There are some stories that have been told over and over again, but others that rarely see the light on television or the bid screen. A full mini-series about the Japanese American experience during World War II with a predominately ethnic Asian cast and a male ethnic Asian lead is something Japanese Americans have been waiting for, but “The Terror: Infamy” falters by trying to cram every aspect of the experience into a story about one family and the ghost that haunts them.
Below I summarize each episode, but you can click on the link for the full episode description and analysis.
Episode 1: ‘A Sparrow in a Swallow’s Nest’
We begin with a woman committing suicide. She is possessed, we later realize by a malignant spirit. She was part of the doomed community of Terminal Island which is, at the time (1941) dominated by a Japanese fishing community. However, the Japanese do not own the houses they live in nor do they own the factories where they work. They work for white people and have few rights. Chester takes photos at her funeral, but an ill-wind blows. As it turns out, Chester asked the dead woman for an abortive to give to his pregnant girlfriend, Luz. With the outbreak of World War II, the Issei are arrested and taken away.
Part of the mystery is in the title. That is revealed in a much later episode (“Taizo”), but we’ve already seen the yūrei. Chester meets her when Walter has a bachelor party at the local brothel. Chester doesn’t indulge in the carnal pleasures and instead meets an attractive young woman in a kimono who tells his future using tea leaves. Later, we see that her skin tears and it is black underneath, but the logic of her skin is never clearly established.
For cultural notes about sparrows, read my essay: Sparrows, Swallows, Culture and AMC’s ‘The Terror: Infamy’
Episode 2: ‘All the Demons Are Still in Hell‘
As a result of the yūrei Yūko’s predictions, Chester attempts to leave Los Angeles with his pregnant girlfriend Luz, but is betrayed and ends up at a racetrack which has been made into a temporary assembly center. Friend of the family Wilson Yoshida becomes possessed and dies. Why Yūko had to kill Wilson isn’t clear.
His father, Henry, along with their fellow Issei, Yamato and Hideo Furuya are incarcerated in North Dakota, but people keep disappearing. They find a Nisei among them is a traitor.
Episode 3: ‘Gaman‘
Luz and Chester end up at an internment camp somewhere in Oregon. Yūko appears as a midwife and is kind to Luz. The Issei are brought to the fictional Oregon internment camp, Colinas de Oro. She does cause Furuya to be arrested and later to die. He was once her husband and he spurned her when he realized she was pregnant with another man’s child. Believing that he is the center of the problems, Chester volunteers to join the MIS.
Episode 4: ‘The Weak Are Meat’
In Guadalcanal, Chester finds himself between the prejudiced white soldiers and the Japanese soldiers who rarely survive to be questioned.
Still in Oregon, Yūko also causes the death of a white soldier who discovered her. That leads to a crackdown on the distillation of rice to make sake. Yūko takes over the body of the nurse assisting in Luz’s delivery, but her twins are born dead. She kills the doctor.
Episode 5: ‘Shatter Like a Pearl’
This episode exposes the gruesome reality of GI practices during World War II and the introduction of baseball to Japan prior to World War II. Luz is depressed and her father comes to take her home. The No No Boys are briefly noted as well as the problems it caused in the Japanese American community.
Chester suspects a captured soldier is a yūrei, but finds common ground with him and eventually helps him commit suicide. Chester does meet the real yūrei who takes possession of Arthur, Chester’s fellow translator. What happens to Yūko and Chester after their jeep is overturned is never explained. This is particularly clunky plotting. Not only does Yūko get to Guadalcanal, she now needs to get back. Having a helpless Chester in her clutches, she somehow doesn’t do anything and he escapes. She does utter the name: Taizo.
Episode 6: ‘Taizo’
Taizo is Chester who was born to Yūko. Yūko is never able to find any kind Japanese churchgoers to help her and ends up destitute, living on the streets, but she gives up and places Taizo up for adoption at an orphanage, or that’s what we think.
Yūko commits suicide despite a warning from another Japanese woman. The Japanese woman then appears to have saved Yūko, but both are actually dead.
Chester is discharged from the Army and ends up back in the Oregon internment camp. Yūko has followed him there, taking possession of Asako momentarily.
Chester attempts to stop Yūko by burning her and that is only a temporary fix.
Episode 7: ‘My Perfect World’
Chester escapes camp after burning Yūko’s body and we learn more about Yūko and her perfect world. She wants her kids back. That’s right. We learn Chester was one of two. The other kid was Jirou. Chester and Luz get the black Packard and head to New Mexico. Amy and her sweetheart are dealing with a TB outbreak.
Episode 8: ‘My Sweet Boy’
Chester and Luz drive the black Parkard to New Mexico and stay with Luz’s maternal grandmother. The grandmother knows how to use a photo to communicate with a person at the time of the photo. Chester is able to meet with his twin brother, but the ritual is interrupted by Yūko. Luz and Chester get married, but soon enough Luz is pregnant again.
New Mexico means we want to mention the atom bomb.
Episode 9: ‘Come and Get Me’
Yūko kills one of Luz’s relatives and comes after Luz. She wants the baby and she gets it but he has to do all this preparatory work before she can take it to her perfect world in another dimension. That makes no sense because she never has done this before.
Episode 10: ‘Into the Afterlife’
Yamato has a dream about Hiroshima and an old friend, and yet other people are celebrating the bombing of Japan. Henry and Asako help Luz and Chester fight Yūko and how Asako betrayed her younger sister is revealed.
Although gaman is a Buddhist term and O-Bon is related to Buddhism, as a yūrei, Yūko doesn’t seem to suffer at all for the murdering of so many people (her husband Hideo Furuya and his second wife, the go-between Wilson Yoshida, the white soldier Nessler, Dr. Kitayama, the doctor who provides her new skin, a relative of Luz, Luz’s father, the husband and wife who are in the car and give Luz a ride when she possesses her and Henry). While the concept of “sin” differs in Buddhism, one’s soul is affected and one’s progress toward enlightenment hindered.
What also isn’t answered is why Yūko chooses to kills some, but not others (the nurse, the daughter of the couple in the car and Luz). While the nurse and Luz where both women, so was the woman in the car and the woman she possessed at the Luz and Chester’s wedding. We don’t know if she killed the person she forced to take her too Guadacanal.
Other questions include why she appears to be decomposing sometimes and sometimes not. After Chester and his family attempts to burn her, she then gets a doctor to sew on skin from cadavers on her, but that skin doesn’t seem to rot or attract flies. Even in her first introduction to a perfect world, Yūko is aware of a fly, but flies in the real world don’t seem to exist or bother Yūko.
One wonders why the people she murdered don’t come back for their revenge, having died in terror. Nor do we know what happened to the murdered family and why the parents don’t come back to protect their daughter.
We also never learn about Chester’s biological father. Did Yūko love him? Wouldn’t his parents rejoice at the notion that a part of their child lived on in Chester? Why didn’t Yūko go to a Japanese temple or church for aid?
I understand that this is about “The Terror” as well as the Japanese community, but this is also about one family, yet we don’t feel the intimacy of the family. That is lost in the need for Chester to hit major geographical points (Guadacanal and Alamogordo), although the placing of the internment camp in Oregon is the real weird decision as none of the camps were in Oregon. The series was shot in Vancouver so that might explain the reason for setting the internment camp in Oregon.
The first few episodes hold together, but the transition between the fifth episode and the sixth is awkward and abrupt. The fifth episode ends with a trapped and horrified Chester approached the yūrei after the jeep overturns. Suddenly, Chester alive and taken back to the Oregon concentration camp and the yūrei isn’t far behind him. How he escaped her isn’t explained nor do we know how she got back to Oregon. “Taizo” gives us background and insight into Yūko, but still doesn’t explain why she let Chester go.
We also never see Yūko and Asako’s parents and what happened to them and why they decided to send both their daughters abroad. What family did the sisters leave behind in Japan? We never know about Chester’s biological father and his family either. There are too many questions and inconsistencies for “The Terror: Infamy” to sustain suspense or intense interest. Instead of going big, one wishes “The Terror: Infamy” would have looked inward and been more intimate and emphasized claustrophobia. The approach doesn’t serve the story well and leaves the plot unfocused and muddled. “The Terror: Infamy” fails to sustain the horror because it attempts to cover too much information but without enough depth to make them matter.