The Terror-Infamy Episode 1: A Sparrow In A Swallows Nest Review and Recap
The premier of The Terror: Infamy is a startlingly quiet take on monsters in all their forms.
Courtesy of Ed Araquel/AMC
A shot across the bow in the form of an arresting chopstick to the ear alerts us that although quiet and respectful, The Terror: Infamy will challenge the viewer. It is designed to make you uncomfortable. In part because of the almost forgotten abhorrent behavior by the American government brought on by paranoia, and in part from unsettling images set to Mark Korven’s uncanny score.
The Terror Season One was compelling because it showed evil in many forms. The Terror: Infamy ups the supernatural ante with old world Japanese folklore and ghost stories. The significance of faith and superstition in Japanese culture is strong. As important as the spirits of those lost are the ghosts of our ancestors who may have been on the wrong side of history.
The cold open relies heavily on sound work reminiscent of the bizarre ASMR trend juxtaposed with something just this side of wrong. Chopsticks aside this poor woman is afflicted with something other than just bone deep sadness. Lurching steps, bone cracks, and subtly bending necks all set the macabre stage. The Terror Season One eased us into the fear. The first season chose to numb us with cold before scaring us with the snarl of Tuunbaq. It was a character study and dissection of British Imperialism more than anything. Season two will be more of the same but with a more immediate supernatural bent.
After a suicide scene that is as haunting as it is breathtaking a funeral is shown in washed out starkness. The people mourning the loss of the woman are somber and some very superstitious. Traditional rituals mix with ominous omens as literal strings that should not ever be pulled are tugged and caskets tumble under some unseen force. The string gag is simple but effective. An ill timed gust of wind portends the horror to come. For all the Japanese immigrants time spent in America, this peaceful community is not safe. Not from the Americans they coexist with, and not from the old world spirits waiting to remind them who they really are.
The residents of Terminal Island a community in San Pedro, California are by and large fisherman. They are proud immigrants who love their adopted country as much as they are wary of it. They have reason to be as even before the fateful bombing of Pearl Harbor casual and not so thinly disguised racism is bantered about from patrons and supposed friends. The “Greatest Generation” is anything but as they fling passively bigoted comments at the community they share space with about distrusting “Jap” spies along side cringe-worthy amounts of misogyny. It was a different time for sure, but witnessed through modern eyes it is horrifying even without the spirits. George Takei(Yamato-san) is a revelation as a respected elder of the community with ties to both the old and the new world. He was the first of their group to come to America and at this point serves as both a beloved Grandfather and weaver of traditional stories. It is from him we learn what the Terminal Islanders may be up against. His knowledge and level head are necessary as danger swoops in from many sides.
Courtesy of Ed Araquel/AMCSome things never change. Forbidden love is still something that can’t be denied, and parents and children always think the other is wrong. This season will hinge on Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio) who is a second generation Japanese American. He was born in this country and is a born citizen where his parents are naturalized. His father worked incredibly hard to earn both his stature in the community but also the thriving fishing business. He is one of only a few Terminal Islanders who own an automobile and believes in hard work and closed mouths. By contrast, Chester is optimistic and stubborn. His absolute belief in the America he knows from his college experience is only beginning to be tested. The push and pull of the parent/child relationship is interesting. Chester doesn’t understand why his father lets Grichuk, the fish buyer for the cannery push him around and ultimately steal his car. He thinks it is cowardice that keeps his family on the tiny island insulated from everything. His father believes getting a girl pregnant is weak, and thinks the car is only a symbol of achievement and not the achievement itself. It is the beginning of the age old argument between material wealth and spiritual wealth. What does it truly mean to succeed? As Chester has fully embraced his American roots, for better or worse he is a consumer in a way his father never will be. His father has the normal fear all parent feel for their child’s future coupled with the experience of a harrowing trial to immigrate to America.
Chester may have inadvertently been the catalyst for the Yurei haunting the community when he asked for herbs from the dead woman prior to her suicide to induce a miscarriage for his girlfriend Luz. He was not the first to feel her wrath however. Masaya(Yuki Morito) has many stones to cast and she starts with her husband who has been systematically abusing her for decades. We learn about the beatings shortly before he is compelled to stare at the sun blinding himself. It is a simple yet effectively creepy act that defines the episode.
There is nothing so scary as apathy and blame. A two headed tyrant that needs both sides to play their part. Those who live on Terminal Island, Chester for all his American bravado, and Stan Grichuk are all of those components. After nearly losing his life in a canning accident for which he was fired he went after Mr. Nakayama. He is not a quality person to be sure, but it’s likely the cannery fired him rather than address any issues with their machines. The proverbial dung runs down hill and unfortunately the Nakayama’s are at the bottom. Grichuk blames Nakayama not because he has any reason to, simply because he was there and he can. One last act of aggression is met with an even more powerful force as the Bakemono protects the Nakayama’s boat and Grichuk drowns. The Yurei may hold grudges against their own kind, but for outsiders seeking to harm them, violence is the only answer.
Courtesy of Ed Araquel/AMCYou could easily insert any coal miner or automobile worker into this equation today and have the same result. It is precisely the reason President Trump was elected. A large group of people who feel disenfranchised and forgotten by the status quo were given a target for their rage. When a terrible act of war occurred on December 7th the match was struck to ignite the smoldering fire of distrust and dissatisfaction. The parallels to detention centers along the border are profound. Similar to the “Dreamers” today Chester knows nothing beyond his American life. As the mysterious tea leaf reader tells him he is of two worlds but not comfortable in either. With a girlfriend who is decidedly not Japanese or white for that matter he has found love way outside the accepted norm of the day. Laws prohibit marrying her even if his Japanese family embraced her. He will find he does not belong in his traditional nuclear family, nor is he accepted into his countries society freely.
The woman working in the brothel has secrets to tell. Her ability to withstand pain from the flame as a tribute to the spirits of fortune-telling and her ominous tale of the sparrow and the swallow all spell trouble for our foolhardy Chester. He and the other Terminal Islanders are the sparrows in this story. House sparrows are said to move in and take over swallows nests. Swallows allow the intrusion to a point but beware as they will eventually strike back. She cautions Chester that he should remain vigilant less he be pecked to death. It is a story that works from several angles. The fact that Chester could be both sparrow or swallow depending on the perspective makes the fable even more intriguing.
Next week Henry must survive the hardships of his post Pearl Harbor imprisonment while the Islanders are evicted and forced to seek shelter elsewhere. History, it seems, is doomed to repeat itself. As much as we may have progressed the “old ways” are hard to shake and are just a hairs breath way from catching up with us again. The moral of the sparrow and the swallow, “Let us all unite. To punish wrongdoers”.