Monday, April 23, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Terror' - Commander James Aims to Lift the Crew's Depressive Spirits in 'A Mercy'

AMC's The Terror - Episode 1.06 "A Mercy"

With the end of their provisions in sight, officers contemplate a tough, risky strategy while struggling to raise the men's worsening spirits.

The Terror has featured a number of external threats to the ships and the crew. The ice has trapped them in for years. The creature has been stalking the ships ready to outsmart the crew at every possible move. And yet, there are the threats that come from within the human condition that are just as sinister and corruptive. This hour shows just how damaging it is to do battle with the diseases of the mind. It shows how the minds of the crew can be warped after spending so much time trapped in one location. They haven't left this spot in two years. This is their second winter trapped in the ice. They are coming off of months where there was no sunlight at all. The first day break is upon them once more. There is the hope that they are about to break free from this ice and be rescued. There is the optimism of being able to return home to their families. They believe they still have the strength and supplies to last a little while longer in this expedition. But "A Mercy" proves that simply isn't the case. There are still a number of external threats that are plaguing the crew. Dwindling supplies are forcing the officers to worry about how much longer they can last at the current rate of depletion. That's coupled with Goodsir's discovery of a new illness that is plaguing the crew and could have quite extensive repercussions. But those are still concerns for the future. They are being discussed now so the officers can be proactive about the situations. They are doing so while also struggling to cope with some severe mental health problems that could cripple them and their judgment on this journey. Some of them have the awareness that they need to be kept far away from the rest of the crew. But others believe that they need to take action in order to save the crew from the thoughts that only they can perceive right now. It's still a completely destructive hour that sees no attack from the creature at all.

Commander James Fitzjames is now the captain of the ships. He took over in that position not because Francis was killed just like Sir John before him. Instead, Francis had to step down on making any of the decisions because he was going into withdrawal because he could no longer feed his alcoholism. He was spiraling out of control in a rage and depression. He was lashing out at his crew when they didn't report back to him with firm answers about what was going on with the ships. His decisions ultimately cost Blankly his leg. Of course, that encounter with the creature is still being touted as a major victory. It has been weeks since the creature has been seen. Everyone believes that it was at least wounded enough to know never to come back to this piece of land to fight the crew ever again. Others even before that the injuries were extensive enough to kill it. The audience knows that's not true at all. We glimpse Lady Silence performing a ceremony to try to connect with the spirit that resides in this creature. She is willing to take on the mantle of being the shaman the world needs right now. She is stepping up to replace her father. It's a mission that ends in blood and confusion. That's the type of situation that James is trying to avoid as captain. He wants to maintain a sense of order. He appreciates having the officers' meetings once more. He enjoys being apprised of everything going on with the ships. He also has the common sense now to understand that the crews will probably need to abandon the ships as soon as daybreak comes in order to be rescued.

It's also fascinating for the show to sit down with James and Blankly as a tale is told about another grueling adventure on the ice. James asks Blankly to explain a comment he heard in warning Francis about the actions he was currently committing a few weeks ago. Blankly and Francis were a part of another voyage that spent years trapped in ice before the crew needed to abandon the ships and seek safety and rescue by foot. In this story, they held their ground for three winters. The captain was even willing to spend a fourth locked down in the same position except for the lack of supplies they had. This story proves that the crew aboard the Terror and Erebus could have it much worse in being isolated from the rest of the world for an extended period of time. But the purpose of this story is bringing up the idea of the dissonance between how a captain views the mission and how his crew perceive it. James knows the story of this expedition based on the memoir that the captain wrote. He saw it as a success because he was able to get all of his men safely back home despite the cruel conditions of this world. Blankly counters that with a tale of growing resentment amongst the crew. They were forced to go starving because the captain chose to keep ranks even in the worsening conditions. They were willing to stage a mutiny right before they were ultimately rescued. They were on the brink of making some chaotic decisions. It only took one more thing to go awry for that to have happened. It was miraculous that it didn't. Another story was able to prevail. But it definitely came close to being the other outcome. That's what Blankly wants to warn this crew ahead of their upcoming journey to escape the ice.

As such, James orders a carnival in order to lift the spirits of the crew. He plans on staging this epic celebration that will last all night until the sun finally rises over the horizon. It will be a miraculous and joyous occasion that will give the men something to remember and embrace right before the tragic news about needing to make an 800 mile journey to possible freedom. The officers are all operating with the awareness that that's the direction this expedition is heading in right now. The crew are just continuing to follow orders. This carnival presents as a way for them to let loose and just let their creativity free. They have been kept in the same confined space for too long. It has been a terrifying journey. Some soldiers need to be left behind in order to stand watch in case the creature decides to come back and attack during this carnival. That seems like the inevitable outcome because danger has lurked around every single corner of this show so far. There was so much narrative dread heading into this carnival expecting it to go wrong. Everyone attends and has a blast. It's so completely convenient that they have costumes willing to make it an extravagant affair of new identities. It brings a smile to James' face. Francis gets up the strength to attend it himself. He is taken aback by the some of the things that the crew have set up for themselves. It's clear that they had free range to do anything and no one was around to question it until it was too late. And yet, it's such a rousing moment when Francis gets up to address his crew once more. He does so with new conviction while also being true to the reality of the situation and what will occur next. He wants everyone to celebrate while preparing themselves for the trek ahead.

But of course, tragedy does strike at the carnival. People are killed during the night. And yet, the creature isn't responsible for these deaths. Instead, it comes from Dr. Stanley deciding to light himself on fire and leave the rest of the crew trapped in a ring of flames. It's such a surprising and unexpected moment. Early on, Henry Collins comes to the doctor to talk about his depression. No matter how busy he forces himself to be he is still overcome with these thoughts of sadness and isolation. It seems like Dr. Stanley doesn't take them seriously because they aren't physical ailments. He rations that this is simply the overall mood of the ship that will be remedied during the carnival. Collins just needs to attend and have fun. That will lift his spirits. And yet, it's clear that it's Stanley needing to believe this himself. He too is wrapped with these dark thoughts. He too is depressed. It just becomes suicidal for him. He believes that this is what the entire crew is feeling. The carnival doesn't fix these psychological problems for him. So, he must think that it doesn't work for the rest of the crew either. Knowing about the upcoming journey as well as the lead poisoning discovery makes him believe that it would be much easier to just kill everyone now and let this expedition conclude. It's such a dark and sinister moment. The crew is trapped in their own design. They do manage to escape. There are only a few casualties. But it's a sequence that gives Hickey a hero moment. He's not the character who should be given a hero moment. He never believes he has done anything wrong even though his actions have created huge problems in the past. And here, his hero moment is immediately complicated by him accidentally killing someone while tearing a hole into the wall of the carnival. He saves so many people. He'll expect appreciation for that. But he's also deeply fascinated by the life he has taken and not having to pay any consequences for that. That could be freeing as well. The sun breaks through the horizon. A new day has begun for this expedition. They will be able to journey forward with a clear goal in mind. But it's bound to be a perilous journey that will still be marked by danger around every single corner.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Mercy" was written by Vinnie Wilhelm and directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan.
  • Francis really only has one man looking after him while he is dealing with his withdrawal from alcohol. It's such an agonizing experience for him. The show puts in the work to show him in the midst of that struggle. But it's also perfectly fine for him to be mostly recovered by the end of the hour. It still makes it extremely poignant to listen to Jopson talk about him being through this ordeal before and knowing what to expect from it.
  • Francis is in a weakened state because of the withdrawal when he attends the carnival. He believes he has the strength to attend the event. Jopson worries that it may be too much too soon. There are definitely moments where Francis is in utter shock as to what's going on that it seems like he could loss his balance. And yet, he is able to keep forging ahead and manages to make his speech to the crew.
  • Goodsir was doing experiments on the monkey to determine if the food supply was tainted in more ways than way. The crew was already aware that the stockpile wasn't as lasting as expected because of infection. They had to throw away quite a bit of supplies. They could still last for several more months. But now, Goodsir comes to the daunting realization that everyone aboard the ships has been affected by lead poisoning for close to two years now. That's bound to have major side effects in the story.
  • It continues to be so creepy whenever the show cuts to the sailor in the infirmary with his brain exposed to the world. It's clear that several of his friends are still hoping for him to make a full recovery. And yet, that seemed impossible the moment that visual first came up. It's so awkward to see him attend the carnival as well. He appears as nothing more than a statue who can't run away to freedom. It seems likely that he died here. If not, it seems impossible for him to make the journey across the ice.
  • Lady Silence stumbles her way into the carnival as well. She makes such a surprising appearance during that event. It seems like nothing more than a tease to suggest to the audience that the creature is about to attack in some truly destructive way. But instead, she just faints as Goodsir cares for her while the true threat comes from Stanley as he wants to save the crew from this bleak world.