Monday, April 9, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Terror' - Francis Tries to Maintain Order as the Crew Breaks Into Hysteria in 'Punished, as a Boy'

AMC's The Terror - Episode 1.04 "Punished, as a Boy"

A cunning attack on the ships proves the men are not battling an ordinary enemy, and that the region's Inuit culture may hold a key to their survival.

Everyone aboard the Terror and Erebus are starting to realize that the creature that has been hunting them is neither a bear nor a man. That realization comes at the exact same time that the show points out that a rescue expedition isn't coming to save them anytime soon. Sir John's wife, Jane Franklin, is keenly aware that something is wrong. She can make a passionate argument about why the officers in England should be formulating a plan now to help rescue her husband's expedition after they've failed to make contact with the ships for two years now. And yet, she is basically laughed out of the room because the men in charge don't believe she has the expertise to know what it's actually like to be out at sea during such a mission. They still view the discovery of the Northwest Passage as the most important mission anyone could be on. As such, they are more than willing to give Sir John and his crew as much leverage to explore the great unknown. They have no reason to be alarmed because the ships planned for the voyage to extend far beyond the plan. They won't start worrying until the spring arrives. But here, the action points out that the Terror and Erebus are once again hunkering down for another winter. The show skipped over these brutal months when the ships were first locked in the ice. Everything of importance in the narrative happened afterwards when the officers wanted to figure out if there was a way out of their predicament. And now, they are trapped for another winter. They can't escape. They are also without their captain. They are under new leadership. Francis isn't an inspiring choice but he is the highest ranked official aboard. But now, he is faced to force the reality of a situation where this creature that defies any kind of explanation is slowly picking them off one by one.

It's absolutely terrifying to think that this massive creature is able to attack the soldiers aboard the ships as well. This hour basically starts with the devastating screams of the creature dragging out one of the watchmen from his post. He was just standing guard on the ship ready to attack the creature if it should be spotted on the ice below. Instead, he was carried away to his death. Francis chose to send groups out to find him. There is so much honor in the way this voyage conducts itself. Every officer feels the need to recover the body of the dead and give them a proper burial. They were unable to do so with the first lieutenant killed by the creature and then Sir John. They were lost to the great unknown. But there is still urgency to honor every man killed for their sacrifice in the line of duty. Francis leads this hunt. And yet, his discovery of the body leads to a second man being killed. He led this innocent young boy to his death. In the heat of the moment, he didn't want to include him in the search. He made the decision anyway because of how personal this loss apparently was. It mostly just serves as confirmation that this creature is teasing the crew. It is playing tricks on them. It is so much smarter than anyone could have anticipated. It's acting strategically. It uses stealth in order to make its kills. But it's also very precise when leaving its mark. It's brutal and lethal in an instant. But it has a specific pattern of attack as well that the sailors are only starting to realize. That's how they get confirmation that the creature isn't a bear. The claw marks are just too deliberate as well as too powerful.

This is hardly the creature's only attack in "Punished, as a Boy" either. It strikes again later in the night. It's clear that hysteria and insomnia are starting to plague this crew. Even the leaders are distraught and tired. They hardly have the time to regroup before they need to make some pressing decision about how to best save as many lives as possible. In the middle of the night though, the creature does something even more cryptic and mysterious. Hickey is the soldier patrolling the deck. He walks out into the cold and back. When he has his back turned, the severed body of one of the men taken suddenly appears. It's such a disturbing shot long before Hickey realizes what has actually happened. He makes a slow approach to the body. He doesn't know what it is or how it got there. It isn't listening to any of his commands. It's only when he hits it that the body falls over and is split in two. As such, it took careful precise to ensure that the body didn't completely fall apart until that moment. The creature having that skill in such a short amount of time only adds to its intrigue. Hickey looks out into the distance and sees the creature amidst the storm. It still presents as a bear. But Hickey is also aware that no animal could possibly do this. He knows it must be something other-worldly. He's slowly coming around to that way of thinking. And so, he is quick to target Lady Silence as the reason for all of this pain and suffering. He quickly pulls together a party to bring her to the ships and torture her for information.

Now, that's the exact same strategy that Francis decided on as well. Upon learning of this latest incident, he accepts that the ingenuous people to this land may actually know more about the threat they are facing. He wants to send a peaceful group out to bring Lady Silence back to the ship in order to have a pleasant conversation with her. Of course, he isn't afforded that opportunity. His men have already made that choice for him. They see Lady Silence as an enemy combatant who must be treated as a prisoner. They are quick to blame her for all of their suffering because everything started once she came into their lives. That hysteria is only amplified more with Hickey's crazy tale of seeing the creature standing before Lady Silence as she seems to cast some spell on it as a form of control. He notes that it ran off before he was able to get a closer look. But he also proudly talks about looking the creature in the eyes and seeing the demonic forces that now plague this world. It seems incredibly fanciful. A story that can only erupt into chaos and disruption on the ship. As such, Francis feels the need to offer swift and severe punishment on Hickey. He does so through lashings. But he also orders them to be carried out on Hickey's butt. It's such a traumatizing thing to witness. It's the most gruesome and agonizing sequence of this episode. It gives the episode its title. It's a pivotal moment because it features Hickey at his most vulnerable and defeated. He believes he was acting in the best interest of the crew. He believed he did exactly what his captain would have wanted. He is speaking his truth. And now, he is being punished for it. These marks will plague his capabilities as an officer moving forward. He has to slink back to his hammock in the hopes of getting any sleep on it. It's an action that the captain uses to maintain order on his ship. But it also comes with the news that most of his crew are wanting to abandon the Terror after it becomes known that the ice may crush it very shortly.

And then, there is what ultimately comes of Lady Silence. Francis needs to immediately punish the actions taken in retrieving her. That takes up most of his energy for the night. As such, he doesn't want to then interview her to see if there is any validity to the claims that she is the one responsible for these attacks on the ships. He is too tired to do so. And yet, that basically makes her a prisoner on the Erebus. She is kept in a cramped room unable to leave. She isn't a visitor on the ship. She is being held against her will. Francis claims that she's being given the best treatment possible. But he also has an officer standing guard over the room while sending her a meal that would be more appropriate to the Englishmen. It's through these conditions that a new relationship flourishes. Sure, it is mostly one-sided. But there is a yearning for connection that exists when Dr. Goodsir delivers her this meal. Lady Silence doesn't care for the soup or the chocolate that made the voyage across the Atlantic. Instead, she would just rather enjoy the fish that was cooked alongside the meal. That's what she has always known. That's what she has a taste for. She doesn't speak a single word throughout this exchange. In fact, there is a language barrier between her and Goodsir. And yet, Goodsir strives to understand her. He wants to know more about her people and their culture. He doesn't want this information in order to figure out the best way to exploit it. He just wants to have a greater understanding of the world so that he can best preserve those relationships. England sees the discovery of the Northwest Passage as the most important thing. It's a mission Commander James still wants to embark on. But right now, all plot concerns are pushed to the side as Goodsir tries to communicate with Lady Silence. It's a pleasant exchange. It may not ultimately mean anything or change the circumstances for either of them. But it's also clear that not everyone views her as a monster. Compassion is what will be necessary to understand the world even though the sailors Goodsir is working alongside may be anything but compassionate.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Punished, as a Boy" was written by David Kajganich and directed by Edward Berger.
  • A lot of discussion comes up here about this being a voluntary mission. The majority of the crew were not forced to take part in this endeavor. Only several of the officers were forced to do so as a part of their service. Meanwhile, Francis signed on to serve alongside Sir John as a way to look after him and protect him as a favor for his niece - who he loves completely.
  • The romance between Francis and Sir John's niece isn't exactly the most engaging story. It gives Jane someone to talk to in the present day who is also personally affected by the missing ships. But a lot of tension in the narrative disappears when that story appears via flashbacks. The audience already understands that it's a tragic love story that won't last. And yet, it also serves as the sole motivation for a lot of Francis' actions.
  • It's also completely traumatizing to see one of the soldiers in the infirmary with his skull completely open and his brain exposed to the world. This man is apparently still alive and requires surgery. The doctors and officers discuss his best chances. Things look pretty slim. But it also presents as an opportunity for Goodsir to learn about the best way to handle such injuries.
  • Goodsir also interacts with another patient who is complaining about a headache that just won't go away. It seems completely innocuous at first. It's just what Goodsir and the senior physician are doing when they get the order to feed and care for Lady Silence. But it also has an ominous tease of something much more deadly plaguing this man. His gums are darkened which definitely has Goodsir worried.
  • It's also learned this week that Sir John wasn't even the first choice to lead this expedition. It was just something handed to him because the desirable candidates all declined. Sir John was eager to restore his legacy after losing too many men during his last time across the ocean. But now, this information has to become common knowledge in order for Jane to argue her point. And in the end, she decides to fund a rescue mission herself.