The Terror and the legacy of Empire

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

From pages to screen

(Warning: The next three paragraphs will spoil the ending of the book. If you’re not here for that, skip ahead.)

The show tackled the idea of European intervention in foreign cultures in a much different way from its source material. In the book, the Tuunbaq is an evil spirit who shamans like Silence and her father must placate with offerings of animal flesh. Crozier ends up joining that order, removing his own tongue and forming a romantic relationship with Silence to help keep that evil in check.

But that ending always rubbed me wrong; why should Crozier be admitted to the rituals of a culture he openly disdained? It comes back to the same idea that colonialism and exploration share in equal parts: that no door should remain shut to an outsider who has somehow “earned” the right to its secrets, whether that conquest be violent or peaceful.

But the fact is, the elements of other cultures are not prizes to be won, or mantles to be donned at will. And AMC’s The Terror illustrates that in a much more sensitive way. The Tuunbaq is more of a protector, and Crozier kills it by literally forcing the worst of his own men down its throat. And though he ends up living with the Netsilik people, he does not become a shaman or marry Silna. He remains an outsider; but in the end, he also gains a truer understanding of the Netsilik than any other character. That idea of gaining knowledge through passivity is directly counter to the romantic ideal of exploration, which are active and invasive by nature.