Other than Jared Harris’s Captain Crozier, no character on AMC’s The Terror is quite as fascinating as Hickey, played by Adam Nagaitis. The show’s first few episodes seemed as if they might be setting him up to be the crew’s heart. He was compassionate and caring toward his fellow men, but also willing to skirt the rules when they proved burdensome and illogical. But that version of Hickey didn’t last long, and the new one would prove to be far more malignant. That transformation was explained on this week’s episode, “Horrible from Supper.”
In a flashback that opens the episode, we see Hickey getting his papers a month before the Terror is to set sail — except this fresh-faced newcomer isn’t the scraggly, bearded Hickey we’ve come to know. The Hickey who arrives a month later to sail to the Arctic is an imposter, but only one man is suspicious, and only for a moment. It’s unclear if we’ll learn more about how or why he infiltrated the Terror, but it does explain his shifting persona. Hickey the Good was a disguise which he removed as soon as it suited his needs. Hickey the Bad is the real man, though it would be inaccurate to say that he’s completely driven by malice — fear seems to be his great motivator. Fear of being outed, fear of Lady Silence, fear of the beast, fear of starvation. These insecurities motivate him to sacrifice his fellow crew members, even when it’s not necessarily required for his survival.
Goodsir (Paul Ready) has revealed the poisoned nature of the food tins to Crozier, but they’ve reached an impasse when it comes to finding new food sources. Goodsir wants to start hunting for game as soon as possible to dilute the effects of the lead poisoning, yet Crozier isn’t prepared to send hunting parties until the sailors reach solid ground. His knowledge of the natives suggests it takes years to learn to hunt for seals, so hunting would be unsuccessful until they have set foot on land.
The lead’s effects are becoming more evident. Morfin (Anthony Flanagan) had reported debilitating headaches to the doctor in a previous episode. Those headaches have strengthened, to the point that he can barely move at times. His mental faculties are further stressed when he discovers the remains of the first expedition south. The heads of the deceased men have been placed on the snow in a row, like some awful window display. It’s the last straw — Morfin comes outside in the middle of the night, screaming about his head. Goodsir tries to calm him, but he grabs a rifle. Crozier calms him down enough to lower the rifle, but it misfires and one of the marines shoots him dead.
Hickey has finally figured out what’s going on with the contaminated tins, and he starts to plan. He and some of the marines will stockpile weapons, then go off on their own, reckoning that fewer men stand a greater chance of survival. He’s also killed the expedition’s dog as an offering to an uncertain officer. (We learn in the flashback that concludes the episode that he was the one who met the second Hickey when he boarded the ship, and was the only one to briefly think something was amiss.)
Hickey is placed with Lieutenant Irving and another sailor when it comes time to set out in small hunting parties. It doesn’t quite add up as to why Crozier or any of the other senior officers would even allow him to be included in a hunting party — Crozier already realized something was fishy when Hickey’s name was clumsily inserted among a list of possible men to bolster the night guards. Yet he’s left alone with the two as they cross the rocky tundra, made of nothing but pebbles and gravel as far as the eye can see.
Their party makes a welcome discovery as they reach the top of a crest — there are native people pulling a sled below, and if they live here they must have easy access to game. Irving races down to meet the group. Unfortunately, he’s not one of the officers who know their language, but he’s able to mime enough to convince them that he means no harm and to ask if they have food. The lead man realizes what he wants and cuts him off a few slices of some preserved meat they have, probably from seal fat. Meanwhile, the figures of Hickey and the other man that dotted the top of the hill have disappeared. Irving does his best to implore the native men to stay put and leaves his spyglass as a token of appreciation before running back over the hill.
At the top he finds the two men, one lying down and the other hunched over. Irving steps forward to get a better look, which is when Hickey shakes off the coat and jumps to his feet. He’s shirtless and only wearing his long underwear — and carrying a knife. Hickey rushes at Irving and stabs him rapid-fire in the chest, prison shiv style. Irving is wearing so many layers of clothes that, when he falls to the ground, blood hasn’t even begun to seep out of the many slices in his shirt. Hickey covers his mouth until the life seeps out. The half-naked man begins to pace, as if pondering his next steps when he returns to the Terror. The episode ends then with the second half of the flashback, when we see the new man boarding the ship as Hickey. This is only Hickey’s first major transgression. There will be more to come.