The Terror, Season 1, Episode 4: “Punished as a Boy”
Written by David Kajganich
Directed by Edward Berger
Airs Mondays at 9 pm ET on AMC
If last week’s episode of AMC’s The Terror was shocking, this week’s episode wisely chooses to turn the temperature down a bit. After Sir John’s unexpectedly brutal death at the hands of the monster, it would have been difficult to find something anywhere near as charged. Instead, “Punished, as a Boy” returns to the daily struggles of the members of the Terror and the Erebus. Their situation is growing direr by the day, and the beast that stalks them has been emboldened.
We don’t start with the beast, though. Instead, we’re transported to the safety of Victorian-era London, where Captain Crozier’s wife Sophia (Sian Brooke) and her aunt, Lady Jane Franklin (Greta Scacchi), are engaged in a futile attempt to secure a rescue party for their husbands. Their pleas fall on deaf ears — the assembled admirals aren’t even sure that there is any need for alarm, considering that the missing ships have three years’ worth of food and were designed to survive being frozen in the ice.
It becomes clear, however, that they also have little respect for the expedition’s leader, Sir John. It remains unstated, but they almost seem to think that he has brought any unpleasantness down on his own head. Being important men of society, they’re not particularly concerned about the ordinary soldiers who may be doomed with him. Lady Jane’s solution to their inaction is to go to the media, which in this case is her close friend Charles Dickens. It’s an interesting real-life detail; Dickens so often wrote about the most corrupt parts of society’s underbelly, but here he was being brought in to confront as very public, and very high up, form of corruption.
On board the Terror, things have seemingly returned to normal. The ship has shifted on a pocket of ice, causing everything to lean a few degrees. This doesn’t seem to have affected the crew much, most of whom are below decks celebrating (and hazing) a birthday boy. But death returns to the sailors unfortunate enough to be on the watch duty. One appears to have been bisected Black Dahlia-style, though it later turns out the monster has gone full serial killer, leaving the bottom half of one victim and the top half of another. A third crew member has also been dragged from the ship to his death (the dragging is reminiscent of the wendigo of American Indian mythology, although the creature the show has created doesn’t bear much resemblance to it beyond that aspect). These new gruesome murders erase any remaining vestiges of belief in a killer bear — this creature is far too precise and malicious to be a mere animal.
Two expeditions are led in order to counter the creature. The first is led by Captain Crozier (Jared Harris), who sends the men out in pairs to find the missing sailor. He’s the one to spot the body, or what’s left of it, which amounts to little more than an article of clothing and a smear of blood across the snow. Crozier commits the cardinal sin of horror films while searching and splits up from his companion, a cabin boy who begged to come along. When he returns, there’s nothing left of him but a similar patch of crimson in the ice.
The other (unofficial) expedition is led by Hickey (Adam Nagaitis). After discovering a bisected body, he grabs two marines and sets off to find Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen), the Inuit woman discovered near when the creature started to attack. Hickey has become convinced that she shares some connection to the creature. Last week’s episode seemed to suggest that her father was somehow able to control it, and his death has now left everyone but her vulnerable. Hickey initially seemed like one of the more perceptive mates, but his fear and bitterness have made him suspicious, even paranoid. He abducts Lady Silence, then stirs a mob up on deck that threatens to lynch her. Crozier restores order and sentences the three men to receive lashings, the most severe being reserved for Hickey. His need to talk back results in further humiliation. He is to receive 30 lashings — as a boy, i.e., to his butt, rather than across his back. The pain and humiliation further warp Hickey, and it’s clear from the look in his eyes that malicious thoughts float behind them.
There’s another danger to the crews that is only given a small amount of screen time. While treating a sailor complaining of a headache, Goodsir (Paul Ready) examines his gums, which are dark, bordering on black. It’s not completely clear, but this might be a case of scurvy, caused by a vitamin C deficiency. Much of the canned food on the expedition has gone bad due to faulty manufacturing, so the fruit juice the men were consuming may be waning. The creature may pick them off one by one, but scurvy will do the job much more efficiently.
Find our weekly recaps of The Terror here
Brian Marks is Sordid Cinema’s Lead Film Critic. His writing has appeared in The Village Voice, LA Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, and Ampersand. He’s a graduate of USC’s master’s program in Specialized Arts Journalism. You can find more of his writing at InPraiseofCinema.com. Best film experience: driving halfway across the the country for a screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s “King Lear.” Totally worth it.
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