The Terror and the legacy of Empire

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Nive Nielsen as Lady Silence – The Terror _ Season 1, Episode 4 – Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC

Both sides of the story

But The Terror is by no means a story solely about European hubris. We see, through the eyes of Silna and her people, the suffering the explorers’ presence (and the presence of others like them) has inflicted on the Netsilik. “The island gives us nothing but wind now,” one character says, after comparing the presence of the explorers to an unbalance in the ecosystem. Though the men of the Terror and Erebus are not personally responsible for the suffering of Silna’s people, they are unquestionably participating in the system which perpetuates it.

This is especially clear in a scene between Silna and Goodsir, where the ship’s surgeon attempts to explain that his people have stumbled into her world for the glory of the Empire and trade with China. The total absurdity of these noble ideals in the face of their present circumstances is only heightened by the fact that Silna literally does not speak the language. It’s an apt metaphor; these men have ventured out beyond the edges of their own world for the sake of ideals which become as meaningless as words in a foreign tongue. You can’t help but feel pity for Goodsir at that moment — but you also feel pity for Silna, as much a victim of those misplaced ideals as the men slowly dying around her.

Though many of the men may have been enticed onto the expedition with tales of glory, their true mission is the same as colonizers everywhere: to gain greater wealth and resources for their nation. One of the most unsettling moments of the season finale is a brief scene back in England when we see Sir James Ross preparing for the (tragically belated) mission to find the two lost ships. But when his companion off-screen expresses enthusiasm about how certain the rescue mission is to find the northwest passage, it’s clear that greed still drives the desire to push the edges of the map. In the end, the men’s lives are just as meaningless to those in their home country as the lives of the indigenous people. All that matters is the conquest.