The Terror Go For Broke Review

Welcome to our weekly recaps of AMC’s new historical horror show The Terror. This week’s The Terror review takes a look at the first chilling episode, “Go For Broke.” Spoilers follow.

Tell Them We Are Dead

A firm argument against ever leaving the house, The Terror sets sail this week on AMC, and brings with it a cavalcade of misery and unfortunate. And yet…it’s oddly entertaining? Usually such an exercise in hopelessness might have you running for the hills, but creator David Kajganich (working with executive producer Ridley Scott) has crafted something remarkable here. Part Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, part The Thing, part Alien, The Terror is a doomed expedition into highly watchable television.

Right from the start – thanks to history, Wikipedia, and a white-on-black title card – we know that things go terribly wrong for the characters of this show. “In 1845, two Royal Navy ships left England in an attempt to finally discover a navigable passage through the Arctic. They were the most technologically advanced ships of their day…” the first title card reads, before ominously changing to: “Then both ships vanished.”

Those two ships are the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, and in real life, every single member of the expedition perished. The deaths of the men were mostly due to poor planning, hubris and succumbing to the elements. The Terror, based on the novel by Dan Simmons, will use all that, and add something extra. Something…supernatural.

Episode one, “Go For Broke,” opens four years after the ships (and the men) have vanished. A Royal Naval officer is in search of the missing crew, and he speaks with an Inuit man, the last person to supposedly see members of the expedition alive. The officer lays out three portraits – portraits of the three missing expedition captains: John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds), Frances Crozier (Jared Harris) and James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies). The Inuit man points to the Crozier photo – he recognizes him. When pressed about what happened to the missing men, the Inuit man says something cryptic about a “thing” made of “muscles and spells.” When pressed for more info, the Inuit man recounts that the last thing Crozier said was: “Tell those who come after us not to stay; the ships are gone, there’s no way through…Tell them we are gone; dead and gone.”

Cue the spooky music.

the terror episode 1

Icy Dead People

After the doom and gloom beginning, The Terror jumps back four years and finds that things are still pretty doomy and gloomy. Terror and Erebus sail through ice-clogged waters. Ever the optimist (with a little cluelessness thrown in for good measure), the expeditions figurehead commander, Sir John Franklin, isn’t too worried. Yes, summer is ending, and yes, winter is coming, which means even more ice. But Franklin is pretty sure they’re going to find their way through the Northwest Passage. Any day now.

Franklin is backed-up by the smug third in command, James Fitzjames, a blowhard prone to telling the same war stories over and over again. The second in command, Frances Crozier, however, isn’t so sure.

Crozier is melancholy to the extreme; a brooding, quiet, tired man who isn’t particularly good with people. He looks out at all that icy water and thinks only one thing: trouble. He has some good reason to be worried – the young expedition has already lost three men, and a crew member of the Terror – a young man named David Young – suddenly begins coughing up torrents of blood during supper.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the Erebus plows into some heavy ice, sending another sailor into the icy waters. The men are unable to save him, and he drowns rather quickly.

Despite all this, Fitzjames looks at Crozier and his moroseness with contempt. He tells Franklin that there’s nothing worse than a man who has “lost his joy.” Franklin, a magnanimous sort, shuts the criticism down. He doesn’t want anyone speaking ill of his second-in-command.

It’s determined rather quickly that the blood-coughing David Young has consumption. The expedition’s chief medical man, Dr. Stanley (Alistair Petrie), seems rather annoyed at the dying young man. Dr. Goodsir (Paul Ready), a lower-level doctor, is true to his name – he tries his best to provide comfort to the dying man. Comfort only goes so far, and David Young begins to succumb to his illness. Before he does, however, he spots something in the room with him – a truly terrifying specter that begins as a shape with a human body, and a mask that resembles a warped, abstract head. Eventually, the phantom morphs into an Inuit man, all while David looks on in horror. Then he’s gone, and Goodsir, who witnessed the man’s death (but not the mysterious figure in the room) is spooked.

Goodsir isn’t the only one with a sudden case of the heebie jeebies. Mr. Collins (Trystan Gravelle), another member of the crew, is suited up in a heavy diving suit and tasked with sinking into the icy water to knock some ice off of Erebus’ propeller. Once in the water, however, he spots the floating, frozen corpse of the man who had fallen overboard. This is the most eerie and most effective scene of “Go For Broke” – there’s something truly terrifying about the sight of this frozen, shadowy corpse drifting towards the camera like a slow-motion ghost.

After a grisly, sound-effect laden autopsy on David Young, the young man is buried on a nearby rocky island, and suffers one last indginity: the men lowering his coffin into the ground accidentally let it slip from their grasp, and the coffin lid bangs open once it hits the grave floor. Young’s cold, gray corpse is exposed, its blank face gazing up at nothing. The only man willing to jump into the grave and close the lid is Cornelius Hickey (Adam Nagaitis) – keep a sharp eye on this character, because he’ll have a much bigger part to play in this saga.

With winter fast closing in, the commanders of the expedition have to make a decision. Crozier, not mincing words, wants to sail around the eastern shore and possibly wait in a sheltered harbor until spring. He also wants everyone to abandon the Erebus, which is damaged from smacking into the ice. Franklin, drumming up his foolish optimism again, will hear none of it. “We are almost there!” he says yet again. Crozier cuts him off – it doesn’t matter how close they are. If the ships get caught in the ice, they’re screwed.

“This place wants us dead,” Crozier rasps. When Fitzjames accuses Crozier of being melodramatic, Crozier snaps: “There will be no melodramas here. Just live men or dead men.”

Despite this foreboding speech, Franklin decides to press on. And, wouldn’t you know it? Six days later, both ships are stuck in the ice. Things are about to get much worse for the men of the Terror and Erebus.

the terror go for broke

Go For Broke

“Go For Broke” is an exercise in atmosphere. This is a setup episode – it’s here to put all the pieces in place, so that future episodes can start ramping up the action. Yet “Go For Broke” isn’t something to simply shrug off and ignore. Right from the start, The Terror hooks you, with its icy cinematography and its general tone of hopeless doom. We know that all of these men will perish right from the start, and yet we still can’t help but become engrossed in their individual stories.

The cast are all exemplary, with Harris the standout as the brooding Crozier. Crozier is a man who doesn’t quite fit in, and Harris’ body language – tense shoulders, crossed arms, frequent downward glances – sell this splendidly. Hinds is also a treat as the eternally optimistic, eternally clueless Franklin. In real life, Franklin was merely a ceremonial captain – he had very little experience, especially compared to the lifelong seaman Crozier. Yet despite all this, Franklin exudes an air of confidence, and his men love him for it. As things go from bad to worse, however, they might have second thoughts about that love.

What’s truly remarkable about The Terror, and this episode in particular, is how masterfully it mounts tension and creates anxiety. There’s not a lot of action here – no jump scares, no loud, booming sounds, no overtly supernatural forces (not yet, at least). Yet there’s more dread, and more horror, in this first episode than most other horror shows can muster up in entire seasons. Take note, other horror TV shows – this is how you do it (casts a side-eye at another AMC show, The Walking Dead).

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