Photographer, translator, babysitter, interrogator: In this week’s episode of The Terror: Infamy, Chester Nakayama wears many hats, and as usual, they’re all an awkward fit. “Shatter Like a Pearl” ratchets up the drama both at the front and in the prison camp back home, but like the prisoner of war Chester grills for information about the enemy, it just doesn’t have much to say.
It’s 1943 now, and at Guadalcanal, Chester and his translator buddy get drawn into work above their pay grade when they’re sent to “babysit” a Japanese POW from whom the brass hope to extract information about their main enemy in the area, Admiral Takahashi. The prisoner’s a real wild man when we meet him, fresh from biting an interrogator’s ear off.
Sensing Chester’s fear, somehow, he claims to be a yurei who will slaughter Nakayama’s whole family. Fortunately, Chester proves he’s just a man with his surefire yurei test: If his face isn’t blurry in photographs, he’s human. (“So, logically…” “If she…weighs the same…as a duck…she’s made of wood.” “And therefore…” “A witch!”)
Getting cleared of being a supernatural being seems to loosen the prisoner up somewhat. He and Chester start chatting rather happily about baseball, their shared pastime—Chester brags about seeing Lou Gehrig play once, while the prisoner one-ups him with the story of how he struck the Iron Horse out in an exhibition game in ’34.
The pair bond so beautifully that Chester actually sets him free, allowing him to commit the ritual suicide he’d been too afraid to go through with after his plane crashed. It seems insane to think he won’t get in trouble for this given the high value being placed on the prisoner, but for reasons unknown, his commanding officer decides to look the other way.
That’s a far cry from the guy’s response when he sees Chester speeding away in a highjacked jeep, which is to have the whole company open fire. That’s a tough break for Chester, who only hijacked the jeep because the yurei has finally made its way from America to find him, possessing first a new translator and then Chester’s buddy, forcing him behind the wheel at gunpoint. The episode’s final gruesome image is of the yurei’s decomposing body unzipping itself from the duffel bag that contains it and reaching out to touch Chester, immobilized by the crashed jeep.
In the camp back home, Chester’s friends and family don’t have it much easier. Traumatized by the death of her babies in childbirth, Chester’s girlfriend Luz has taken to wearing a creepy white dress and rooting around in the mud, chasing the reflections of infants only she can see. The kids in the camp call her “the Ghost Lady,” unaware that they’ve got the right idea but the wrong lady.
Everyone seems basically okay with this state of affairs for some reason, until Luz’s father arrives and has her freed on the grounds that she no longer has any direct ties to the Japanese-American community. After that, she pulls herself together long enough to exchange a heartfelt goodbye hug with Henry Nakayama, the man who was once her main opponent within the family.
Meanwhile, Chester’s friends Ken and Amy have struck up a secret relationship, sneaking off to empty barracks for nighttime liaisons. But Ken is also leading a protest movement against the loyalty oaths the government is forcing them to take, creating major headaches for Major Bowen, Amy’s boss.
Unwilling to see her boyfriend tried for treason, Amy doctors Ken’s form to read “yes” instead of “no” on the loyalty questions. When all his friends are dragged off to a separate prison camp over their refusal to acquiesce, he’s left in place, confused and humiliated. He jilts Amy when she comes clean about altering his answer.
Speaking of which, here are a few questions I’d like the answers to:
Who provided Luz with her spooky white dress, and why wasn’t she dressed like a normal person to begin with?
If Walt is standing around yelling at the top of his lungs that he answered “no” on the loyalty questions, why wouldn’t the surrounding MPs take him at his word? What do they get out of making him look like a hypocrite, as opposed to the relative simplicity of adding one more prisoner to the pile? Isn’t it riskier not to bring him along?
If Chester and his buddy aren’t supposed to engage with the prisoner, why bother making the only Japanese-speakers in the unit guard him, instead of the dozens of other soldiers who are at literally zero risk of communicating with the prisoner at all?
And if the prisoner isn’t a yurei, what kind of elite captivity training tipped him off to Chester’s psychological weak spot in that area, to the point where he starts ranting and raving like Regan in The Exorcist?
Possessed or no, how does a G.I. transport a corpse in a canvas duffel bag from the United States to the Pacific Theatre without anyone noticing?
And what is the yurei’s deal, anyway? I get that it’s supposed to be some big mystery, but without a firmer grasp of what it is, what it wants, and why it’s fixated on Chester, the horror at the show’s center feels amorphous and uncommunicative of any deeper meaning.
It always feels small-minded to go all Cinema Sins on fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Such stories depend on the impossible occurring, and the impossible requires a few leaps or gaps in logic. It’s only when the surrounding story falters that those gaps become distracting. If Chester’s supernatural misadventures were better scripted and better acted, or if the monster at their center felt more conceptually sound, I doubt I’d be wondering why no one on the transport plane smelled the rotting zombie in the new translator’s rucksack.
- Early in the episode Chester overhears a white soldier complain that if he can get over getting dumped by his girlfriend back home, Chester should bounce back from his own situation. “My infant sons are buried in a prison camp,” Chester spits with justified bitterness and anger. It’s one of the few moments the character’s emotions ring true.
- Is Major Bowen literally spying on Amy when she and Ken have their illicit rendezvous? He confronts her with his knowledge of the relationship, and the camerawork during her post-coital conversation with Ken indicates the presence of a human observer, but he’s not quite as creepy about it all as you’d expect him to be were he a peeping tom.
- As she leaves, Luz gives Mrs. Nakayama the little ceremonial drum Yuko the yurei gave to her when she was pregnant. Mrs. Nakayama reacts with muted surprise—is this a tipoff of some kind as to the mysterious midwife’s true nature?
- The yurei tells Chester “It’s time to go now, Taizo,” a Japanese name that translates to “third son.” Chester sure seems like an only child, though, no? Perhaps this is the key to it all.