The Terror, AMC’s  new horror series, is well worth your time. Based on Dan Simmons’s 2007 novel and executive produced by Ridley Scott, it is the fictionalized retelling of Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage. In this version, the fantastic elements intensify an already harrowing tale, where the natural world is as much a monster as the supernatural threats that plague the doomed men.

At the cairn

The cast is full of many familiar faces, all in fine form. Jared Harris (Resident Evil: Apocalypse, The Expanse) stars as Captain Francis Crozier, a veteran of previous Arctic expeditions and commander of the Erebus. Ciarán Hinds (Excalibur, Game of Thrones, Justice League) plays Captain Sir John Franklin, commander of the Terror and of the expedition. Tobias Menzies (Game of Thrones) is Commander James Fitzjames, second in command of the Terror. Paul Ready (Tipping the Velvet) plays the sympathetic and humane ship’s surgeon. Rounding out the main cast are Ian Hart (Harry Potter, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) as ice master Thomas Blankly, Adam Nagaitis as the devious, low-ranking mate Cornelius Hickey, and Nive Nielsen as Lady Silence, the daughter of a slain Inuit man.

The characters’ backgrounds of prejudice, piety, ambition and failure are briefly and efficiently given. The prior arctic experience of much of the crew looms over the current endeavor–the men know what danger faces them, and know how much luck will be needed to survive the trip.

The first three episodes build on the repercussions of Captain Franklin’s decision not to seek a sheltered bay for the winter. The Terror and the Erebus become frozen into the ice pack. Spring comes without a thaw, rations spoil, and exploratory parties end with the accidental shooting of an Inuit man and an animal attack on the men. What might be a bear begins to stalk the ships’ crews, killing Captain Franklin and several others.

Premature hope for The Terror’s men

The Terror shows great restraint in spinning its bleak and unnerving tale. The plot bides its time, building tension with patience and attention to detail, from the class distinctions to the technology to the china on the captain’s table. The camera lingers on everything–the bleak arctic landscape, a sailor’s wasted corpse, a drafty seat-of-ease–with similar portent. The sense of discomfort has no particular source, making it hard to shrug off. Everything, and nothing, may be a threat.

This subtle sense of danger seeping through every frame of The Terror creates a brooding, gothic quality in the show. The shrouded, monochrome landscape and the dark hulks of the ships, the half-seen creature menacing the men are all part of the oppression.

The violence when it comes is shocking not because it is over the top but because it is long- anticipated, abrupt, and only partially seen. The characters (save one) do not get any clearer view of what attacks them than does the audience.  Bodies are not recovered. The form of the monster is only suspected. The sprays of blood over the snow are so copious and dark as to be almost dreamlike. But the resulting damage is realistically, almost clinically, portrayed, and the overall effect is one of detached yet pervasive horror.

With three episodes currently available for streaming, and seven still to air, The Terror has already created a compelling and thoroughly disturbing mystery. It would be a shame to waste it.

Preacher, the comic book-inspired series that debuted on May 22 on AMC, is so far a cautiously-paced, blackly funny critical darling of a show. I am not familiar with the original Vertigo comic book, so I can’t compare the adaptation to its source material. But three episodes in to a ten episode run I am enjoying Preacher immensely. There is a catchy if still-murky premise, a sly wink to its unavoidable irreverence, and a great attention to character details that I hope the show will sustain.

The Preacher himself
The Preacher himself

Preacher takes place in the dusty Texas town of Annville, where Jesse Custer has returned from a life roughly lived to serve (unsuccessfully) a shrinking flock at the failing All Saints Congregational Church. He still drinks heavily, still smokes like a chimney, and cannot quite abandon his ability (and willingness) to beat the crap out of deserving people. He refuses the bait when his ex, Tulip, shows up to try to persuade him to take on another “job”. She won’t take his no as a final answer. The vampire Cassidy literally falls from the sky into the middle of Jesse’s fight with his past. Then the mysterious alien force comes knocking and finds a home in Jesse, and the series can rightly begin.

That summary brings us to the end of the pilot. It isn’t until halfway through episode 3 that Jesse begins to explore the power he only discovered at the end of episode 2. Cautiously paced, indeed.

The charming Tulip O'Hare
The charming Tulip O’Hare

The main characters are likeable in a really bad decision kind of way. Dominic Cooper broods with charm as the rumpled, doubting Jesse Custer, Ruth Negga is sweet, wickedly sarcastic, and dangerous as Tulip O’Hare, and Joseph Gilgun is cheerfully deranged as Cassidy (So far, the dissolute, 119 year old vampire Cassidy is my favorite character. His accent is almost impenetrable and his habits are disgusting. Blood may be the life but booze is more fun, and boredom appears to be his primary enemy. And somehow, improbably, he is Jesse’s best friend).

Because of the strength of the casting the characters all have surprising depth to them, considering how little information we actually have about them and what drives them. Even the secondary and supporting players are rounded out, written with a great deal of intelligence, sympathy, and cutting wit.

And Cassidy, the resident vampire
And Cassidy, the resident vampire

But then, Preacher’s dominant trait seems to be its dark, sharp humor—which ranges from panicky Russian Satanists to news reports of Tom Cruise exploding, and from a frequently referenced “bunny sound” to a cocktail of “rubbing alcohol, coffee machine descaler, and a bit of the stuff dripping off the back of the air conditioning unit”. There are several…invigorating…fight scenes, perversions, fetishes, and debauchery, struggles with faith, and a strong moral center who is not actually our hero. Sunglasses are used to great effect. And there is an exceptional soundtrack, with Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash leading the way.

Since the tangled past is already well known to the characters, they don’t spend any time rehashing it for the audience’s benefit. What is referenced is not well-explained, but there is a distinct air of Big Mysteries to be revealed somewhere down the line. It takes a little work to keep up, but the show is interesting, and not knowing the context is not such a big deal. Yet. But it will be.

It’s that cautious pacing. At this point, it’s beginning to feel nearly soap-opera slow—like the first season of True Detective, but funny. We are still finishing the set-up. Many things are beginning, but the threads are not connected, yet, and the writers aren’t tipping their hand. Right now there are many questions and many hints as to what may be coming, but the story arc hasn’t truly begun to bend. The first three episodes have been laying a lot of groundwork without filling in too many details. They have given us a fascinating peepshow of abilities, potentials, and motivations, with enough quirks and jokes to make us care.

But now I think Preacher’s plot needs to speed up and dabble a little more deeply in exposition to keep the audience fully involved. Going into episode 4, I am hoping for some serious, plot-making action. Three weeks is a long time to go without it.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

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