Based on the novel by Dan Simmons, THE TERROR, which originally aired on AMC and I caught on Amazon Prime, offers a horror take on Captain Sir John Franklin’s doomed expedition to the Arctic in 1845–1848. Driven by strong characters and a powerful cast, the show brilliantly combines a supernatural monster element with actual historical events rendered with rich accuracy and realism.
The show begins with two British warships, which have been converted into the most technologically advanced exploring vessels of the age. Their mission is to explore the Arctic in search of the elusive Northwest Passage, which would offer a dramatically shorter trade route between the United Kingdom and China. Leading the expedition are Captain Crozier of the TERROR (Jared Harris, rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors), Captain Franklin (the great Ciaran Hinds) of the EREBUS, and Franklin’s second, Commander Fitzjames (the solid Tobias Menzies). We also get to know many other crew members, all of them distinct and likeable or detestable.
Franklin is out for glory and rashly commits the ships to a route that freezes up and leaves the ships icebound, against the advice of Crozier, who is the more practical of the two but also haunted by his failings to the point of struggling with a drinking problem. Things are bad enough as the crew is forced to winter in the Arctic, but after a local native is killed, a strange creature appears and begins hunting them one by one.
The real horror element isn’t the creature, however, but the cold, the refusal of the ice to thaw, the deteriorating rations, and the resulting madness and starvation that slowly tears the crew apart and turns them from honor- and duty-bound Englishmen into savages. Fear in all its guises is on full display in this show, as the men continually face an impossible and steadily worsening situation and struggle to maintain duty and compassion. The result is powerful, heartbreaking drama.
In short, the show is brilliant. While it decisively concluded as a miniseries, based on its popularity, its makers are turning it into an anthology show, with the second season set in a Japanese internment camp during WW2. I highly recommend it.