We pick up with our intrepid Royal Navy heroes 8 months after we last left them. They have spent another winter in the Arctic, but Captain Sir John Franklin (Ciaran Hinds) is sending out search parties in all directions, looking to see if there is an ice melt or a direction in which they might be able to blast their way through. Everyone is in high spirits except Crozier (Jared Harris) whose wears a look of perpetual worry on his face. That draws the ire of Franklin and Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies), who try to cheer up the men and make them all give a cheer as they set off looking for a path out. The zoom out shot before the cut to credits strongly suggests there is not one. The shot of the ships in the ice, all white in all directions almost makes it seem as though the expedition is trapped in another dimension, on another world and hammers home how hostile their environment is.
The episode focuses on a sledge party going southeast from the ships led by Lieutenant Graham Gore to look for southern leads and plant a message at a cairn built in the 1830s by Sir James Ross during his Uncle’s 1829-1834 expedition at a place called Victory Point. We get introduced to the surgeon Goodsir’s (Paul Ready) earnest interest in the Inuit and also an Arctic technique of overland travel. A lifeboat has a ladder affixed to the bottom, is loaded with the needed supplies and equipment and then 6-8 men pull the boat. Even with the men in high spirits it is clear it is an extremely physically demanding task. But we also get to see how Lieutenant Gore never loses his cheer and does his best to keep everyone’s spirits up. We also see Goodsir is not really up to heavy lifting but makes an earnest effort. He also tells Lieutenant Gore that he and others should not refer to him as “Doctor Goodsir” but as “Mr. Goodsir” as he is an anatomist and surgeon, not a Doctor. When they reach what they know as King William Land, they see the ice shows no sign of melting and has backed up against the island, like a crashing wave frozen in time. Nonetheless the party is in high spirits seeing land again.
Back on Erebus and Terror Sir John tries to warm up Crozier by visiting him and telling him he hopes to see more of him and missed not having his company during the long cold winter. Crozier tries to reassure Franklin that Franklin never lost his friendship but that he does not leave his ship, as he fears disaster should he leave. Seeing this as a dodge, Franklin admits that he made a mistake the previous year and should have listened to Crozier and headed south instead of southwest. Crozier says “I will always come to you, I serve at your command” with an earnest expression but Franklin sees this is not a firm commital to come visit him and he leaves disheartened but not before telling Crozier his toilet is draughty.
Elsewhere on Terror Lieutenant John Irving (Ronan Raftery) goes below decks to find two seamen – Cornelius Hickey (Adam Nagaitis) and Gibson together and suspiciously frazzled. He bats away their excuses and tells Hickey to get some tar and reseal the Captain’s toilet. Gibson worries Irving will report them for being homosexual, but Hickey confidently and smilingly assures Gibson that Irving’s devout Christianity and his strict observance mean he is too horrified by the idea of imagining what he did not see to go report them.
Meanwhile back on King William Island, Gore’s group leave their sled boat then locate the cairn. Gore adds a few extra details to the message in the cairn, signs and dates it then puts it into the Cairn. Gore also tells Goodsir that he thinks of Goodsir – given his knowledge and skills as a Doctor. The music however is strange, dissonant and Goodsir is uneasy. He keeps looking off into the distance. Gore asks him if he sees anything. Goodsir says he does not but cannot seem to shake the feeling that something is out there. Gore divides the group in two. Gore and a Marine will go find another Cairn, the other group will go set up camp. Goodsir calls after Lieutenant Gore, indicating he possibly sees something in the distance.
Back on Erebus Franklin confides in Fitzjames that he knows he is not reaching Crozier and wishes Crozier would spend more time with them. Fitzjames tries to comfort Franklin saying the problem is not Franklin but Crozier and that Crozier was “no one’s choice for this expedition.” Franklin bitterly points out he was not either. Fitzjames says that is not important, what is important is how people act in their situation regardless of how the situation came about. Franklin agrees but is unsure. When he and Fitzjames greet the return of Lieutenant Hodgson’s party there is nothing but bad news. There are no leads and some of the tinned food is rotten. Franklin is clearly worried but does not show it to Hodgson instead looking worried that the rowdiness in a football match the men are playing could become the rowdiness of a mutiny.
We then see, from Franklin’s perspective, why Crozier is cold and distant to him. Back in England Franklin urged his niece Sophia Cracroft (Sian Brooke), using some subtle yet obvious classist language and allusions to Crozier being Irish, as reasons why she is right to reject Crozier’s marriage proposals. Franklin then sees Crozier heard every word and skulks off in disgust. Franklin looks crestfallen as he realises Crozier thinks Franklin holds him in low personal regard.
Goodsir and the others return to their boat to find it has been completely overturned, not just on its side, but completely overturned. Some speculate it is a bear, but given how heavy the boat is they think it is either a pack of bears or possibly something else. Something is stalking them. They set up camp, then huge chunks of ice begin to fall in a hail storm. Gore and the Marine return just as the hail starts and they confirm they are being shadowed by a bear. The Marine says firing his musket scared it off only very temporarily. They arm themselves with weapons when the hail dies down and try to take up position on the crest of the ice backed up against the shore of King William Island. As they move up, the Marine is spooked by a movement and fires. As the figure drops they can tell it is a human and the Marine yells for Goodsir to help. Everyone bolts forward. It is a middle aged Eskimo man – the same one Seaman Young saw last episode as he was dying – and a younger woman is beside him clearly hysterical as he moans in pain. Unsure what to do Goodsir bolts back to Lieutenant Gore only too late as something looking like a bear charges out from behind a satridge of ice and mauls, blood spurts from his mouth. Goodsir’s scream of terror is blocked out by the noise of the lightning and thunder.
Later as Hickey cleans and seals Crozier’s toilet with tar Crozier comes in and thanks Hickey for doing such an unwelcome job. He notes that, like him, Hickey is Irish but unlike Crozier has no accent. Hickey says he has lived so long in England, it comes naturally and he doesn’t want to be discriminated against for being Irish so he has lost the accent. Crozier smiles wryly and offers him a drink that Crozier drinks far more enthusiastically than Hickey. When Irving comes in to report on a sledge party returning, Hickey gives Irving a ‘don’t you dare or else’ look and Irving seems a little intimidated by Hickey. When Crozier goes out with Irving Hickey pushes his drink away in disgust – showing that his gratitude for the drink was entirely affected. Something is wrong with Hickey.
What Crozier and the others aboard Erebus and Terror see is Gore’s sledge party running back to the ships in a panic with the Inuit woman helping pull. They carry him to Erebus’ sick bay where Dr. Stanley (Alistair Petrie) refuses to operate on the Eskimo man out of disgust and a lack of sympathy. Goodsir begs Franklin and Fitzjames to be allowed to operate. The younger woman (Nive Nielsen) tries to resist this, but Crozier speaks Inuit to her and reassures her that Goodsir is trying to help. Sourly Franklin agrees for Goodsir to try and storms off in a foul mood, the first we have seen the unflappable John Franklin angry. His disgust for the Inuit is evident and probably not helped as Gore was well regarded by both him and Fitzjames. Two things become clear – the man is too far gone to be saved as the bullet is too firmly in the man to be extracted safely and the younger woman is his daughter. She begs him not to die and says “Tuunbaq will not listen to me.” The officers present who can speak Inuit are confused. She breaks down sobbing and tries to lift him up to carry him out saying ‘He must die on the ice.’ But he passes away and it is over. Franklin reappears and tersely informs Crozier he is not leaving Erebus until all of Gore’s sledge party is debriefed.
Franklin and Fitzjames continue to be in a foul mood and the tone of their questions to Goodsir is hostile. The scene is lit with twilight, providing a foreboding atmosphere. Uncharacteristically it is Crozier who is gentler in this scene. Goodsir informs them that they never found Gore’s body but that he is certain Gore died given the amount of blood they did find. He also notes the creature’s prints are larger than those of a Polar Bear. Goodsir also says that he and Gore’s team believe that the creature has stalked them back to the ships, and notes that the Inuit man had had his tongue removed in a surgical procedure. All three officers are disturbed by this.
When Crozier walks back to Terror he looks around and pauses, as if he is being watched and about to be attacked, there is a sense that something is out there. The Inuit woman has been taken to Terror where Crozier, Ice Master Blanky, and Dr. McDonald question her, all three officers speak Inuit. Since their expedition killed her father the woman is unhelpful and hostile but not physically hostile. She tells them to leave and Crozier says they want to but cannot as the ice is stopping them. She warns them that if they do not leave, they will “disappear.” She then reaches into her mouth and simulates pulling something out then having that thing dissipate. She glares at Crozier. The episode ends.