In its second season, AMC’s anthology series becomes The Terror: Infamy, using the horror genre to examine a truly shameful moment in American history, as Japanese immigrants were sent to interment camps in a xenophobic response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It offers viewers a radically different story and setting from the first season, which was adapted from the book of the same name by Dan Simmons. It also sees The Terror transition from an often-frightening tale of survival to a socially-conscious horror anthology, one that is smarter and more relevant than the mostly surface-level American Horror Story.
By blending a generation-spanning ghost story with an account of the American experience as told through the perspective of a group of Japanese immigrants, Infamy feels acutely relevant, particularly amid news reports of migrants being held in detention centers and of families being torn apart as immigration raids often leave children separated from their parents. The new season follows a group of Japanese immigrants — mostly fishermen and their families — who are forcibly relocated to an interment camp in North Dakota during World War II. Much of the story focuses on Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio), a young Japanese-American chasing the American Dream. He hopes to step out of his father’s footsteps to become a professional photographer, only to be caught up in the misery of the interment camps.
Infamy takes its time introducing its large ensemble cast, one also includes Shingo Usami as Chester’s father, Henry, Naoko Mori as his mother, Asako, and George Takei as their group’s elder statesman, Yamato-San. Like season 1, this is more or less an ensemble piece, with a dozen or so characters for the audience to follow and keep track of. To that end, Infamy follows in its predecessor’s footsteps, taking a slow and methodical approach to the story, one that, again, like season 1, doesn’t really begin to cook until about the midway point in the 10-episode season.
As such, the first hour is spent establishing the routines of the Nakayama family, Chester’s hopes for his future, and the discovery that he’s expecting a child with a young woman named Luz Ojeda (Christina Rodlo). It also explores the various indignities Chester’s father suffers at the hands of Stan Grichuk (Teach Grant), the alcoholic who manages the facility where Henry sells his catch. It’s an early indication of where the story is going and an illustration of the systemic racism that would eventually result in the use of internment camps in the United States.
The first episode, ‘A Sparrow in a Swallow’s Nest,’ is mostly over and done with before the attack on Pearl Harbor happens, and it’s not until later that the Nakayamas and other Japanese immigrants are shipped off to North Dakota. While the less-than-urgent pace might seem contradictory to the genre in which the series is ostensibly set, Infamy benefits a great deal from the unhurried character building of writer Alexander Woo, who co-created the season along with Alex Borenstein (Godzilla: King of the Monsters). It also isn’t without examples of the genre, as the first scene in the series is a rather harrowing look at the death of a Japanese woman that, by all outward appearances, looks to be a suicide. It’s not long before the woman’s death proves to be supernatural in origin.
The Terror: Infamy plays its supernatural card from the beginning, using it as a means with which to amplify the historical horrors the series is showcasing. Whereas season 1 gradually introduced its supernatural element, putting its characters and the audience in a situation where tensions and fears of the stranded crew were magnified by the possibility of an otherworldly presence stalking them, Infamy is much more direct in its use of the supernatural. Much of that is delivered through the presence of a young woman, Yuko (Kiki Sukezane), who seemingly haunts the past and present of these Japanese immigrants.
The effect is a much less understated story than in season 1, as Infamy puts it intentions — particularly as they pertain to the horror and historical fiction genres — front and center and keeps them there through every episode. Though one wouldn’t expect season 2 to follow the exact path in revealing the extent to which it plans to indulge in two genres simultaneously, the manner in which Infamy announces itself feels rather blunt in comparison. But confirming the presence of supernatural forces early on isn’t entirely a detriment. In particular, it grants the series a chance to heighten its atmospheric tone by shifting seamlessly from the terror inflicted by one malevolent force to another. It may not be subtle, but it is effective.
In all, The Terror: Infamy introduces a new anthology to cable television, one that blends historical fiction and horror in a way that is entertaining and frightening on a number of different levels. Infamy would have worked just as well without a supernatural element, which is probably saying something about just how scary this season's story actually is.
The Terror: Infamy premieres Monday, August 12 @10pm on AMC.