I’m not sure why “Clipperton” is one of my favorite Cousteau episodes. It’s not much fun. The island is a forbidding place. “Here,” Cousteau says, “other creatures, including man, have little place. Yet by a harsh irony, man himself…is creating a world hostile to all but the hardiest species, a world hostile even to himself.” The background score of “Clipperton” is downright scary. The island’s primary occupants — rabidly omnivorous crabs — eat every shred of life the island has to offer. Here, nature exists largely as a force of evil, and Cousteau seems preoccupied by the way the natural malevolence of the island bleeds into the story of human monstrosity. Interspersed between shots of eels eating crabs eating boobies eating fish, we are told the story of the last ill-starred colonists who tried to settle in Clipperton and failed. At the turn of the 20th century, the British and Mexican governments created a mining settlement on Clipperton. Ramon Arnaud, survivor and son of the colony’s commander, is taken back to the island for the first time since he left in 1917. Over a checkered tablecloth, Ramon recounts the harrowing years after all the men in the struggling colony — including his father — died off save one, Alvarez the lighthouse keeper. Arnaud tells us how Alvarez declared himself King of Clipperton, raping the women and girls left on the island, shooting those who resisted. In 1917, a passing U.S. Navy ship finally rescued them, just as Ramon’s mother and the family’s young nursemaid had bludgeoned Alvarez to death with a hammer.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.