Readers of Simmons’s book — or even just the back cover of Simmons’s book — will know that Simmons has chosen to explain many of the hardest-to-understand decisions the men of the Franklin expedition made by suggesting that they were being stalked across the ice by some strange, intelligent creature, similar to a polar bear, but much larger and much smarter. (Then again, considering lead poisoning likely contributed to their deaths, and lead poisoning can cause horrible hallucinations, maybe Simmons is onto something.)
On TV, The Terror has preserved this element, but has also preserved the sense that maybe none of it is happening, that maybe it’s all a shared delusion among these men. It’s also preserved the sense that the darkest things that can happen out on the ice will happen between the men — and that the most horrible thing of all is either the unrelenting ice and cold or the insistence that it must be tamed to find a newer, quicker, more profitable shipping route.
This sense of squander and loss makes the last four or five episodes of The Terror some of the bleakest television I’ve seen, but not in a way that feels exploitative or needlessly miserable. Even though the series has nature itself and a monster roaming the ice, the most terrible choices are always made by people, and you always understand just why they make those choices. The series follows follies as they beget other follies, but always traces them back to the one central folly of believing technology could best the ice at all.
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