The Terror’s Jared Harris and show runners discuss the chilling finale

Interview by Tara Bennett for SYFY Wire, 22nd May 2018

“We Are Gone,” brings The Terror to a close with surprises, more death, and a deeply moving rumination on how the last days of the few surviving members of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus might have played out. We close out our running series of The Terror postmortems with actor Jared Harris (Crozier) and showrunners David Kajganich and Soo Hugh.

As we’re now at the finale, tell me about your process in terms of wanting to know how Crozier’s arc in the series was going to play out. Did you ask the showrunners to tell you?

Jared Harris: Once I got to Budapest, I sat down with them and I said, “You need to talk me through the entire story in detail.” At that point, I think they had four [episodes] written and issued, but they knew what was gonna happen. So I said, “You have to tell me the whole story, because I need to make decisions about what to play and what not to play.” So they mapped out the whole arc of the story of the character.

David and Soo, talk about showing the ritual of Goodsir (Paul Ready) methodically preparing for his own suicide. It was a gut-punch of a death, but so beautifully realized. 

David Kajganich: In terms of shooting that scene, we just gave the same mandate we gave so many in the show, which is that we wanted practicality to rule the choices. In the camera moves, in terms of Paul’s performance, in terms of how it was treated in the edit, and in terms of how it was scored. And the scoring is the one place where we allowed a slightly operatic energy to come in to it. We knew how sad this scene was going to be, so we wanted to make sure that the score was playing all of Goodsir’s grace notes instead of something tragic, because he’s at peace with what he’s doing. He’s discussed the reason’s he’s doing it. He’s at peace with what this is, and is probably pleased to have a chance to help people like Crozier possible escape this situation. 

And Paul was delighted to play it very small. It was a quiet day on set, for sure, and certainly when the prosthetic arrived of Goodsir’s iced-up body, everyone went into the tent where we were keeping it just to have a moment to just see it, and get their head around it. And it was a really interesting dynamic once the visual of his death was with us on set.

Jared, let’s talk about the depravity of the scene where Hickey wants everyone to watch Crozier being forced to eat Goodsir. It’s horrific yet restrained.  

JH: Yeah, you know, they could have gotten pressure [from the network] like, “We need to see people chewing it.” But David and Soo said, “We’ve seen this before. How are we gonna present this in a way that’s gonna be most impactful in an original way, but also serves our narrative?” So the bit where you finally properly see it is when Hickey is trying to destroy Crozier’s sense of moral superiority. So it’s got nothing to do about eating. It’s not even about cannibalism!

David and Soo, how did you come to stage and block that sequence so it wasn’t lurid but purposeful?

Soo Hugh: Because the cannibal issue was so front and center in that scene, we really had to take a strong hand in the script. It’s so shocking that if we played too hard into it, then it almost consumes the scene. And that scene is about a lot of things besides just the eating of the flesh. It’s a very interesting power dynamic between Crozier and Hickey, and as Hickey formulates his plan that’s about to come to fruition. So it was really important to us in that [scene] that they stay to script.

When Hickey makes the survivors drag the boat up the hill, how much of Hickey’s actions are pure ego versus the effects of the lead? And did you want the audience to feel ambiguous about exactly how much of this can be blamed on madness versus who he really is as a person?

DK: I think we want the audience to feel that they are, if not equally important, then both crucially important. I think it would be reductive to blame these character choices on lead poisoning. That’s not interesting, nor is it possible to feel like characters can go so far off of reasonability. We know this expedition found itself starving, they were addled with scurvy, they were exhausted, and they were being poisoned possibly by lead. We understood that that could heighten some of their anxieties and fears that were driving them to bad decisions, but not necessarily explain them all.

But the thing about Hickey’s relationship with the Tuunbaq is when Crozier tells him that he saw Collins’ soul being eaten, that’s for Hickey the missing piece. He now realizes that not only is there a mythology that seems to be approving of him, but that there is a missing piece in that mythology that someone’s going to need to fill. When he learns about the soul eating, he realizes he now believes he has enough understanding of that mythology to be able to step into it himself. And it’s a crazy move to do. But to answer your earlier question, it has to be explainable both as a reasoned logic by a person who has enough information to make that leap, as well as, this is somebody who’s not thinking clearly because he is compromised by all of this illness and all of these circumstances. So hopefully it feels like both.

SH: In Hickey’s final speech on top of the whaling boat, what he’s saying is a strong argument. He’s asking the audience to buy into a rationale that they could themselves not make, which is why the way Adam delivered that speech came from such pathos. It’s clear that the life that this person has led has led into that point. Nothing should feel as if it’s accidental, especially with Hickey’s character. Every step took him to this point, and he’s gonna meet that destiny. But whether or not Hickey is crazy, others can make up their own decision. But Dave and I have set the scene for them. So at least, we hope, the audience can at least see his point of view and then disagree with it.

Jared, after Lady Silence rescues Crozier and nurses him back to life, you go on a journey together. What stuck out for you in portraying that sequence?

JH: Well, there was a little tweak we added to the costumes after he’s rescued by Lady Silence. Initially, they had me starting to go towards a hybrid thing of being in furs and Inuit clothes. And I said, “You know, I think that’s a storytelling beat too early.” In the sense that he doesn’t know he’s not going to find anybody [alive]. And the idea then was that over that course of, we called it the Trail of Tears, that he’s picking up bits of other people’s clothes and putting them on, and that’s the way that he’s redressing himself. It’s a weird look, where he’s almost like a Crusader. And it’s then he has the realization that no one’s made it. But then there’s that jump forward and you see that he’s assimilated and that he’s dressed in that Inuit gear.

David and Soo, tell me about ending a show like this. There is the historical record ending, and there is the Dan Simmons book ending. But the ending of this series is all you guys. How did it come to be, and why?

DK: We knew what thematic endgame we had in mind. So in the writers’ room, when it came time to talk about these 15 minutes of story after the final Tuunbaq attack, we knew several things. One is that Lady Silence was going to be asked by her community to pay a very, very tough bill for what these Europeans have initiated. And so we needed that piece of business.

We knew that, like the book, Crozier was not going to want to return to England because he had not been able to save any of his men and understood that everything that had happened up until then was now going to be amplified by this. We know that we wanted to avoid the A Man Called Horse ending where the white man joins the natives and becomes their leader, which is the trope. We did not want that in the least. In fact, the biggest difference between a film like that and the way we end our story is, Crozier’s facing a very difficult life. His decision to stay is not going to spell anything but hard, hard work for him, and being the outsider. And that is really important.

To emphasize that, I remember in the writers’ room, Soo, you were the one who came up with this idea of just seeing him sitting quietly at a seal hole, waiting to try and be of use to this community, and its survival. And it would be a very ambiguous image in the sense that Crozier’s clearly making some judgments, but we’re not prompting the audience on what all of those are. We get a pretty good sense of how he’s feeling about things. But that image, just drawing it out and leaving him alone on the ice… Soo, when that hit you in the writers’ room, what were you thinking about? Because it’s the perfect ending of the show.

SH: What we loved about this ending is that it mirrors back visually. There’s a conversation that feels like it came full circle from the pilot episode. As we pull out from the two ships being stuck, in some ways, when we pull out from the last shot of Crozier, it hearkens that same emotion you had in the pilot, which is, everything becomes part of the landscape in the end. All of us are going to be beholden to what this environment determines for us. And by this point in our story, Crozier had earned at least some of that calm and peace in some ways.

The Terror as a series is quite unlike anything else in the genre on TV. What are you most proud of now that it exists, and you can say that it is a pure reflection of your intent?

DK: Hopefully, it raises the bar for people in terms of what they’d like to produce in genre arenas. Soo and I always want to make shows this good, and that’s not gonna change. It’s just whether people let you. I feel like this is the first thing on my list of genre credits that actually reflects how I feel about genre storytelling that wasn’t rewritten, or edited badly, or reshot. This really is Soo and my sense of horror, sense of genre, and sense of drama. This is what we have to offer, and we finally have a chance to show it without it really being touched by other people’s points of view.

SH: I wish I was brave enough to say now, in retrospect, that Dave and I would have been fine making the show we wanted to be making. That’s it and we didn’t care about the audience reaction. But the truth is, of course I cared about audience reaction. So I was really nervous for the past few weeks of whether or not we were crazy. People were nervous about the show, and understandably so. We were nervous about the show. So for people to say not only do we get what they’re doing, but we really respond to it, is an enormous, enormous validation. I think it makes us afraid going forward, too, to make sure that we keep on fighting the good fight. That we don’t have to necessarily tell stories in the broadest strokes. The audiences are there for this kind of book. 

This article was originally posted on SYFY Wire but has since been deleted. It has been recovered and reposted here for posterity.