You’re in the middle of the freezing, windy, snow-battered Arctic. Your ship is completely imprisoned in ice, and men have begun dying the strangest ways possible. It seems that same bitter fate is creeping closer to you every moment. And it’s the mid-1800s, so it’s not like you can tweet out a few SOS emojis and call for help. What should your greatest fear be? Frostbite? Cannibalism? The unsettling way the wind whistles at night? No, according to the men of AMC's period horror drama The Terror — the scariest thing in this increasingly fatal-sounding situation is the appearance of women and, maybe, a few members of the LGBTQ+ community. Now that is the real terror here.
The chilling thriller's latest episode, “The Ladder,” proved just how difficult it is to leave society’s greatest prejudices behind, even when you’re facing death, thousands of miles of home.
Your alarm bells over the Terror and Erebus’ crews enduring “traditional” (read: sexist) values should go off within the installment’s first three minutes. As the men are dealing with the corpse of an old Inuit man they accidentally killed, they’re none too worried about the very creepy matter at hand.
After all, the elderly individual was only murdered in “Gore” because the navy men who make up The Terror, which is based on a wild, real-life story, were unsurprisingly terrified by a so-called deadly “bear” chasing them for miles. The men accidentally shot their Inuit victim because they believed they were taking aim at the “bear.” As his daughter (Nive Nielsen), who will later be nicknamed Lady Silence, rages over the bloody accidental assault, which will eventually prove to be fatal, lightning cracks all around her. Then, all of a sudden, the impossibly large “bear,” called Tuunbaq, appears to rip a Terror-Erebus crew member apart.
Instead of recognizing any of that real horror, crew member John Morfin (Anthony Flanagan) remarks in the latest episode, “A girl on a boat… here. That’s spooky.” No, an unseeable, all-powerful Arctic predator following panicked Englishman in the snow for hours and subsequently tearing them to pieces is spooky. A bereaved young woman awaiting the release of her father’s body is simply sad. It’s not even like the genuinely “spooky” characteristics of Lady Silence — like her name, the fact she went completely silent after her father’s death, or her portentous last words to him about Tuunbaq — are what make her an eerie addition for the men. It’s the simple fact she’s a woman.
Somehow, this skittishness about ladies also applies to literal animals when it comes to The Terror. Later in “The Ladder,” we get some much-needed clarity on why captain John Franklin (Game Of Thrones alum Ciarán Hinds) would lead such an awful plan to find the Northwest Passage. Well, we can blame the Terror expedition on John’s pride, hubris, and a dream of proving all the naysayers wrong after an apparent political failure. When Sir John's wife Lady Jane Franklin (Greta Scacchi) gases her husband up ahead of his trip, she gives him a capuchin monkey as a going away gift. The normal reaction to that kind of present is delight mixed with confusion. Sir John's reaction is to say, aghast, “Darling, that monkey is female.”
How obsessed with gender does one have to be to realize a monkey, who is wearing pants, isn’t a male? How does one even figure that out? These questions are all the more obscure when Lady Jane responds to her husband's shocked sentiment by giggling, “Oh, is it?” That means she purchased the monkey and had no idea.
Similarly, amid the encroaching ice and continuous death, homophobia still has a place on the Terror and Erebus. It’s as though everyone hasn’t realized there are far greater menaces lurking about than which men are sleeping together and why. By “Ladder’s” midpoint, Cornelius Hickey (Adam Nagaitis) is confronted by the deeply religious John Irving (Ronan Raftery), who found Hickey and William Gibson (Edward Ashley) hiding in the bow of the ship in “Gore.” While Irving didn’t catch the men in flagrante, it was obvious something sexual was going on down in the darkest corner of the vessel between two men clearly hiding erections.
It's proven Hickey was right in “Gore,” and Irving is so terrified of opening his imagination to the mere idea of gay sex, he's unable to report Hickey and Gibson to anyone. Again, there is an ice monster running around killing people on The Terror, and gay sex is the thing too scary to even consider here. That’s why Irving seems almost delighted to reveal Gibson labeled Hickey a “devious seducer” who “pressed” the other man into servicing him. Of course, the relationship was actually consensual, but, for Gibson, lying was the only way to protect himself from the hanging threat of corporal punishment.
Irving is more than happy to believe gay men are simply evil sexual predators than accept the possibility two guys could be really, really attracted to each other on the ship. Because, it's likely Irving is worried, the coupling-up might start with two men, but, due to the lack of women, it could soon become four men, then six, then the entirety of the crew is gay. For most, this might sound like a solution to the body heat problem for everyone shivering about these snow-encased ships. But, for the devoutly religious Irving, such a place would be chaos. And, as Irving pointed out last week, “That’s a man afraid of chaos.”
As the men of The Terror get further and further from civilization, misogyny and homophobia are the only things keeping them connected to the 1840s world they once knew. Because, if women and gay men are still your greatest problems, the true nightmare creature stalking your every movement can’t be so bad, can it?
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