refuses to abandon those too ill to walk despite the extra weight the remaining men must pull, he murmurs, “More than God loves them.”
It’s the same thing he once said of Franklin, moments after having railed against Crozier for having no joy in his heart. There’s a different bittersweetness to the words now. Despite all of the misery they’ve suffered and inflicted, Crozier still loves his men, and here, God is gone from them. As they decamp, they’re framed through the smoke of a funeral pyre — there’s no time to bury the men who were killed in Tuunbaq’s attack — and, all in all, it makes it look as though the men are marching through hell.
So, which circle of hell are we on? Instead of traveling through Lust, Greed, Wrath, or any of Dante’s other levels, each circle seems to be the loss of some aspect of humanity. In just the previous episode, we saw the men clinging to the last vestiges of rank and order as Crozier attempted to have Hickey hung, but that’s gone now. When Hodgson joins up with Hickey’s group, it’s obvious that his status as a lieutenant means nothing anymore. Here, Hickey is king.
The devil’s specter also looms over the men in the shape of what Hickey refers to as morals versus practicals. The men must eat to survive, and as the salt meats run out, their non-tin options are limited. To put it as simply as possible: Cannibalism is now on the table.
Hickey is the first to speak it outright. After Goodsir tells Gibson that his illness is past the point of recovery, Hickey kills him and has Goodsir cut up the body. Though Goodsir initially refuses, all it takes is the threat of harm befalling yet another man to get him to concede. And lo, Hickey’s camp has dinner.
There are a few details here to take into account:
• The first is that Goodsir is definitively changing. He has next to no bedside manner with Gibson, telling him that he ought to prepare to die. Gibson himself comments on it, saying that, were he in Goodsir’s shoes, he wouldn’t pity Hickey’s camp either. But as soon as Hickey stabs Gibson quite literally in the back, Goodsir’s stony expression transforms into one of agony. He still cares, despite his best (or worst) intentions. (He also finds the ring that he’d promised to deliver on a string around Gibson’s neck.)
• The second is that Hickey, now wearing Irving’s coat, is nearly impossible to truly read. On the most technical level, his reasoning for killing Gibson makes sense. He’s no longer in any condition to help haul the boats, so he’s dead weight. The remaining men must eat to live, and human meat is still meat. It’s a brutal efficiency that’s jarring when taken in consideration with the tender way he treats Gibson right up until killing him, as well as the fact that he is the only man who seems to be savoring his meal rather than grimly stomaching it.
• The third is the incredible irony of Hodgson eating human flesh off of fine china and sitting apart from the other men as an officer would, despite how completely any other sense of rank has dissolved. Afterwards, he visits Goodsir, and though the doctor feigns sleep, he speaks anyway. “If I were a braver man, I’d kill Mr. Hickey,” he says to Goodsir’s back, after telling him about the single Sunday mass that he’d attended as a child, and the forgiveness he’d felt upon taking the Eucharist, the body of Christ. “But I’m hungry, and I want to live.” (Props to Christos Lawton, who does a terrific job pulling off a difficult and vital monologue.)
Crozier, at least, is stronger than that. This episode sees the death of yet another captain, as Fitzjames’s condition deteriorates so rapidly that even pulling him in one of the sledges is no longer an option. He makes two requests of Crozier: to help him die, and to use his body to feed the men. Crozier only acquiesces to the first. He gives him poison, courtesy of Bridgens (who, weeping, tells Fitzjames that he’s a good man and, literary man that he is, that “there will be poems”), and then massages his throat to help it go down.
Their last moment is wordless, and an exemplar of the remarkable tenderness that is threaded through this show, despite how truly awful the unfolding events are. There’s another mirroring as Crozier cares for Jopson, whose condition is also steadily worsening, just as Jopson had cared for Crozier not too long ago. While Crozier mops his brow, Jopson begins to cry. And without saying so much as a word, Crozier wipes his tears away.
Take, too, the final moments between Peglar and Bridgens. When Peglar collapses, it’s Bridgens who single-handedly carries him to the sledge. It’s more an embrace than anything else, and it’s that plain demonstration of love that allows Peglar to smile when he finally slips away. As soon as he’s gone, Bridgens takes his leave of the camp with just Peglar’s journal in hand. (Observant viewers may catch that Peglar sketched Bridgens’s tattoo in its pages.) Far from succumbing to illness or abandoning his morals, he’s simply lost the will to live.
What makes it all worse is the revelation that the men were so, so close to completing their mission. Knowing full well that time is running out as an infection takes root in his amputated leg, Blanky (quite possibly my No. 1 TV boyfriend, with all due apology to Goodsir) splits off from the main group to try to buy them some time from the pursuant Tuunbaq. When he can’t walk any further, he collapses — only to discover that he has actually come across the Northwest Passage.
Never one to go out without a fight, Blanky wraps himself in forks while waiting for Tuunbaq; he won’t survive their next encounter, but he sure as hell isn’t going to make it easy for the beast. As the creature finally approaches, he cements his position as the ultimate OG with an F-bomb: “What in the name of God took you so fucking long?”
Notes From the Captain’s Log
• Crozier asks the men to make sure Fitzjames’s body is undetectable, but the lingering shot on his boots (with his initials on them) suggests … well, you get the picture.
• The Tuunbaq status quo is shifting. We see Lady Silence conversing with the man from the first episode, who tells her that the expedition has caused a fundamental imbalance. Though Tuunbaq is still “hers,” a new shaman is on his way.
• Lady Jane and Sophia are still trying to rally enough support (and money) to send out a rescue mission. But a shadow has settled over them, too, as seen in the way Jane’s smile falters as she addresses an assembled crowd, and in Sophia’s expression as she steps out into the snow with her shoes off, as Jane once had.
• Shit is about to go down in the finale. After being duped by a double agent in his camp, Crozier is taken captive by Hickey’s men. His final commandment to Little, whom he leaves in charge of the remaining party: “We will live.”
• You guys, I’m not ready to say good-bye!!!