AMC’s The Terror
Infamy, Episode 1: “A Sparrow in a Swallow’s Nest”
Directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka
Written by Alexander Woo
* For recaps & reviews of Season 1, click here.
* For a recap & review of Episode 2, “All the Demons Are Still in Hell” – click here
We open in 1941 at Terminal Island in San Pedro, California.
Masayo Furuya (Yuki Morita), paints her face and does her hair. She prepares herself next to a family photo. Outside, she walks across a wharf, her feet wobbling strangely, ankles and neck cracking in symphony. She falls over, staring out at the water. She uses one of the sticks from her hair to stab herself through the ear until she’s dead.
Masayo is mourned by the family she’s left behind: her husband Hideo (Eiji Inoue) and her son Toshiro (Alex Shimizu). At the funeral, Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio), a photographer, has an eerie vision of his wrist coming bloodily apart. He met with Masayo previously looking for help. She was making something for him. She told him in a week “all will be right.”
But everything feels wrong.
Chester does get the herbal mixture Masayo was cooking up, not without the grieving husband calling him a “coward.” Right afterwards, a strong wind knocks Masayo’s corpse out of the casket into the street. One woman says it’s “an ill omen” coming from their homeland across the sea.
“I thought we left that Old Country stuff behind?”
Chester’s father Henry (Shingo Usami) is having trouble selling fish. The white man he deals with, Stan Grichuk (Teach Grant), acts as if he’s doing the old guy a favour, using the time-worn “you people.” Ironic that Henry later saves the asshole from dying in a work-related accident. Chester tries to help pops out, even if Henry doesn’t overtly appreciate his son doing the work for him.
We can already see the sociopolitical climate getting nasty. Japanese Americans are experiencing plenty of mistrust from many white Americans. We also see Chester has a relationship with Luz (Cristina Rodlo)— the herbs he got are actually a homeopathic abortion remedy for her to take. He blames himself for Masayo’s suicide, as if the abortion is truly an “offence to God.”
In one of his photographs, Chester sees a strange apparition next to old Mr. Nobuhiro Yamato (George Takei). At the supper table, he argues with his family. He wants to head west to make a better living as a photographer, whereas his family thinks he should stick around there. They trust in family above all else. He’s not giving up on his dreams to be a fisherman just yet, though.
That night someone’s banging at the Nakayama door, scaring the family. Henry opens it to see Grichuk’s dropped by to see him. Stan’s been fired. He’s decided to blame this on Henry. He starts talking of the “anti–spying laws” and the conversation’s taking an ugly turn. The fisherman offers up his car as payment, getting a bullshit thanks for Stan’s life before the guy drives off. When his son finds out he shames his father for letting it happen. Dad insists he doesn’t need lessons on “how to be a man.”
Mrs. Furuya, Asako (Naoko Mori), drops by the Furuya home to offer food, as well as sprinkle salt at the windowsill, chanting quietly to rid the place of whatever haunts it— and that doesn’t sit well with Hideo. The man hits the bar for a drink. He goes out for a piss and sees a woman pass him in traditional Japanese dress. When he turns back, she’s gone. He looks into the sun and his eyes burn away in their sockets.
Chester and his pals go out to help celebrate his friend Walt Yoshida’s (Lee Shorten) upcoming wedding with a traditional patriarchal bachelor party. They go to a house where sex workers meet their needs, aside from Chester. He takes a picture of a Japanese woman there and they wind up chatting. She takes him to her room, where she has many traditional Japanese masks on her walls, and she reads tea leaves for him. She tells Chester he lives “in two worlds” but is at home in neither, almost encapsulating the struggle of a Japanese American like himself who’s clearly been in America for most his life, if not all of it— not American enough for white people, not Japanese enough for his own. She warns not to let his guard down.
Like Chester’s inspired, he decides he’s going to go on the offensive and steals his father’s car back from Grichuk. This only inflames the racist idiot. He then rushes over to Luz. He wants them to leave, to have their child instead of giving up a life together. “There‘s no future” in California, he says, not if the laws stay the same. Luz refuses to go, seeing the picture with much more pessimism: “There‘s no future for us. Anywhere.”
Note: Chester briefly picks up a book with Ariane et Bacchus in it, an opera by Marin Marais (1696), based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and dealing with the legend of Ariadne. Will it be a throwaway image? Or will it play a larger thematic role?
“We mourn for a life lost to us”
At the wharf, Grichuk is going to burn Henry’s boat. While he strikes a match he sees a bright light out in the distance, and it blows him into the water. Next morning, Henry’s cleaning up a mess of kerosene. The men find Stan drowned, caught in a net overboard. This only furthers Henry’s notion there’s “something evil” out there at work. He thinks a spirit is wreaking havoc on them.
Henry and Chester go deal with the authorities. Notice the date? December 7th. That’s why there’s a commotion starting to brew— this is the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, the moment when everything changes for Japanese Americans. Henry and Chester are in the belly of the beast, too.
They rush back to the neighbourhood where everyone’s in a panic. That evening, the U.S. military are already beginning to round up anybody of “Japanese origin.” The camps weren’t yet built, but ideologically they were already being constructed.
A horrifying piece of American history. (Don’t forget we Canadians had a part in our own wretched camps for Japanese Canadians, too.) Such an interesting way for The Terror to go on, as there’s no other book written. The way they’re using actual history, like Dan Simmons did in his novel, to create their horror is exciting, and should prove an interesting watch. Already it’s creepy AND compelling.
“All the Demons Are Still in Hell” is next time.