'The Terror' Review: 'A Mercy' Feels The Burn

Welcome to our weekly recaps of AMC's historical horror show The Terror. This The Terror review takes a look at the sixth fiery episode, "A Mercy." Spoilers follow.

In this week's episode:

  • The men have a carnival!
  • The carnival goes very, very wrong!
  • Lead poisoning!
  • Tongue's removed!
  • A fiery blaze!
  • A Darkness

    Tonight's episode of The Terror certainly plays up the whole terror element. Even after multiple episodes full of sudden death, dismemberment and monster attacks, episode 6, "A Mercy", manages to be the most terrifying episode to date. Perhaps it's because the bulk of the horror on display here is coming from the men themselves, not the monster. This is the breaking point. There's no going back.It's been two weeks since the events of the previous episode. Provisions are running dangerously low, and if the men don't start rationing soon, they're going to run out of food completely within a year. Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies), however, is hesitant to enact such strict rationing, and would rather do so gradually so as not to alarm the men.The well-being of the men is very much on Fitzjames' mind, especially after he hears a story from Blanky (Ian Hart) – who now has a very stylish wooden leg, having lost the limb to the monster – about another failed expedition; an expedition involving Sir John Ross. While most men survived Ross' mission, Blanky adds that a dark, dangerous mood set in. "Notions," he says. "A darkness with no firm hand to stem it." In other words, if men under such stress and strain don't have some sort of relief, they turn dangerous.So Fitzjames comes up with an unexpected idea: he'll throw a grand carnival, with the hopes of lifting the men's spirits. The carnival will coincide with the first sunrise of the season. Fitzjames also realizes that everyone really should've listened to Crozier months ago. He concedes that the time is approaching when the men must abandon the ships and start a long, long journey (about 800 miles, all told) to find help. But first, the carnival. As Fitzjames puts it, it'll be the "last hurrah." He doesn't know how right he is.As for Crozier (Jared Harris), he's at the tail-end of his drying-out. He's still very sick, but he has – for the moment – beaten the bottle, and that has to count for something. Crozier is up on his feet just in time to make his way to the carnival, which has been assembled in a series of tents out on the ice.What he finds inside those tents disturbs him. Crozier may be sober now, but the men are very much intoxicated (shitfaced would probably the technical term here), and engaging in all sorts of wild, debauched behavior. At one point, Crozier wanders into a room and sees what appears to be two men chilling out in a giant pot over a fire, as if they were ready to serve themselves up as a meal.It's all very Masque of the Red Death, as if we've wandered into Prince Prospero's palace as he and his guest party away while the plague creeps closer and closer to the gates. Crozier would like to put a stop of this, but if he thinks things in the tents are bad now, all he needs to do is wait a few minutes to see the situation change from bad to cataclysmic.the terror episode 6

    A Hot Time On The Cold Town Tonight

    Dear, sweet Harry Goodsir (Paul Ready) has completed his experiments on poor Jacko the monkey, and made a startling discovery: all the food has been contaminated, and the men have all been ingesting lead. This explains the strange grey gums going around, and also the poor mental state on several sailors. Goodsir immediately reports his findings to Dr. Stanley (Alistair Petrie), but Stanley's reaction is strange. He tells Goodsir not to tell anyone about this, and that he'll take care of things from there.Back at the carnival, Crozier attempts to give a big, rallying speech about how the men much begin their long hike the minute sunlight arrives. He assures them that, while it will be arduous and dangerous, they should be able to survive, and that this trek will be their best chance at getting home.Before Crozier can finish, however, Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen) comes stumbling in, drenched in blood. Earlier, she attempted to communicate with the Tuunbaq monster, and then went ahead and cut her tongue out. Now, she's wandered into the carnival, sans tongue, and bedlam begins to set in. But it's only the start. While the men have all been distracted by Lady Silence, Dr. Stanley has sealed up the exits, spilled the alcohol, and then drenched himself (and his surroundings) in whale oil. Stanley then proceeds to set himself on fire, resulting in one of the most disturbing images to appear on this show yet. We watch as Stanley stands there, arms outstretched, body ablaze. It's a haunting, horrifying sight.The fire spreads quickly. Unable to escape, all seems lost. Rescue comes from an unlikely source: Hickey (Adam Nagaitis), who happened to be outside right when the tents got sealed up. Hickey attempts to free the men by cutting open the tent – but in the process he accidentally stabs (and guts) Dr. MacDonald, the other doctor on the expedition, making Goodsir the only real medical man left.Most of the men make it out as the tents go up in flames. The fire doesn't burn out until the sun finally rises, just in time to illuminate a row of charred corpses. Fitzjames, the person who organized this whole event, understandably feels a bit guilty about all of this. Earlier, Fitzjames had cheerily been saying that since it had been over two weeks since the men last laid eyes on the monster, it was likely their problems were over and the monster was dead. But the carnival massacre ended up proving the men of Terror and Erebus need no monster to thin their ranks. They merely need their own self-destructive tendencies.the terror episode 6 review

    A Mercy

    I don't know if I quite buy Stanley's sudden breakdown and self-immolation. It seems horribly abrupt, but I suppose that's the point. Perhaps this is the realization of what Blanky was talking about at the start of the episode: "A darkness with no firm hand to stem it."There's a lot of that darkness on display here. The men are growing worse and worse, mentally and emotionally. Part of what makes this such an excellent episode of The Terror is the quiet, reflective moments. There's an unsettling moment where Hickey visits Private Heather, the man whose brain is exposed and yet is still alive (though comatose). Hickey seems to poke the man's exposed brain.Then there's a moment where Stanley is visited by Henry Collins, who complains to Stanley that he feels as if his own mind is turning against him. Stanley, jerk that he is, doesn't much care about a man's poor mental health – only his physical state. He shrugs Collins off. It's a simple, effective scene that perfectly sums up what a prick Stanley is, and how quickly the mental state of several of the men is deteriorating.The best moment of the episode, however, doesn't involve horror at all. Instead, it's a quiet scene between Henry Peglar (Kevin Guthrie), Terror's Captain of the Foretop, and steward John Bridgens (John Lynch). Bridgens gives Peglar a book about "The March of the Ten Thousand." As Bridgens tells Peglar, the men on such a march had to make a choice: stay and fight a battle they could not win, or walk away and live another day. He tells Peglar that he, too, must begin to consider making such a journey after having heard Fitzjames confirm that the men should abandon the ships soon. It's such a calm, reflective, downright nice moment in a show that's usually bleak and cruel, that it really got to me. The moment is underscored later when, after the fire, Bridgens and Peglar find each other, alive, and embrace. The Terror is a depressing show, so whenever it wants to offer up such fleeting moments of kindness, I'll take it.

    Stray Observations:

  • The ship's dog is still alive. Please, just let the dog live. I don't care if it's inaccurate. Just let the dog live. Maybe the dog is a time traveler and it escapes into the future? Don't tell me that's silly, just make it happen!
  • Before Lady Silence cuts her tongue out, she sings a haunting song. The song was actually composed by the actress who plays Lady Silence, Nive Nielsen, as this tweet confirms:
  • Blanky taking a big drink from his wooden leg is a mood.
  • Add yet another ailment to the growing list: Fitzjames discovers his scalp is inexplicably bleeding, just at the hairline. I'm no doctor, but I'm guessing that's not a good thing.