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The Terror: Infamy - A Sparrow in a Swallow's Nest - Review

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CAUTION: PLEASE DON'T READ UNLESS YOU HAVE ALREADY WATCHED The Terror: Infamy 2.01 A Sparrow in a Swallow's Nest!

Yes, The Terror has returned with a new sub-title, Infamy (which refers to President Franklin Roosevelt’s “a day that will live in infamy” speech after the bombing of Pearl Harbor) and creative team! Only Ridley Scott has returned as executive producer for season 2. Usually, I would advise against reading these reviews without having viewed the episode first. However, after watching the 1st episode of The Terror's second season, entitled, "A Sparrow in a Swallow's Nest," I would also argue you shouldn't read my articles on this season, or even watch the season itself, without at least a pedestrian's knowledge of the Japanese-American internment camps.

One of my biggest surprises watching the season premiere was that it became clear early on in the episode that the creators seem to have no interest in explaining or "filling in" not-so historically educated AMC viewers so they can understand the cultural relevance of what these characters are experiencing or why they are being sent to the camps in the first place. Of course, many already know that star George Takei, who plays Nobuhiro Yamato, has his own unique life experiences to bring to this narrative as he was relocated with his family from Los Angeles to the Rohwer Relocation Center in Arkansas, and later, a camp at Tule Lake in Northern California after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Not surprisingly, many other key behind-the-scenes creatives have their own personal connections to internment during this era. In fact, Infamy represents the 1st genre television series effort I can think of to dramatize this period of US history and remind the mass viewing public of its existence through the guise of supernatural entertainment while real life politics in the USA has become increasingly racially charged and polarizing. Shows like this are beginning to exist since no one until recently thought that a situation like internment camps could potentially become a reality again. Like the specter depicted on the show, the past will not stay buried.

 In the show, though, a family, the Nakayamas — son Chester (Derek Mio), father Henry (Shingo Usami) and mother Asako (Naoko Mori) - are sent to a camp in Oregon. Chester is a second generation American who lives in Terminal Island in California and does not understand why his parents would sacrifice so much to immigrate to the USA, only to remain so isolated on an small part of it. This being a supernatural entertainment, not too much is made of the actual indignities families had to go through during internment beyond not being able to carry more than 2 suitcases of possessions with them, at least not yet. We do get a sense of what the specter, which might be a a Japanese ghost they call a “yurei,” might be in this camp. It seems to have the ability of traveling from body to body, undetected, and can twist its host into unnatural shapes when it tires of them. We also see that the episode builds up to the titular speech that kick-starts the internment movement that the Pearl Harbor bombing was the catalyst of. This only being the first episode, I became weary of the feeling that the supernatural elements of the story and the themes of assimilation vs. honoring cultural heritage don't quite mix here yet. So far, it feels more like a fascinating and well-shot family drama with a few scenes of possession and potential killings tacked on to tide viewers over and not bore anyone.

 It is not a far-fetched conclusion to suggest that these possessions are more metaphoric and allegorical than your average ghost possession show would normally allow. Sadly, it seems the general audience did not want to go along with the start of this multi-layered journey as the linear ratings were quite low. losing over 80% of season one's numbers. Perhaps more context was needed to get the more mainstream horror viewers interested in something that might have seemed like an overly-tactile history lesson. Granted, the producers probably want you to be more invested in the show than researching the events behind it on Wikipedia, but the supernatural elements could feel, well, a little more natural than they do so far. Fortunately, the production design and costume design are just two elements here that will hook you instantly into this sad and disparate world.We can only hope critical acclaim will be enough to get this worthy series a third season after a ratings decline like this.

 As for the surprise ending that involving Yuko Tanabe (Kiki Sukezane), a strange woman from Chester's past, I felt there was a little too much of an echo of a certain episode finale of Game of Thrones involving Carice van Houen's character revealing her true self to the audience, I felt it was beautifully presented, but felt dramatically inert. I enjoyed how her character spoke the episode's title verbatim as a way of describing Chester's initial concern. However, I could've done without a heavy twist like that right off the bat with having to absorb all of the dreadful real-life horrors here. Still, I am respecting the subtleties of Japanese-style storytelling the producers are embracing here, rather than chasing easy money with putting a killer specter at the center of a fast-paced haunted house-esque thriller. Then again, I don't see any other way of telling this story considering the metaphorical and sub-textural weight of internment camps immediately bring with it.

The scariest thing about the series might end up being the suggestion that being in an internment camp in your adopted country might not be the most terrifying thing to worry about in this situation. Assimilation does not automatically bring about acceptance then...or now.

Air Date: August 12th, 2019

Director: Josef Kubota Wladyka

Writer: Alexander Woo

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