THE TERROR: INFAMY -- B
Updated: Oct 6, 2019
This AMC series turns the real-life horror of Japanese-American internment camps into a handsomely produced and effective psychological thriller.
Despite the fact that there were precious few females either on screen or behind-the-scenes for the first season of AMC's supernatural thriller The Terror, I really enjoyed it. I'd read the Dan Simmons book it was based on, about a disastrous 1846 British expedition to the Arctic, and thought the adaptation was excellent. So I was excited to hear that the second season would be built around an entirely new story.
I was even more heartened to hear that it would be set within the historical backdrop of the World War II Japanese-American internment camps and be produced by George Takei (who's written and spoken extensively about his childhood memories of internment).
I was lucky enough to attend a screening of the premiere episode of The Terror: Infamy at the AAJA (Asian-American Journalists Association) gathering in Atlanta last week, followed by a Q&A with star Derek Mio, producer-actor George Takei, director Lily Mariye and executive producer-writer Alexander Woo, each of whom spoke eloquently about their connection to the story. Mio and Mariye also had relatives who'd been interned during World War II.
The handsomely produced premiere did not disappoint, again skillfully weaving a supernatural story -- this time a traditional kaidan, or Japanese ghost story -- into the compelling narrative. Infamy centers around the Nakayama family, led by an immigrant fisherman (Shingo Usami), and his son, Chester (Derek Mio), a budding photographer who's champing at the bit to get away from the close-knit Japanese community on Terminal Island -- and who's trying to keep his relationship with a Mexican-American nursing student under wraps.
The production values are off the chart, and seamlessly transport you to 1942 Southern California, where it doesn't take long for racism to rear its ugly head, or for strange, spooky things to start happening.
Woo says he's most excited about the "layers upon layers" aspect of the drama, in which a formerly powerless spirit may have returned to seek vengeance, while the Japanese-Americans themselves are the powerless victims of America's jingoism. There's a generational struggle here too, between the second-generation thirst for assimilation and their wiser elders who know it's not going to be that easy, not to mention the all-too-timely issue of an entire segment of the American population being vilified and imprisoned against their will.
And that's what television, at its best, can do best -- shine an empathetic light on the human price of this kind of needless suffering. This specific story has rarely been told before, and as Takei pronounced in his famously deep voice, "I'm very, very happy and proud that this series is telling this story on this massive scale."
I am a little concerned about the lack of an female presence in the series -- though the spirit herself may grow into an important character, but the behind-the-scenes bonafides are strong. There are four (yay!) female writers on the show -- Alessandra Dimona, Shannon Goss, Naomi Iizuka and Danielle Roderick -- and showrunner Woo relates that at least two of them have a historical family connection to the internment camps.
Also adding a strong female presence to the proceedings is Lily Mariye (who you may recall as Nurse Lily on ER), who's turned into a very successful episodic TV director. Looking forward to seeing what these 10 episodes have in store.