'The Terror' Episode 4, 'Punished, as a Boy,' Pits The Monster Against Britain's Stiff Upper Lip

It's hard to keep a stiff upper lip after "Punished, as a Boy," an uppercut of an episode. British esprit de corp begins to dissolve aboard Erebus and Terror under the relentless siege of a monster exhibiting signs of diabolical intelligence, like cutting two men in half and sticking the top half of one to the bottom of the other.

The first three episodes of AMC's The Terror felt propulsive and plotted, climaxing with the death of Sir John Franklin, the expedition's leader, dumped unceremoniously down an ice hole by the monster stalking the trapped Arctic explorers. Its fourth feels more like serial TV—a show settling in for a ten episode long haul, setting some plates spinning for later plot points. But while the latest episode of The Terror is less driven, it compensates with a deepening bench of concerns. It ups the pressure below deck and even, at the episode's beginning, ventures back to England, where "Punished, as a Boy" reveals one of its more surprising concerns: popping the romantic veneer of empire and duty.

"Oh, don't they know we can hear them!" Sophia Cracroft (Sian Brooke) says as she waits with Lady Jane Franklin (Greta Scacchi) to speak with the Royal Society. She can hear them laughing through the wood-paneled doors, as if callous to the missing expedition. Once before them, Lady Jane rebuffs every attempt at glad-handing, soft pedaling and empty flattery. As aware of the conditions of the expedition as any Society Fellow, Lady Jane undermines the Society's self-mythologizing, overturning it to reveal inadequacy, maybe even cowardice.

"I'd rather that we helped him now and praised him later," she says, rebuffing their efforts to rhetorically inflate Franklin's abilities and assure her that the expedition could still be on track, even after two years without word. Only Sir John Ross (Clive Russell) is brave enough to agree with Lady Jane in the presence of his fellow explorers, his words curdling the expressions of the men around him like a fart. For all the Society's bravado, it's clear not one of them wants to spend the money or risk their lives chasing Terror and Erebus into the Arctic Circle.

Lady Jane and Sophia Cracroft confront the Royal Society. Aidan Monaghan/AMC

"Our men have been out there in unimaginable temperatures for more than a million minutes. No one can convince me that optimism or confidence is warm enough," Lady Jane says. "Most of you gentlemen have written your memoirs. I've read them. The past tense is a very sturdy thing. It's earned, but it does take for granted one has survived. The present is a different case entirely." Under her withering words, the men of the Royal Society begin to look less august and more like a puffed-up daring society, who goad each other out into greater and greater danger with promises of status and respectability.

Lady Jane is the episode's wrecking ball, exposing the weakness of British derring-do. But where Lady Jane has the status to bash through high society, Cracroft and Captain Francis Crozier (in charge of the expedition since the death of Sir Franklin), are revealed to be its victims. Drunk (again), Crozier thinks back on his failed proposal to Cracroft and his great hope that his next expedition could secure them a future together. But as an Irishman, with no title, it is not to be; Lady Jane and Sir Franklin won't allow it. Once again Lady Jane gets the last word, this time shoring up social boundaries: "This will be the great tragedy of your life, Francis."

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Sophia Cracroft and Francis Crozier, whose future together is doomed as much by polite society as by the Arctic. Aidan Monaghan/AMC

In two flashbacks to England, The Terror shows us major downsides to both the British social structure and the "brass it out" attitude that makes for phenomenal stories—like Captain Lawrence Oates, who would become famous 70 years after Franklin's lost expedition, for his gallant Antarctic self-sacrifice—but underwhelms at actual crisis points. If that identity can be interrogated in the well-appointed halls of power, it's easy to imagine how quickly social mores break down aboard Terror and Erebus, under the most dire conditions imaginable.

Which brings us to the central event of "Punished, as a Boy." After witnessing the monster pull yet another crewman from the gunwale, Cornelius Hickey (Adam Nagaitis) takes matters into his own hands, leaves the ship with two other men, and captures the Inuit woman they've come to call Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen). In doing so, they've abandoned their post and broken a bunch of other rules. But here's the thing: Crozier was planning on ordering the capture of Lady Silence after the crew, weary from yet another death, got a few hours sleep. Hickey, without knowing it, has done what Crozier wanted. And he is punished for it, severely.

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Lady Silence is taken into custody after the crew of Terror begin to suspect she may control the monster stalking them. Aidan Monaghan/AMC

When they get back, Hickey tells an extraordinary story, with Lady Silence seeming to placate—or in their estimation, control—the monster. Though Hickey remains defiant, certain he's done the right thing, maybe even rescued the crew from an Inuit sorceress, Crozier comes down on him, hard. Where his co-conspirators receive 12 lashes, Hickey receives 30. More than that, he is to be punished "as a boy," meaning he takes his licks on the buttocks (we are left to imagine if Crozier comes down on Hickey extra hard after they shared sympathies over the difficulty of serving while Irish). The results are horrific. And while the public punishment seems to tamp down the unrest aboard, it's made clear Crozier has only managed to push the resentment below the surface when the majority of the crew opt to bunk aboard Erebus. Crozier is losing control and his strict adherence to naval punishment has only made the situation worse.

If polite society can't even withstand the withering criticism of Lady Jane or the possibility of an Irish man marrying an English woman, it's not surprising to see it break down aboard Terror. But in its final scene, "Punished, as a Boy," projects the critique outward, in a perfect demonstration of the ways in which an empire justifies itself, this time in the shape of Dr. Henry Goodsir (Paul Ready). Though depicted as one of the most uncomplicated "good guys" on the Franklin Expedition, Goodsir exemplifies the blundering, smiling imperialism, convinced of its own goodness as it sends its military around the world. Where others might act for selfishness or advantage or outright villainy, Goodsir is convinced British power is exercised to the noble ends his society would claim for itself.

Bringing food to Lady Silence, now imprisoned onboard Erebus, Goodsir tries to speak with her, describing London at length, despite her clear lack of comprehension. "I don't know what's happening here, I truly don't," he says, in an effort to justify how she's been treated. "This is not how Englishmen act. I don't recognize this behavior." But after "Punished, as a Boy," it's hard not to recognize it.