'The Terror' Episode 8 'Terror Camp Clear' Kills the Franklin Expedition's Last Hope

Bad weather and rough seas early in the morning of Aug. 4, 1964 made the Gulf of Tonkin a difficult environment to spot other ships, let alone conduct the intelligence-gathering mission two U.S. destroyers were sent to carry out. On edge after a skirmish with North Vietnamese patrol boats a few days earlier, both ships reported a combination of radar, sonar and radio signals they attributed to an attack by the North Vietnamese Navy. For four hours, they fired on radar targets and pulled off complicated maneuvers against a stubbornly unseen enemy. By the time the sun was up, Captain Herrick of the USS Maddox began to suspect there had been no enemy at all. But that didn't matter. The subsequent Gulf of Tonkin Resolution became the legal justification for ramping up the invasion of Vietnam. A pretense for aggression can always be found, often as a manipulation of genuine fear.

A similar paranoid mood hangs over The Terror episode 8, "Terror Camp Clear," as the men fear a war party of Inuit braves after Hickey (Adam Nagaitis) murdered his fellows on patrol and pinned the crime on an Inuit family, the members of which he also slaughtered. But unlike the Gulf of Tonkin, the mounting jumpiness of the men and increased chance of violence doesn't serve a President's imagined world order. Instead, it can only spiral into chaos, exactly what Hickey is counting on if he and his conspirators hope to sneak away with a bundle of supplies.

With Captain Crozier (Jared Harris) elsewhere investigating Hickey's kill spree, the men have only his standing orders to guide them as a bright haze falls over their base, established on King William Land after the expedition abandoned their frozen ships, Terror and Erebus. The long lines of sight afforded by the flat, tundra rock field disappear in the fog. When one guard tells his commanding officer he's heard whistling and the scrabble of feet over rocks —a theoretical enemy planning an ambush—it's a cynical lie, aimed to open up the armory and get more weapons out into the hands of men sympathetic to Hickey. But soon, that false fear becomes more concrete. Other men report hearing sounds, either in solidarity with the first liar or fabricated from their own growing terror. The armory is open, guns spread to men who shouldn't have guns, whose minds have been poisoned with lead and Hickey's escape fantasies.

Just when it seems disaster has been averted, with Hickey's head in a noose, the Tuunbaq appears, less as a monster and more as the personification of chaotic violence. As men scramble in the fog, looting, shooting and cracking into fluid alliances, the Tuunbaq is just one more opportunity to die.

"Terror Camp Clear" shares a basic format with several previous episodes, frontloading quiet conversations, dogged work and a tenuous new status quo between the sailors, only to dash it apart at the end, in a gush of blood and dismemberment. The Tuunbaq attack here isn't as impressive a set piece as either "First Shot a Winner, Lads" or "A Mercy"—for one, the more we see of the monster, the sillier it looks—but it does portend the end of any hope for the steadily dwindling Franklin Expedition.

The mood over The Terror's eighth episode is downright apocalyptic. Sores are spreading. Commander James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies), his vanity and medal-chasing bravado decaying with his body, pours his heart out to Crozier (whose former alcoholism has so far spared him the worst effects from the lead-poisoned tinned food). Without hope, even lies look preferable. Few minds are changed after Crozier gives a rousing speech against Hickey and his thwarted mutiny—even with his lies laid bare, the possibility of escape is too overwhelming for truth to overcome.

Crozier and Fitzjames, once at each other's throats, have found an unlikely brotherhood. Aidan Monaghan / AMC

Sympathy with Hickey is unpalatable after his murderous outburst in the previous episode "Horrible from Supper," but it's easy to see why the men wouldn't feel inclined toward trusting Crozier and the other officers. While we see into Crozier's meetings and secrets, the sailors and marines of the expedition only see their own physical decay and dwindling reserves. Where Crozier overcoming his alcoholism fits our conception of a redemptive character arc (putting us in the same seat as the men of the Royal Society, who Lady Jane Franklin berates for narratizing peril in the fourth episode), it must look like absenteeism to those serving under him.

"Terror Camp Clear" takes a hard stare at our need for purgative confrontation. Rather than abiding tension until violence is the only remaining course, we'd rather manufacture whatever excuse is needed to end the strain of waiting. While the men of The Terror may believe they're either guarding against a nonexistent Inuit army, or escaping to freedom with a band of mutineers, neither path looks like hope. Instead, each is an escape hatch fear squeezes them through, forcing the desire for resolution to transform into an acceptance of finality. With no other options left, the expedition's men do everything in their power to kill any chance they have of survival.