I am a big fan of movies and television shows about important historical events, and I am also a big fan of horror movies and television series, but I will concede that I am not necessarily a fan of injecting fictional horror elements into real history. I loved that the first season of The Terror explored the Franklin Expedition in search of the Northwest Passage — a subject of which I had no knowledge — but I often found the horror elements distracting for the way in which they undercut the true horror of 100 people eating each other, dying of exposure, and starving to death while trapped on a ship stuck in ice.
I have similar reservations about the second season of the anthology series, The Terror: Infamy. Japanese internment camps were such a terrible period in our history that I’m not sure that we need horror-movie elements or ghosts to magnify the horror. I fear, again, that it may undercut the grave historical significance of that period in American history, especially as we’re seeing repeated again at the Texas border. However, I also understand the power of metaphor, and how this yūrei — or ghost — can not only better engage viewers but highlight the true evil of America’s actions in the early 1940s. As Roxana put it in her review of Infamy, “Who is the real monster in this scenario, the supernatural being or the everyday person?” That’s a question I’d love to see explored.
The first episode of Infamy, which debuted on AMC last night, leans heavily on the supernatural elements, some of which are legitimately surprising — the opening scene in which a possessed woman kills herself by jabbing a hair stick through her ear canal — and some of which are tired horror movie cliches, surprising only in the context of a historical drama.
The series doesn’t jump straight into the Japanese internment camps, so the pilot episode requires a bit of untangling. The series centers on Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio), a first-generation Japanese America who lives on Terminal Island outside of Los Angeles with his immigrant parents. Chester attended college and is an aspiring photographer who wants to see the world. He respects and admires his hard-working fisherman father, Henry (Shingo Usami) but he’s also frustrated that his parents (and his grandfather, played by George Takei, whose experiences in internment camps helped to shape the series) made all the effort to immigrate from Japan only to limit themselves to a tiny island.
The father, Henry, is also pushed around by a drunk, racist white man caricature who bullies Henry into selling his fish for less than market value. After the racist is fired from the cannery, however, he blackmails Henry into giving him his car, telling Henry that otherwise he’s going to inform the authorities that Henry is a spy for Imperial Japan, which could not be further from the truth. Chester isn’t having it, so he steals the car back. In turn, the irate racist decides to burn down Henry’s boat. While in the process of doing so, however, a ghostly wind throws the racist off the boat and into a fishing net, where he drowns.
Chester also has a Mexican-American girlfriend Luz Ojeda (Cristina Rodlo), who he accidentally impregnates. The law does not allow them to get married, however, so Chester procures a homemade abortifacient from Mrs. Furuya, the woman who kills herself with a hair stick. Chester believes that Mrs. Furuya took her own life over the guilt she felt for manufacturing the abortion drug, but it’s clear that there’s something more sinister (and supernatural) at play here: A yūrei, who either takes the form of some kind of ghostly wind — which both knocks over Mrs. Furuya’s casket and blows the drunk racist off Henry’s boat — or a woman named Yuko, who reads Chester’s tea leaves and stitches up her face when her skin starts to peel off, revealing the rot underneath.
On a day other than December 7th, 1941, we might expect the authorities to apprehend and falsely accuse Henry for the murder of the drunk racist. However, after Imperial Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, the episode ends with American soldiers from a nearby Naval base marching Henry and scores of other Japanese immigrants into internment camps (Chester is saved from this fate because he was born in the United States and is, therefore, a citizen).
There’s a lot going on in the first episode, but most of it is setting up the Nakayama family dynamics and the yūrei, who makes another appearance in the episode when it forces an abusive husband to stare into the sun until he’s blinded, as well as a couple of appearances as blurry apparitions in Chester’s photographs. It’s not exactly the show I expected or even wanted, but I trust Roxana — who has seen the first five episodes — when she says that the series will honor those imprisoned in internment camps within the confines of the genre structure. After one episode, however, I still feel like we’re waiting for the real horror to begin.
Header Image Source: AMC