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The Terror: Infamy breaks out of camp and breaks down along the way

Photo: C. Thomas Howell as Major Bowen (Ed Araquel/AMC
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“Your people made this mess. Now you gotta live with it.” Admit it: When you first sat down to watch The Terror: Infamy, billed as a historical horror story set in World War II–era internment camps for Japanese Americans, you didn’t expect the show’s thesis statement to come from the narcissistic bigot who serves as camp commandant. But there’s really no way around it. Major Bowen’s assessment of the evil presence stalking the camp is entirely accurate. Yuko the yurei is not the product of American jingoism, springing instead from the superstitions and beliefs of the Japanese community she menaces. I don’t think the makers of this show set out to imply that these poor people brought it on themselves, but how can the work they’ve produced be read any other way?

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Titled “My Perfect World,” this week’s episode continues to sprawl outward from the claustrophobic confines of the camp, where you’d expect a horror story to be set. We visit a nearby hospital, where internees are sent to be treated for a mysterious illness sweeping the camp. We take a ride in a truck with Chester, who’s being relocated to a higher-security facility for troublemakers. We visit Luz in her family home in Los Angeles, first just to catch up with her and her dad and second to witness her and Chester’s reunification. (Chester somehow managed to make it from Oregon to Los Angeles while handcuffed and soaking wet from jumping in a river, retrieving his car from his kindly professor at some point along the way; how he did it is never explained, perhaps because it’s inexplicable.) We break into the orphanage where Chester briefly stayed as a baby before Yuko’s sister scooped him up. We travel with Luz and Chester to New Mexico, where Luz intends to stay with her grandmother and extended family. Remember how effective the first season of The Terror was because everyone involved was trapped in a single place? The Terror: Infamy sure doesn’t.

Forgetting what’s already happened is par for the course here. Time and time again, characters who bare their souls—or get possessed by another soul entirely—seem to recover from this emotional trauma and move on at lightning speed.

Take Bowen, for instance. He gets possessed by Yuko, and the next day he’s ranting and raving about evil spirits. But after he gets taken hostage by Ken, the infirmary volunteer who’s frustrated by Bowen’s failure to call for outside help to treat the outbreak of illness, the whole irrefutable proof of the supernatural thing goes out the window. Now he’s all about having Ken executed for the affront, then crowing about it to Ken’s girlfriend Amy Yoshida while creepily handing her a flower and telling her she’s “one of the good ones.” It’s true that being held at gunpoint probably occupies a lot of mental energy, but just speaking for me personally, I think I’d also find room in my mind for my recent demonic possession.

A lower-key version of this emotional absent-mindedness takes place with Luz. When Chester shows up unexpected, she tearfully tells him “the girl you loved, the girl who loved you, is buried” with their twin sons. One car ride to her grandma’s place in New Mexico later, she’s asking Chester to abandon his plans to wander away and stay to work on the family farm. Must have been one hell of a road trip!

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The worst offender in this regard is Chester, who takes Major Bowen’s lackadaisical approach to the presence of vengeful ghosts to new heights. When we catch up with him, he’s more concerned with getting in touch with Luz and blowing off his (adoptive) parents than he is with the fact that his long-dead biological mother emerged from the grave to stalk and torment his friends and family.

Throughout the episode, he continues to keep his mind on worldly things: escaping captivity, finding and reconciling with Luz, digging up information on his adoption, and—this is the big one—eventually discovering that he has a lost twin brother named Jirou. All this stuff is a big deal, to be sure. Bigger than “the bloodthirsty reanimated corpse of my biological mother followed me across the Pacific Ocean as part of a transcontinental murder spree”? Not from where I’m sitting.

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And with the introduction of that twin-brother subplot, this already sloppily structured series becomes even more of a mess. Chester theorizes that his twin is in an internment camp somewhere, wonder why he feels like half of himself has been missing all his life. But this is the first time we get any inkling that Chester has felt that way himself—a major component of his character, dropped on us unceremoniously in the seventh episode of ten. Particularly since Yuko, the functionally omnipotent ghost, has never given us any indication that she had twins—not even in the flashback that showed her tending to one baby while still alive, nor in the afterlife that followed—it feels almost like cheating to add all of this to the story at this late date. And I’m not sure there’s anything else the show can add to make up for its many mistakes.


Stray observations

  • Yuko possesses Major Bowen, the man who just shipped her son Chester/Taizo to prison camp, but lets him live. She possesses Luz’s dad, who hasn’t done anything other than mail the love letters his daughter refused to open back to Chester, and makes him commit suicide by jamming a pen through his eye. Her actions are as haphazard as the plot.
  • Note to Yuko: Next time you possess a guy in order to make him circle your son’s location on a map, don’t have him stab his own brain out right on top of the map. Blood makes maps pretty hard to read.
  • Given that Bowen did not want to send anyone to an outside hospital, and given that he executed the man who held him at gunpoint to force his hand, why would he acquiesce when the ambulances show up? Why not turn them away if it mattered that much to him?
  • I’ll give the episode this: The opening sequence, in which a possessed mortician peels skin off a cadaver and stitches it to Yuko’s body, was gloriously gross.
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