War is hell, particularly when you’re reasonably certain a demon has followed you to the front. Such is the predicament facing Chester Nakayama in “The Weak Are Meat,” the strongest episode of The Terror: Infamy yet. It’s far from a perfect episode: The voiceover narration, taking the form of letters sent between Chester and his pregnant girlfriend Luz back home, is frequently creaky, and the nature of the horror facing the characters is irritatingly amorphous. But it’s the first installment to deliver on the core promise of any show calling itself The Terror: It’s creepy.
Far from the confines of the internment camp where his family and friends have all been forced to dwell, Chester Nakayama finds himself at Guadalcanal, translating captured Japanese diaries and documents in a search for clues about enemy locations and intentions. He’s suffering from serious insomnia, going days at a time without sleep due to a paranoid feeling that the enemy is almost upon him. (There’s a not-bad opening-of-Aliens style jumpscare in which a Japanese bayonet bursts through his chest in a daydream.) He takes pictures of the surrounding jungle, hoping to capture a ghost. He worries about the inexplicable breeze in his tent, and worries more when he sees the air is coming through a trio of clawlike slashes.
But his real enemies in this episode are the racist American soldiers who are supposed to be fighting on the same side. They loathe him for his ancestry, and his skill at finding hidden messages only intensifies their dislike. In one of the show’s most memorable scenes to date, he’s forced to walk around in the muck surrounding several decomposing Japanese corpses until he finds a code etched into a corpse’s belt; an angry officer immediately sends his white troops back into the miasma to see if they’ve missed anything else.
Chester’s find results in the recapture of one Sgt. Crittenden, an American soldier who’d been held prisoner. Appearing badly traumatized, Crittenden speaks only in cryptic Japanese, expressing the need to “kill the white devils.” Chester, who has demonic yurei on the brain, speaks to the man as if he’s possessed.
If so, the demon’s on Chester’s side. Singled out by the soldiers for a beating, Chester is rescued by Crittenden when the crazed sergeant turns a flamethrower on the attackers from out of nowhere. Chester himself is miraculously spared, seemingly shielded by all the other burning bodies as they collapsed on top of him. It’s yet another vivid image of war as the destruction of the human form, over and over and over again.
If indeed the sinister spirit Yuko is involved in Chester’s military misadventures overseas, she’s pulling double duty. Back in the Stateside interment camp, she’s happily tending to Luz prior to the birth of her children. Yes, that’s right: She’s expecting twins. They’re believed to be bad luck, but that doesn’t stop the determined young woman from trying to make peace with Chester’s disapproving father via a Luca Brasi–style pre-written statement. It works, and watching these two characters build a bridge is sweet to see.
But Yuko’s intentions are hard to pin down. Even while presiding over the pregnancy, she sends the camp into a tizzy by possessing and executing an American soldier—he methodically climbs a guard tower and then jumps right off of it in full view of everyone—while holding a bottle of sake. This leads the troops to ransack every barrack looking for the culprit behind the bootleg hooch, landing Chester’s friend Walt Yoshida in the brig.
And the birth itself is a disaster. Despite Yuko’s commandeering of the attending nurse, both babies are stillborn, apparently asphyxiated with their own umbilical cord. The show mercifully conceals the sight of the dead infants, keeping them out of shot or out of focus. This mirror’s Luz’s panic and uncertainty, as she frantically asks what happened and receives no answer from he stunned doctor or from the Yuko-nurse.
In the end, she’s left lying in bed as her adoptive family and friends construct a shrine to her dead babies. Chester, meanwhile, reads a now-outdated letter in which Luz is all smiles, about both the then-upcoming new arrivals and her rapprochement with his father. It’s a cruel, cutting juxtaposition, particularly if you remember Mrs. Nakayama’s warning to Luz not to speak of the twins to Chester until they’re already born.
But the deaths of the babies do not go unavenged. Even as Mrs. Nakayam searches Yuko’s empty hiding spot at Luz’s request (she finds only a patch of scalp with the hair still attached), the yurei seeks out the man she holds responsible.
Wearing an extremely creepy mask—nominally a representation of the comic figure Okame, it takes on a very Radiator Lady in Eraserhead / Father Time in Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block / slasher movie vibe in context—Yuko heads over to visit the doctor who attended the birth. True to form, she possesses him and forces him to kill himself by slitting open his gut, but not before removing the mask and revealing a gloriously ‘80s-Fangoria cover of a face. (Think Jason emerging from the water at the end of the first Friday the 13th and you’ve got the gist.) It’s popcorn-tossing heebie-jeebie fun, in a show where such things have been in short supply.
But even as honest-to-goodness scares come into focus, whatever it is that Yuko represents remains unclear. Symbolically, the murderous presence of an old-world demon among a population actively persecuted for their alleged and illusory ties to the old world would appear to indicate that the authorities are right to view these people with suspicion. But the yurei is an equal-opportunity monster, possessing and destroying both white and Japanese-American people, further muddying the conceptual waters.
Then there’s the nebulous relationship between Yuko and Chester. Mrs. Yoshida alleges that misfortune follows the boy, but why does the script act as if this is the case for him and not for, say, the surviving son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Furuya, both of whom were destroyed by the demon? And would it mean she’s out to get Chester, or out to defend him by killing those around him she deems harmful?
Specifically, was she involved in Sgt. Crittenden’s meltdown, or was it just a combination of trauma, torture, and brainwashing that caused him to torch Chester’s assailants? Depending on the answer, is Yuko meant to stand for the crimes of Imperial Japan, or the savagery of America’s response? Does she represent the horror of the war, the horror of the camps, or neither, or both?
And how does Yuko’s relationship to Luz—attentively caring for her unborn children for months, going MIA during the delivery, and finally killing the doctor, whom she blames for the babies’ death—fit into all this?
Poorly, that’s how. For all that this episode marked a welcome uptick in the show’s ability to get under the viewer’s skin, its core premise remains incoherent. Fortunately, there’s still time left to learn what’s really underneath it all.
- The title of the episode comes from one of the strange things Sgt. Crittenden says in Japanese when he is found by American forces: “The weak are meat. The strong eat.” That’s some good horror-movie shit right there.
- Chester’s mom on his official in-uniform photo: “So handsome. Like Gary Cooper!” Moms, folks. They’re your biggest fans.
- There’s something so small and petty about watching C. Thomas Howell’s all-American Major Bowen confiscate Luz’s homemade dress because it was partially made from the cloth from a sack of rice and is therefore camp property. It’s one of the least-discussed aspects of the book, but Orwell’s 1984 was so right in saying that authority will find ever more picayune reasons to abuse the people over whom it holds sway.
- Gut-wrenching as it was in and of itself, the stillbirth of Luz and Chester’s children raises what could be an important question going forward: Now that she’s no longer considered the mother of Japanese-American children, will Luz be set free, or will she continue to stay in a community to which she has precious little connection?
- I loved the final shot of the blood from the doctor’s stomach flowing to and pooling around Yuko’s Okame mask, echoing the corpse-white faces of the bodies lying in that awful putrefaction soup at Guadalcanal. In general, I hope the increased strength of the horror material in this episode is the start of a trend.