the terror the ladder review

Welcome to our weekly recaps of AMC’s new historical horror show The Terror. This The Terror review takes a look at the third shocking episode, “The Ladder.” Spoilers follow.

The Great White Nothing

R.I.P., Sir John Franklin. This week’s episode of The Terror, “The Ladder,” features a moment that will surely shock anyone who hasn’t read Dan Simmons’ source novel. Franklin (Ciarán Hinds), the commander of the entire darn expedition, meets a brutal end at the hands of the still mostly-unseen monster. Franklin has been out of his league since the expedition began, but his death so early in the series is still a nasty surprise.

It’s June, but as Crozier (Jared Harris) previously warned, it’s summer in name only. The ice is still heavy, and the spirits of the men aboard the Terror and the Erebus are low. Everyone is still shocked at the death of Gore, and they also have the dead Inuit man to take care of. Rather than allow him to be buried as Esquimaux tradition dictates, the Inuit’s man is dumped into a fire hole out on the ice. The only person who seems to have a problem with this is poor, kindly Dr. Goodsir (Paul Ready).

Among the Inuit man’s possessions, sailors find a strange ivory charm carved in the shape of a bear…or perhaps a monster? The dead man’s possessions are handed over to his daughter, who has now earned the nickname Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen). Lady Silence rifles through the possessions and seems to believe something is missing, but no one is sure what she’s referring to. Her business with the men concluded, she stalks out onto the ice, where she proceeds to draw a circle in the snow. What’s she up to?

Aboard the Erebus, the officers dine in complete silence. It’s safe to say no one is having a good time anymore, especially Sir John Franklin, who has previously been so chipper even as everything went to shit around him. Franklin has a flashback to a fancy event long before the expedition. There, he encounters Sir John Ross, who could give the melancholy Crozier a few lessons in being more miserable. Ross quizzes Franklin about what he’ll do if his ships get stuck in the ice. Franklin doesn’t really have an answer, and Ross warns that this sort of unpreparedness will lead to certain death. “Death is slow in the Great White Nothing,” Ross says. Franklin’s wife tells Franklin not to worry – his successful expedition will prove all the naysayers wrong.

Except it won’t.

the terror episode 3

Funeral for a Severed Leg

Out of the flashback, and back on the Erebus, Franklin plans a service for the late, lamented Gore. As Franklin pens a eulogy he hopes will “sing”, mopey old Crozier pokes his head in and asks permission from Franklin to send a party out 800 miles with hope of finding rescue. In Crozier’s mind, the expedition is in need of saving – a failure, in other words. “No one knows where we are,” Crozier says, adding he’d rather be extra cautious by sending a team of at least eight men out. Franklin is furious over the idea – he’s already lost 6 men on the expedition, and doesn’t want to risk losing 8 more. Crozier argues that if they continue on the way they have, there’s a chance they might lost all men.

This is the last straw for Franklin, and he proceeds to destroy whatever thin friendship remained between Crozier and himself. “You are the worst kind of second,” Franklin says. “You’ve made yourself miserable, and distant, and hard to love, and you blame the world for it.”  

Undeterred, Crozier decides to put the rescue party of eight men together anyway. He tells Blanky – who is pretty much his only real friend at this point – he plans to lead the party himself, and that he’ll assume any blame. His plan is to lie to the party of men and say it’s a hunting expedition.

Meanwhile, there’s trouble brewing between Hickey (Adam Nagaitis) and Gibson (Edward Ashley). The two men were previously caught in the midst of having sex by Irving (Ronan Raftery), and Irving now approaches Hickey and tells him that Gibson told him “everything.” According to Gibson, Hickey is a “devious seducer” who “pressed” Gibson into service and threatened to expose him if he revealed what happened. The pious, religious Irving tells Hickey that his “crisis is an opportunity to repair yourself” and that “God sees him.” Understandably peeved by all this, Hickey finds and confronts Gibson.

Gibson tries to defend himself by saying he only told Irving all this to get Irving off their backs and save their skin. Hickey isn’t buying it. He’s also feeling rather full of himself, as he tells Gibson about the drink he shared with Crozier. In Hickey’s eyes, that drink is a sign that he’s about to move up in the world. Gibson, however, laughs this off and says that Crozier will share a drink with anyone if it means he can have one himself.

Out on the ice, a team of men wait in a camouflaged tent, hoping to bait and kill the “bear” that killed Gore. Franklin and Goodsir pay a visit to the men. The visit is pleasant enough – until the monster shows up. The roof the tent is violently ripped off, and a man is pulled screaming into the air with it. His severed head comes tumbling down.

Panic sets in. Shots are fired. Franklin runs for his life – only to be caught and dragged away by the monster. We’re treated to a haunting, incredible shot of Franklin – dangling upside down as the monster carries him – cutting back and forth from the ice and the high-ceiling ornate hall where the earlier flashback took place. Franklin is roughly thrown down onto the ground, his legs severed, and then ends up being tumbled into the same hole the dead Inuit man had been dumped in earlier. It’s a brutal, excruciating end. We can practically feel the pain of it all.

All that remains of Franklin is one of his severed legs, which Goodsir places in a coffin. With Franklin now dead, Crozier plans to move ahead with his original rescue party plan undeterred. Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) begs Crozier to wait a day to allow the men to grieve, and Crozier acquiesces. And so, a funeral is held for Franklin’s leg. Crozier takes the eulogy Franklin penned for Gore, and repurposes it for Franklin.  

And somewhere, out on the ice, the monster pays Lady Silence a visit. But it doesn’t attack her. Instead, it leaves her a gift – a dead seal.

the terror the ladder franklin

The Ladder

Silence is a big theme this week. There’s Lady Silence herself – the quiet, mysterious daughter of the dead Inuit man, who clearly has some sort of connection to the monster. But then there’s the uneasy, ticking silence that blankets several moments:

  • Franklin and his officers sitting around the dinner table in silence, the only sound the creaking of the ship.
  • The eerie, uncomfortable silence that plays out as Goodsir takes a Daguerreotype photo of Franklin and the “bear” hunters – everyone has to stand perfectly still for the photo to take, and we’re forced to watch them, immobile, the sound of the chilly wind all around them.
  • And then, not much later, the silence that precedes the monster attack; the men sitting in seeming harmony within the tent, only to have the silence shattered when the monster comes calling.

All that silence makes for an extra creepy episode. Things already seemed pretty damn dire to begin with, but the brutal death of Franklin brings a whole new wave of hopelessness to the proceedings. Franklin was a bit of a dolt, and the scene where he blows up at Crozier in this episode makes him very unsympathetic. But that doesn’t mean he deserved the type of cruel fate that awaits him this week.

Director Sergio Mimica-Gezzan’s work this week might be the best direction of the series yet. The shot of Franklin begin dangled upside down like a child’s plaything is damn effective, as is the editing work that cuts back in forth to make it look as if Franklin is floating through the fancy hall where the flashback occured. As Franklin falls into the hole, several images – blood running down ice, a pair of legs – flash before our eyes. It’s unnerving as hell. Adding to the unease is the clanking, out of tone, eerie piano music that plays as the men come upon the spot where Franklin died.

I’ll miss Franklin. I’m sure the men will miss him too. But they have other things to worry about. Maybe next week things will start to go right for the men of the Terror and Erebus, though. Stranger things have happened, right?! 

Stray Observations

– Crozier pens a resignation letter right before Franklin dies, but never gets a chance to hand it over. Hickey finds the note later. I’m sure that’ll come up at some point further down the road.

– Did anyone else cringe at that moment were Crozier attempts to pull the telescope away from his eye, only to find the frost has made the metal cling to the skin of his eyelid? Brutal.

– Poor, poor Goodsir. He’s so nice, and so nervous, and so unlucky. The monster seems to keep attacking whenever he’s around.

– There’s a quick scene revealing that the canned provisions on Terror are starting to go bad. Store that knowledge away for the future.

– After Franklin’s death, the men sing a mournful song together. The song is a madrigal by Orlando Gibbons called The Silver Swan, likely written in 1611. Here are the words, so you, too, can sadly sing them in remembrance of Sir John Franklin:

The silver Swan, who, living, had no Note,
when Death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast upon the reedy shore,
thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
“Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise.”

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