Monday, April 16, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Terror' - The Captain Tries to Get Answers Out of Lady Silence About the Creature in 'First Shot a Winner, Lads'

AMC's The Terror - Episode 1.05 "First Shot a Winner, Lads"

A strange illness begins to show itself while another more familiar one jeopardizes the expedition's most valuable resource - its captain's judgment.

The failings of man have proven to be a huge central theme and driver of story throughout The Terror. Everyone on this mission has a personal reason for why they joined and why they make the choices they have as things become more dangerous and precarious. Sir John was driven by his quest for fame. He wanted to prove that this expedition wasn't a waste of time. He was eager to find the Northwest Passage no matter what. Francis didn't want the responsibility of being captain but that title has now been handed to him. He's not one for procedure. He's not leading the men. He is just drowning in his own sorrows while being angry at the world around him. James is still a man of procedure. He wants the ships and the men to continue looking their best despite how much time they have spent with each other trapped in the ice. The circumstances haven't changed demonstrably in a long time. The Terror and Erebus are trapped in the ice while a creature is hunting the crew. The men are preparing to be stuck for another winter. There's the hope that rescue may be coming. Francis did send out the search party to make contact with civilization and inform them of what has happened. He understood it was much more important to return home then continue to chase fool's gold. But there's also little for him to do on a ship where the greatest concerns are the weather and mysterious creature who can sometimes go weeks without attacking. This is a very precarious time for the crew because they have Lady Silence as their prisoner. Many of the men see her as the enemy and the reason why the creature isn't attacking anymore. They keep up their patrols but do have to rotate out more frequently because of the dropping temperatures. But these stories coming to ahead is the precise reason for judgment to be questioned and leadership to change once more.

It's rather quite remarkable that Francis allowed Lady Silence to stay on the Erebus for an entire month without feeling the need to go talk with her. He doesn't really care what her condition is like over there. He's not the one making the treks back and forth for the officer's meetings. In fact, he is no longer keeping up that procedural tradition. Now, he is just communicating through people. He's sending messages to Commander James and expecting replies. They communicate that way instead of letting their personal issues towards one another fly in combustive fashion. It also allows Dr. Goodsir to form more of a bond with Lady Silence. He is the only crew member who wishes to see the world from her perspective. He sees a language barrier that is a significant roadblock to anyone from the ship actually engaging in a meaningful debate with her. But he doesn't let that stop him from trying to connect. He sees how all of this could be quite a traumatic experience for her. She was pulled from her home and feels like she cannot leave until ordered so by the captain. She feels trapped and Goodsir represents a sweet and gentle connection. He is getting her to open up in a way that may foster an even grander and more meaningful connection between the English and Inuit cultures. He wants to understand this corner of the world. He's not on some foolish pursuit to find the Northwest Passage. He's trying to care for the crew of this ship. That now includes Lady Silence. He is kind and compassionate to her when the rest of the crew wishes to see her as an enemy.

Of course, it's also important for Francis to talk with Lady Silence as soon as possible. He didn't believe in the fantasy that Hickey was selling in his claims that Lady Silence was communicating with the creature and using it to do her biding. He lashed him for being insubordinate. That hasn't stopped Hickey from being a weasel amongst the crew. He is still just squirming around trying to manipulate people into doing what he wants. He does have a genuine moment in replacing the soldier who doesn't want to go below deck to where the bodies are being stored. But he's mostly just lurking in the background ready to take advantage of the situation at a moment's notice. He's there to serve as a reminder of the trauma Lady Silence has already endured. She experiences more of it here from Francis pushing for concrete answers from her about this creature. She only refers to in a word that could translate to spirit. There is still so much about the Inuit language that the Englishmen don't understand. Francis and Thomas Blankly speak it pretty fluently. They can communicate with her much more effectively than Goodsir can. But they also have the pressing purpose of needing her to tell them what's going. They demand the truth and she has vicious words for them. They are exploring and invading her world with no consideration for how this journey may change her and her culture. They don't wish to understand the creature and what's going on. They just wish to kill it. She claims that they already have the tools to do so. And yet, it's her most personal attack that seems to stick the most with Francis. She attacks him for appearing to have a death wish. That is then confirmed by his epic outburst at his crew that leads to him hitting James while ordering Blankly to go provide a report on the ice. He's very condescending and cruel in that moment. But that's only the first part of his realization that he has a problem.

Just as soon as Blankly walks onto the deck of the Terror, he is confronted by the reality that the creature is in the midst of an attack. He locks the hatch leading down below before even realizing what is happening. He is quickly pulled into this chaos. It's once again such an invigorating sequence. The creature continues to kill multiple men. They are flung all over the place with the crew being extremely confused about where the attack could come from next. They are disoriented because of the bleak weather conditions. It's almost a complete white out. The creature blends into the snow which makes it difficult to track. The people below deck try their best to help the men stranded up above. They do so by offering warnings based on their perspective of this battle for survival. But it's ultimately a sequence leading to both man and creature being severely injured. Blankly comes up with a plan to surprise and attack the creature. It just involves placing himself as bait. It's such an intense sequence. He is climbing up the mast in the hopes that the creature will follow him. Just as he gets to one of the safety partitions, he notices that the creature is much closer than he could have anticipated. He finds himself continually climbing further and further to the top until he is on the last beam of survival. The creature scratches and essentially tears his leg apart. It's such a brutal moment. The men have a cannon that is operational on the deck. They have been using it to scare the creature away over the past month. But now, they use it as a weapon. All Blankly needs to do is light up the sky so that the crew down below have a target to hit. They make a direct hit on the creature. It falls down onto the ice. It is bleeding severely. But it survives and escapes to torment another day. Meanwhile, Blankly needs to have his leg amputated in order to save his life. It's such a brutal display of monstrosity that is closely associated with a brave act of heroism.

Francis laments putting Blankly in this position. He has been a loyal officer to him throughout this entire expedition. He has been a close confidante who could keep him focused and level-headed. And now, Blankly has lost a leg because Francis threw a fit and ordered him to go above deck. He blames himself for what happened to his friend. As such, he comes to the crushing realization that he has a severe problem. He has become so dependent on alcohol in order to make it through the day. He has closed himself off from the rest of the world. He's not a captain his crew can respect. He just relishes whatever opportunities allow him to drink once more. And now, he is faced with a dwindling supply and James' refusal to further indulge his addiction. That's what their fight was ultimately about when James stormed into Lady Silence's interrogation. Francis making this decision now effectively makes James the captain of the two ships. He understands that he is about to become violently sick by going through withdrawal. That's not the proper headspace for a captain. It will compromise his judgment even more so than what his recent actions have been. He trusts James with the ability to lead this crew while continuing to fight the creature. But he feels the need to make this decision now before it costs him any more of his men. He has put too many in harm's way just to feed this addiction. He is horrified by that and willing to make this sacrifice even while knowing that he's about to endure hell. He has peace with that now even though it still absolutely terrifies him. It might make him a better leader. But the damage could already be done as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "First Shot a Winner, Lads" was written by Josh Parkinson and directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan.
  • Dr. Goodsir discusses the condition of one of the mates aboard the Erebus with the surgeon on the Terror. Goodsir made this journey with Lady Silence to provide some peace during the transition. He doesn't know how long he'll be on this ship before returning to his patient. But he knows it's a condition that he will need to monitor because it certainly looks ominous. He just can't lock down a diagnosis just yet.
  • It's fascinating that Goodsir is able to form an immediate connection with the doctor aboard the Terror who takes him seriously as a physician. He doesn't look down on Goodsir because he is just a surgeon who has only performed on cadavers. The doctor on the Erebus has always been so dismissive of Goodsir's concerns. He doesn't like the man serving underneath him. As such, he is more than willing to let him go while still teasing how close he has gotten to Lady Silence.
  • It also appears that Goodsir is following up a hunch on what may be leading to this mysterious condition he has noted. The show has pointed out that some of the canned food has been contaminated. The crew has had to ration appropriately. But now, Goodsir may be thinking that there is even more going on with the food. He's experimenting by seeing how the monkey reacts to eating the same meals.
  • Lady Silence makes her grand escape in the aftermath of the creature's attack. After the cannonball is fired and the creature runs away, the crew is able to get above deck to tend to the injured and assess the damage. The crew are starting to accept that the Terror won't be operational as a ship for much longer. But it's also important that Francis is the only one who sees Lady Silence leave and he allows it to happen.
  • When trying to get answers out of Lady Silence, she notes that she hasn't tried to communicate with the creature terrorizing this part of the world. She is afraid of it just like the crew is. Blankly is able to make that observation. That shades a lot of the early portion of the interrogation. But it's still a case of two cultures clashing because there's a failure to understand and accept what the world actually is. This creature may be a powerful spirit. But the diseases of man are just as crippling and dangerous.