Monday, April 2, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Terror' - The Leadership is Dealt a Severe Blow When the Creature Attacks Again in 'The Ladder'

AMC's The Terror - Episode 1.03 "The Ladder"

With something now stalking the ships, the captains debate their options, testing their loyalty to one another against their duty to their crews.

"The Ladder" is such a terrifying and surprising episode because it kills off one of its lead characters. That's such a shock. The Terror has always been billed as a limited anthology series. The story will be self-contained over these ten episodes. Furthermore, the audience knows that no one from the Terror and Erebus will survive this expedition. And yet, that doesn't make it any less shocking when Captain John Franklin is one of the first victims of the mysterious creature hunting them on the ice. It's a shock because Ciarán Hinds is such a notable actor giving a really compelling performance here. Sir John's death will ensure that the other leaders of the ships have to act much more cautiously but purposefully moving forward. This hour sees Sir John mourning the loss of one of his lieutenants. It's a time of grief for him. But he makes a couple of foolish mistakes because he isn't yet convinced that he should be worried about the creature out there or the prospect of these ships being stuck in the ice for another year. He planned for this. He was ready for this excursion to last over three years. He believed he had planned for everything that could go wrong. He mourns the loss of the men under his command. He has lost too many people in this expedition so far. He wants to hold a memorial for them. All of this shows his good intentions for being a strong captain who is chasing after glory. But the viciousness of this world has a different plan for him. This is a story that ends in tragedy. It's because of his foolishness that he dies so quickly in this regard. It's a surprising moment that eliminates one of the best actors on the show - though he could still technically appear in flashbacks. But it also sets things up nicely to ensure that Captain Francis and Commander James don't repeat the same mistakes as their beloved captain.

Francis is already making plans to send a party out to lead a rescue mission back to the ships. He is ready to send eight sailors out traveling 800 miles just to tell the world what has happened to them and that they need rescuing. He sees this as the best option moving forward. He wants to be proactive about the situation. He doesn't want to be stuck in the ice forever. He wants to formulate a plan now to ensure that the men can return home to their families. It's ultimately the captain's decision though. Francis doesn't have command yet. It's up to Sir John to decide. He doesn't see an end to the mission yet. He is still determined to find the Northwest Passage. He doesn't want to return home to England until they explore all that is worth exploring in this region. He is willing to stay in the ice for as long as it takes to finish the mission. Francis is motivated to act because of the warning from Lady Silence - the Inuit woman whose father was murdered last week. The only thing she said to the crew was that they should leave now. She knows the creature that is lurking out there in the frozen wilderness. She fears it. She fears what has happened to her father and having to take on his responsibilities now. She is let go to return to her people. Some in the crew fear that as a mistake that will lead to repercussions for killing an Inuit man. She leaves without saying anything more. She just wants her father's possessions. She is given them - though a few remain with the body. He is a very superstitious man. Francis is very trepidatious as well. He wants to have this plan in motion now to ensure that someone is coming to rescue them by the following spring.

Sir John has a very heated response to Francis' request. To him, he sees a man who is always just assuming that the worst will happen. He is the worst kind of leader. One who does not lead or operates with a vision for how to inspire his crew. Francis is just anticipating for things to go wrong while not engaging with his crew. It's a very stressful and difficult time for Sir John. Not only did he lose a lieutenant. He lost a close friend. He mourns the missing man at the table. He is emotionally affected by the loss. He demanded to know why none of his men tried to retrieve the body. He feels a duty to hold an official service to unite the crew. Francis is too busy being sullen in his own emotions to connect with the world around him. That has always been the conversation about him. He's a leader who was promoted but didn't pick up the same skills that Sir John has. Sir John believes he has that with his commander on the Erebus, James. But having three officers of note on these two ships always made at least one of them expendable. Francis believes he can fulfill that role because he sees the importance of leading this party to go signal for help. James can easily replace him as the top officer on the Terror. The ship still has a crew strong enough to man the ship through the summer and winter. Francis is writing his resignation letter to betray Sir John and go on this mission despite his strict orders not to. He sees the value in doing this himself. He will soldier all of the blame for it if it turns out to be a mistake. And yet, Francis never has to deliver that letter. Instead, tragedy occurs that forces him to take command of both ships.

The crew believes they are simply hunting a bear. That was the creature that attacked and killed the lieutenant last week. No one got a real good look at the creature. But a bear is the only animal they can think of that is possible at creating such destruction. They are still thinking with rational minds. This is fundamentally a horror story where the impossible seems to be attacking this crew. Sir John believes they can outsmart the beast. They have a unit camouflaged in the snow with eyes on a trap that's been set. They have laid out fish and dug a hole in the ice to make it an enticing officer to the bear. Sir John stops by to encourage his troops and the hard work they have done. He is proud of their service so that the rest of the crew can enjoy the freedom moving between the two ships while mourning the loss of their lieutenant. He also doesn't see it as a major threat. A bear attack is serious and deadly. But he also views now as good a time as any to pose for a picture. It's absolutely agonizing to wait as the old machine has to take a minute in order to develop the picture of the troops standing together. In that time, any number of things could happen. None of them are looking around for the creature. They are standing perfectly still to ensure the picture turns out alright. It's seemingly that moment and seeing the troops retreat to their hiding spot that tips the creature off to what's truly going on with the men. As such, it becomes much easier for it to sneak up behind them and rip the head clean off one soldier in a vicious attack. It's such a startling and brutal moment that shows that this creature is so much smarter than anyone is currently anticipating.

There's also a moment where it seems like Sir John is running away to the safety of the ship instead of standing strong with his men. Dr. Goodsir is terrified in that moment and he's just the one taking the picture. He's not trained as a soldier to fire a weapon at a moving target that wants to kill him. This party laughs at the suggestion one of them will have to escort him back to the ship after Sir John decides to stay for a little while longer. It's that decision that proves to be quite crippling to Sir John. He wants to be seen as a leader amongst his crew. He is willing to get in the trenches and serve as a soldier alongside the best of his men. It's because he doesn't make it far back to the ships that he is eventually caught by the creature. He makes a run for it. Additional soldiers from the ships are running towards the trap to offer their assistance. They can see that their captain is in danger. And then, Sir John is dragged down right in front of James. The commander isn't able to get to his captain in time. Sir John's leg is ripped straight off. That's the only body part of his that the crew is able to recover. The rest is lost in the water underneath the ice. The creature drags Sir John to the hole that was dug and pushes him in. No amount of rope can pull him up again. There isn't even a remote possibility for James to hold onto. And just like that, the creature disappears once more. It made its attack. And now, it's returned to the shadows to hunt the ship once more. Francis and James are the leaders of this expedition now. James sees it as a time to mourn over the loss of their captain. Francis is determined to send his rescue party out now. He sees the urgency now more than he did before. James convinces him that they can wait a day. Francis abides by that sentimentality. He holds a memorial for Sir John. It's just a leg in a coffin. But it's a unifying moment for the crew because Francis uses Sir John's own words for the service he planned for the lieutenant during this new service. This will hardly be the last victim of this vicious creature. But it's a devastating blow to the crew that will make everyone act with more angst and paranoia moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Ladder" was written by Gina Welch and directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan.
  • It's such an off-putting stereotype when stories depict non-white races as magical beings with some connection to the supernatural. Here, the Inuits are native to this land and extreme weather conditions. But the crew is starting to believe that they control this mysterious creature and are sending it to attack the highest ranking officers because of the crimes committed against their people.
  • Of course, an argument could be made that the creature is attacking the crew because of what they have done to the Inuit people of this land. It doesn't kill the lieutenant in the premiere until the man is shot. He doesn't die until much later. But it's still a fatal blow. And now, his body is dumped beneath the ice with no one particularly caring about the beliefs of the Inuit people regarding death. Then, Sir John dies the same way - except he is still alive when he is pushed down the hole in the ice.
  • And then, there is the argument that can be made against the Inuit connection to the creature. Lady Silence warned Francis that death would befall the crew if they didn't leave now. She was terrified in that moment. And now, she is terrified on her own in an igloo once it's clear that the creature is lurking just outside. And yet, it also delivers fresh meat for her to eat to ensure she doesn't starve. That's ominous as well.
  • It also seems like Dr. Goodsir has a connection to the creature because he was present at both attacks. He was more important during the first encounter because he witnessed the attack and knew that no one could possibly serve that amount of blood loss. Here, he basically disappears into the background as soon as the creature starts targeting the crew. That's not insignificant though.
  • In more personal matters, Irving confronts Hickey and Gibson about their personal relationship. Gibson opens up in detail about how he was coerced to sexually please Hickey whenever he demanded. It forces Irving to have a serious conversation with Hickey in which he pushes his extreme Christian views of the world onto him about how men go to sea in order to escape the temptations of the world and define themselves. He views Hickey as someone lost and in need of redemption. Meanwhile, Hickey just wants to know how Gibson could betray him and how he can get him back for that.