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The Terror - Season 1 Reaction & Season 2 Preview

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One of my more anticipated shows from 2018 was AMC's and Ridley Scott's Scott Free Productions' long-gestating adaptation of Dan Simmons' 2007 novel, The Terror. I still remember reading about the series announcement in 2016 and immediately running to read the 784 page novel (No, Dan Simmons is rarely known for his brevity). Reading the novel, I was concerned how this expansive and very descriptive tale would translate to a ten episode series set in the freezing arctic. It felt like it would need five seasons just to cover the whole saga. More importantly, would it get past season one?

Despite Ridley Scott's industry muscle, a series set in the 19th century about the Royal Navy looking for the Northwest Passage and encountering an unseen, malevolent force probably wasn't going to attract enough of a Nielsen audience to justify its high production costs. However, AMC had been in the habit at the time of giving its more historical and worthy (ie. noncommercial) series like Turn: Washington Spies, Halt & Catch Fire, and Hell on Wheels additional seasons to grow their fan base (usually on Saturday nights and Netflix streaming) in spite of lower than desired overnight linear ratings and DVR numbers. However, The Terror was a property commissioned by a network clearly trying to cater to their dwindling The Walking Dead audience. Would AMC get the blockbuster ratings the Robert Kirkman adaptations were getting?

I do remember reading how The Terror was being positioned to being an anthology series with a new story and cast every season a la American Horror Story, American Crime Story, Feud, Channel Zero, and other horror series of the time. Would it be a one and done show? At the time, that didn't bother me since they were going to cover the entire novel in those ten episodes. Even if the numbers didn't make an impression on the executives, at least the whole story would have been told on screen.

Well, cut to a few years later, despite mediocre linear numbers, a small, but passionate, cult fanbase, and one mere Satellite Award for Best Genre Series, The Terror was renewed for season 2, sub-titled Infamy, which will cover Japanese internment camps during World War II. Of course, Dan Simmons was not creatively involved and the new season was not based on any novel.

 For those unacquainted with the series thus far, The Terror is set in 1847 and fictionalizes the true life account of Captain Sir John Franklin's doomed expedition to the Arctic. This version involves the Royal Navy's two polar ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror as they embark into uncharted territory to seek the Northwest Passage. However, things don't go so smoothly as the ships are both attacked viciously and the surviving crew must adapt to harsh, frozen conditions and the not-so-friendly company of each other in order to survive and defeat a menacing unseen force that wishes them no mercy. Not surprisingly, the crew's civilized behavior starts to diminish and the allure of cannibalism is never off of the table. It starred Mad Men's Jared Harris, Outlander's Tobias Menzies, Paul Ready, Ian Hart, Nive Nielsen, Greta Scacchi, Ciaran Hinds, Adam Nagaitis, among many others. It was developed by the screenwriter of the remake of Susperia, A Bigger Splash, True Story, and The Invasion, (along with being uncredited for the remake of Pet Semetary) David Kajganich.

Ultimately, what I appreciated most about the first season of The Terror was that it did what Ron Howard's feature, In the Heart of the Sea, failed to do: made the viewer care about the perilous situations these brave men faced in those times. It created a compelling narrative and atmosphere through world-building that made the viewer want to investigate this story further. What was real? What was made up? What was true about the Inuit tribe and their religion? The series made excellent use of CGI, cinematography, and a foreboding score by the late Marcus Fjellström that allowed its superfluous cast to shine. Never once did I feel that the characters were upstaged by the (as IMDB describes it), "monstrous polar bear-like predator, a cunning and vicious Gothic horror." Though the monster suffered from the constraints of a basic cable TV budget, the chilling atmosphere and outstanding performances didn't allow its unconvincing look to sink the series' quality.

 The only real criticism I could give the 1st season (and why I feel it didn't receive the numerous major award nominations it clearly deserved) was that the creators were forced by the 10 episode count to wrap up the story too quickly. They ended up spending too much of that surprisingly limited time on character development. Of course, they had to divulge from the novel. There was no way they could have included all of that detail in a visual medium, esp with AMC's numerous commercial breaks. Surprisingly, a show like Outlander has proven to have been less faithful to its source material than the premiere season of The Terror. Instead of the anthology format, I feel they should have made the adaptation to be two full seasons in order for the pacing to feel right and the story could properly breath. The twist at the end of the tenth episode could've been told over the course of two satisfying episodes instead of the rush job it felt like.

 As for my expectations for season two, Infamy, I am trying to keep them at bay. For those that do not know, it will star Star Trek's George Takai as a former prisoner of two interment camps, Derek Mio as a solider who is the son of Japanese immigrants, and C. Thomas Howell will cameo. It was developed by Alexander Woo and screenwriter for the new Godzilla franchise, Max Borenstein. The story, according to the press release, will "center on an uncanny specter that menaces a Japanese-American community from its home in Southern California to the internment camps to the war in the Pacific."

While that is pretty vague, it is safe to assume this new season will try to borrow from the aesthetic of the first season and build upon it. Sadly, we cannot expect a score from the original composer who passed on recently after the 1st season was completed. Since I am a new writer for this site, I will tell you that I typically avoid trailers for new seasons as I want every bit of footage to be new to me. I don't want anything spoiled and that the second season trailer is no exception. All I can say is, we are in for quite a late summer chiller with this one. Don't turn the air conditioning up too much.

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