‘The Terror: Infamy’ conjures ghosts of a real American horror story
More specters than just those of history haunt the edges of AMC’s “The Terror,” an anthology series that interlaces real-life horrors with imagined ones, to bone-chilling effect.
Last year, season 1 followed an ill-fated, mid-19th century expedition, stranded in the Arctic and hunted across its howling snows by an unseen menace. Bleak and claustrophobic, it constituted prestige TV’s finest foray yet into the survival-horror genre.
Bearing away from that icebound nightmare, the series’ second entry, “Infamy” (which premieres on AMC Monday at 9 p.m.) follows a West Coast Japanese-American family in 1941, as they’re forced into internment by the US government. (The subtitle references President Franklin Roosevelt’s “a day that will live in infamy” speech, declaring war on Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.)
Internment — a shameful, often overlooked period in American history — would be a horrifying enough subject without the supernatural elements imposed by co-creator/showrunner Alexander Woo. But the Nakayamas — son Chester (Derek Mio), father Henry (Shingo Usami) and mother Asako (Naoko Mori) — must also contend with a restless spirit in the camp, one that can slip in and out of bodies undetected or twist them into terrible, inhuman shapes.
Elders suspect the entity, a Japanese ghost they call a “yurei,” has traveled from the old country in order to right a long-forgotten wrong; it will not, in other words, let the past stay buried.
In the six episodes (out of the season’s 10) sent to critics in advance, “The Terror: Infamy” takes great pains to depict the full horror of internment, including the psychological toll it took on detainees. Many of the series’ creators and stars (including George Takei, who was interned from age 5 to 8) have personal connections to the camps and have openly expressed how important they feel it is to share this chapter of their family histories today, as racist rhetoric — designed to dehumanize non-white and foreign-born Americans — again pervades national politics.
“Infamy” is thematically rich beyond that, especially in how it navigates the old ways, the new, and the messy realities in which they collide. The struggle between assimilating and honoring one’s cultural history is painful and knotted for many immigrants, and it’s given room to breathe here.
Credit those involved, too, for carrying over that complexity to the language with which “Infamy” tells its story; the scripts shift, authentically, between English and subtitled Japanese and Spanish. Within a story about Americans long denied their own voices, choices like that speak volumes.