We Are Gone: The Terror’s season finale is as tragic as it is beautiful

2 of 2

Jared Harris as Francis Crozier – The Terror _ Season 1, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC

Faced with the inability to kill or conquer the forces that have stalked the men across the ice, Hickey believes that if he mimics the same ritual which Silna attempted earlier in the season, he can somehow bend the Tuunbaq to his will. His perspective reflects the themes of colonialism woven throughout the show — that he should be barred from nothing, not even the most sacred aspects of another culture, if he decides they have value to him.

Luckily, the Tuunbaq eats him. But as Hodgson points out, you are what you eat. The Tuunbaq has not only eaten over a hundred men all suffering from lead poisoning but consumed their tainted souls as well. It’s only after devouring Hickey, arguably the most poisonous of all, that the Tuunbaq finally dies, unable to stomach the man’s evil.

The Terror has always been keenly aware of the different sides to the story it’s telling — one of which is of arrogant Western men pushing into a foreign land, expecting it to bend to their will simply because they are naturally superior. But the icy landscape does not care how advanced their technology is; and in the end, it devours them whole.

But the Arctic landscape is not evil. It is simply incompatible with the men who have trespassed there. For these explorers at the height of British colonialism, the idea of an unconquerable dominion is the truest horror to their sensibilities. The Tuunbaq is almost a geographic immune system, reacting to foreign invaders. The act of killing it, and disrupting the balance it represents, ends up being one more tally on Crozier’s guilt.

The Tuunbaq may be dead, but Crozier’s journey is far from over. Finding him still chained and unconscious, Silna has no choice but to cut off his hand in both a literal and metaphorical severance from his old existence. After recovering, Crozier is still bent on finding his men. He and Silna follow the debris of their exodus: books, cabinets, their poisoned cans of food, all the final pieces of their civilization leading to a mass grave. Edward Little is the last man alive. It is only when Crozier reaches him that he can finally die. Little’s final word — an echo of Crozier’s very first lines — is to ask his captain, “Close?”

I was reminded of something Crozier says earlier in the season when he and Fitzjames watch the men pack up the fine dishware to take with them on what will become a death march. When Fitzjames mentions how impractical their priorities are, Crozier says, “Things will drop away. To ask these men to see these bits of who they are as one more threat to them… No. Let them get some miles behind them before we ask them to do that.”

Now, everything has dropped away. From the men, and from Crozier himself. When we see him at the end of the episode, he’s shed all vestiges of his own society, dressed no differently than the rest of the Netsilik people around him. The penultimate scene is a new perspective on the very first of the season, in which James Ross is told those chilling words: “Tell them we are dead. Dead, and gone.”

The final shot of the series is of Crozier with a child sleeping at his side, waiting motionless with a spear before an air hole in the ice. The camera pans back slowly until he is an indistinguishable figure against the utter vastness of the landscape around him. It is a world which is as beautiful as it is terrible.

There is so much meaning and symbolism to unpack from this hour-long episode, but none of it leads to a comfortable moral about these men’s deaths. It would have felt disingenuous of such a complicated and rich narrative to offer an easy answer at the end. Instead, we are left with a feeling — of terrible grief, yes, but more than that.

This is the happiest ending we could hope for Crozier to get: the ability to walk away from his society, from his failure, and to give himself fully to atonement. He is beyond the end of vanity — he has given himself fully to atonement. But that desolation, after every last piece of him has fallen away, there is freedom.

Next: 4 disastrous expeditions to see in The Terror season 2

Whether or not The Terror gets a season two, this show has done something truly special. It’s finely balanced from start to finish, a masterpiece of horror and anguish. I already can’t wait to rewatch it and get my heart ripped out all over again.