AMC’s new show The Terror presents a fictional retelling of the doomed Franklin expedition, which set off for the Arctic in 1845 and never returned. Horror author Grady Hendrix enjoyed the show’s take on real-life characters like John Franklin and Francis Crozier.
“This fits into my favorite genre out there,” Hendrix says in Episode 314 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, “which is good people trying to survive in a really horrible situation that is a crucible for their character.”
The show, based on a popular novel by Dan Simmons, imagines that Franklin’s men were hunted by a bear-like monster called the Tuunbaq. Fantasy author Erin Lindsey says that blend of real history and supernatural horror works extremely well.
“I’m a big fan of historical fiction,” she says, “and I’m especially a big fan of historical fiction with a sprinkling of the supernatural. So this really hit the sweet spot for me.”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley was particularly impressed by the show’s richly drawn characters. “It’s just such an accomplishment that we’re able to talk so much about the characters and their arcs in a story about a demon bear killing them off one by one,” he says. “Because I feel like so many treatments of this story, the characters would all be just disposable, one-dimensional cyphers.”
Science fiction author Sam J. Miller hopes to see more shows like The Terror that tell a complete story over the course of a handful of episodes.
“These limited series have the sweep and scope and—often—budget of cinema, and that really enables you to tell amazing stories and explore amazing characters, with awesome visuals and really great writing,” he says.
Listen to the complete interview with Grady Hendrix, Erin Lindsey, and Sam J. Miller in Episode 314 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Sam J. Miller on gay villains:
“I actually am not anti-gay villain. Coming of age as a queer person, the only representation I would see would be like Dr. Frankenstein or Ursula the sea witch, or any number of amazing queer villains, so I can get down with that. I read [Hickey] as a gay man, not just someone who was having gay sex because that’s the only way to have sex when you’re with all dudes, so I kind of liked that you could have a character that flawed and that complex, and also gay. But it also feeds into problematic narratives, and there are also levels on which I totally see a critique of that, and there’s definitely something to be said for not going that route.”
Erin Lindsey on subtlety:
“In listening to this podcast, it sounds like the makers of the show thought it was really obvious in that scene where [Lady Silence] offers her tongue to the Tuunbaq, that it rejects her. … And that’s one of many instances where I felt that they underplayed their hand a little bit. And I say this as somebody who, generally speaking, when I’m having editorial discussions with my agent or editor or whoever, they’re the ones who are telling me, ‘It’s too subtle, you need to play it up,’ and I always complain about beating people over the head with things. But even coming from that default position, I found a lot of this stuff was understated, too subtle, and needed to be a little more explicit.”
Erin Lindsey on survival horror:
“When survival horror works best, it’s a study of how civilization and morals either break down or at least come to light, or are shown in their most primordial states, under these kinds of survival pressures. And you could not start with a more regimented, hierarchical, orderly environment—the very definition of order—than a British naval ship in 1845. So you start out where the Rubik’s Cube is tight, everything is perfectly regimented, and slowly under this inexorable glacier that is the Arctic grinding them to dust, you see their true selves emerge, and how each of them copes with that. And I think the show did that very well.”
Grady Hendrix on history:
“In the show they make a big deal that the cut-rate supplier supplies all these cans where the lead solder has run into the food and contaminated it, and they’re all getting lead poisoning and going loopy. But most researchers now think that the high rates of lead in the bodies—in the remains they found—were pretty much because that was just the high rate of lead in the environment back in the day, and they felt like there was no way the amount of lead that was from those cans—that was leeching into the food—was in high enough quantities or concentrations, even in three years, to have had any kind of massive effect on people’s health.”