In the latest installment of our exclusive The Terror post mortem series, showrunners David Kajganich and Soo Hugh, and actor Jared Harris (Crozier) discuss the cultural divide between the Naval officers and Lady Silence (Nive Nielsen), as well as bringing Blankey's harrowing confrontation with the Tuunbaq in the ship masts to life.
**Spoiler warning: Spoilers for The Terror Episode 5: "First Shot a Winner, Lads" are discussed in detail.**
As the endless dark nights of winter wreak havoc on the stamina and psyches of the seamen, Captain Crozier (Jared Harris) continues to drink himself into a daily stupor. However, the cumulative paranoia about the creature stalking and killing the men reaches a fever pitch. So, Lady Silence is taken back to The Terror for an interrogation with Crozier in hopes of getting more information about what is attacking them, and why.
Jared, prior to this episode, Crozier was one of the few who was respectful of Lady Silence by using her language to communicate. It allowed us to see a softer side of him, which allowed us to feel some empathy for him.
Jared Harris: Yes, that idea is in Dan Simmons' book and was accurate in that Crozier had had experience and could speak some Inuit. He had a familiarity with their culture, so he was a bridge, so that was a very useful tool. But this is a guy who you're gonna be following, so he needs to be nuanced. People are gonna feel a certain empathy towards the character, and then there are other things that are gonna repel you from the character. So, you're playing this game with the audience in that sense. And in Episode 5, he gets pretty bad towards her.
He does lose his patience with her reticence and threatens to ban her from the ships.
JH: One of the things we talked about was when they bring her to the boat, there needs to be signs of there having been a struggle between them. She wouldn't have gone willingly, by herself. And that struggle is going to have put her mind against us, and that I will not be able to get what I need to get out of her now. We have to try and recover her trust and her faith. He sees her as an ally, you know? And at the same time, it’s very frustrating because, again, we encountered this without trying to find out more about what the Tuunbaq is. They don't want to talk about it. Like where she says it's a Tuunbaq and then we go, ‘toon bak?’ and she corrects us. We're trying to figure it out, but there’s the arrogance of like, ‘We can't hear what you're saying and we're just gonna go, what is it? We can't understand what you're saying!’” We'll rename it, you know?
David and Soo, talk about what that fraught interrogation scene does in setting up where several stories will go next.
David Kajganich: What I love about that scene is you don't really walk away with much information, but you walk away with some sense of momentum forward. Because if you're going to have a language barrier in a story like this, you want it to actually have consequences. It was a lot of fun trying to design. I mean, that's a seven or eight-minute dialogue scene. That's an awfully long time for people to be talking in a room in a television show, but so much gets turned and examined in that scene. So much character reveal happen, it seemed like we could go ahead and take that risk.
What's a highlight of the exchange for you?
DK: I love that the one piece of information that comes out of that conversation is this thing that Blanky (Ian Hart) says. He thinks Tuunbaq might be close to a word that he knows from a different part of the Arctic, that may mean a spirit who dresses as an animal. It's a tidy way to articulate what it might be. But when you leave that scene, you still don't know, which is the fun part of it.
Soo Hugh: Even the Croziers and Blankys of our world have blind spots. Because they never asked her what it was from a genuinely sincere point of view. When Crozier asks Goodsir (Paul Ready), "Why don't you ask her how do you kill it?" That's what they want to know. They want to know how do we destroy this creature? That's the question you are not supposed to ask. But who can blame them? Goodsir just gives Crozier this look, like, "How do you suddenly know those words?" It's ambiguous. That scene is so layered and interesting, because it really does show how complicated Tuunbaq is, even for us as writers of the show. It's sensitive.
DK: But hopefully it doesn't read coy. Hopefully, you understand that the reason that this conversation is so hard, is because this isn't something someone from Lady Silence's culture would talk about with outsiders. But she's in an emergency, so she may have to make some tough choices. The other fun thing about that scene is, even with Crozier, who you have sympathy for, and Goodsir, who you have sympathy for, and Blanky, they don't quite know how to have this conversation. Then in the middle of it, Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) walks in wondering what the heck's going on. And you just get pulled further and further away from the possibility of the connection.
SH: It's like a western saloon scene. You know, where people keep coming into the scene and it can veer on comedy. But because our actors are so good, it just stays so sharp.
We finally get a much better look at the Tuunbaq when it brutally chases Blanky up into the masts. You said before that was a scene you needed to translate from the book, but how did you come to determine just how much to show the audience?
SH: In terms of the way most shows do these kind of scenes, they want to show more than we did. We had to keep on telling our VFX team, who are great, "Obscure it more. More fog, more atmo, more." They were like, "But you're not going to be able to see any of it." We’re like, "That's fine because we will hear it and we will feel it." The audience will not be confused and think they're running away from a fog. So, when you finally have that one shot of the lantern come down, that feels like such a reward because it's our first glimpse of the Tuunbaq. That was a lot of fun.
DK: And it was shot as it was blocked in the script. So, the question just became, down to the frame really, how much we wanted to see. One of our mandates for the show was, in these horror sequences or these action sequences, we always wanted the audience to feel like they were a little too close, or a little too far from how they wanted to see something like this. So, with the elements of weather and darkness, we were able to do that. There's a certain basic amount of visual information you need to understand, like how they can fire a cannon at it and with some certainty know that they've got a chance of hitting it. Things like that, we knew we needed some visual disclosure. But it sure was fun to pull as far back from that as we could and still have a scene that made sense.
SH: And talk about a master performance from Ian (Hart) because that sequence was shot over weeks. For an actor to keep that consistency, and not only that, be able to shape the performance over weeks. It was a visually and physically really demanding sequence. Only someone like Ian Hart with his professionalism, and his talent, is able to do that.
Watch how the VFX team brought the Tuunbaq to life:
Watch The Terror showrunners talk about casting the series:
The Terror airs Mondays nights on AMC.