The first season of The Terror was heart-wrenchingly beautiful, devastatingly poignant, and pants-shittingly cosmic in its exploration of the human psyche. So, when it was announced last year that AMC would be continuing the series as an anthology, a lot of fans were rightfully nervous. It was one of the finest examples of horror television that we have ever seen, but it was also based on a stellar novel by Dan Simmons. Heck, the title was even derived from the name of one of the doomed ships of the Franklin Expedition. It was because of this roadmap laid out by Simmons that the show-runners were able to deliver on the thrills, explore complex character development, and keep the tension ratcheted up to eleven every week. So, we were all a little trepidatious about expanding the The Terror brand into multiple stories.
After Monday night’s premiere episode of The Terror: Infamy, all of those fears will have been completely laid to rest. In its 52-minute runtime, A Sparrow in a Swallow’s Nest delivers every bit of the mystery, family drama, and historical horror that we were hoping for. It took the season a whole 10-minutes to send a chill down my spine and make me sit up in my seat, begging for more.
“A Sparrow in a Swallow’s Nest delivers every bit of the mystery, family drama, and historical horror that we were hoping for.”
After the suicide of a local Japanese woman in 1941, peculiar things start happening in the tiny village of Terminal Island, California. A lot of it appears to center around the Nakayama family, whose son, Chester is a U.S. Citizen by birth and is constantly battling against the old-world traditions of his fisherman father. Chester wants to be a photographer and travel the country, but his family wants him close by, especially during the early days of WW2.
Chester wants more. He wants the American Dream that he was sold while attending college in L.A. He wants an acre of land, a house made out of wood, and a child. While he is off dealing with a “mistake” he made with his girlfriend, his community starts to fall apart. Mr. Nakayama’s fish buyer almost dies at the canning factory in a freak mechanical accident, and Mr. Furuya, the abusive husband of the woman who killed herself early on finds himself blinded by an unseen force that made him stare at the sun. After all this, seeking revenge for the loss of his job and for “returned” reparations, the fish buyer, Stan Grichuk meets his untimely end on the deck of Nakayama’s boat.
All of this tragedy and misery is the result of something supernatural, in the minds of the Nakayama family. Something evil has crossed the ocean and set itself upon the island, making people pay for their shame and misdeeds. Chester, ever the new-world-thinker, doesn’t believe in silly things like spirits or evil omens. He sees America like a blank-slate, where the superstitions and beliefs of the old world can be wiped away and forgotten. As him and his father sit at the local Naval base, however, the old country and the new come crashing together in a day that will live in infamy.
It’s December 7th, 1941, and 353 Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service aircraft had just completed a bombing run on the Naval base at Pearl Harbor, in Honolulu. This attack, which would bring the United States into the World War, gave the American government the excuse it needed to round up and jail Japanese families, placing them in internment camps across the western states. This is where the first episode leaves us, with the buses pulling away from the homes of the Japanese families after they had taken the men into custody. “You are a citizen”, Henry Nakayama tells his son as he is being led onto the bus, “show them that you are a patriot. Fight for your country”.
“It’s in this clash of the horrors of history and the supernatural where the episode truly shines.”
It’s in this clash of the horrors of history and the supernatural where the episode truly shines. There are spooky happenings going on, for sure, but that’s not why you get that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach while you watch. There are spectral photographs, shadowy forms following in the night, eerie tea-readers showing the true evil that lies beneath, and invisible forces controlling bodies and forcing them to harm themselves, but that’s not what fills you with dread. You feel that way because it is so familiar. What you are watching is eerily similar to what you now see on the news every night. The suspicion of anyone who doesn’t look like those in power, the separation of families, the paranoia of being “replaced” by those from another country. It’s powerful, it’s relevant, and it’s terrifying.
Even after 20 years of living in the country, Henry is still rounded up and taken away from his family. He has done everything in his power to assimilate to the culture, but it means nothing after those bombs fell in Hawaii. It reminds you of The Thing, only instead of wondering who has been overtaken by the alien, this is a world where they fear anyone who has not become one with the beast. It’s a world of sideways stares, quiet whispers, and overt suspicion. Is it the sins of the assimilated that brought these hardships on themselves? Have the spirits really taken the long journey across the sea to punish those that have forgotten where they come from? It’s a battle to find belonging, and the Japanese residents of Terminal Island are confronted with the fear that, by forsaking their old home for the new, they now belong to neither.
As far as chills go, this episode was filled to the brim, but the spooks are not what made me watch it three times. What brought me back, again and again, was the same thing that has haunted me about the first season of The Terror. It forced me to reckon with the complexities of the human psyche and open my eyes to the very real evil that lurks in the hearts of those around us. Other horror series try to tell a scary story, whereas The Terror, and now The Terror: Infamy, use the genre to hold a mirror up to the viewer. They have an existentially powerful quality to them that creates a vacuum within your soul, allowing the horror held within to take root. Here’s to the hope that the upcoming episodes continue to make us look into the reflective glass, instead of whisking it away just to show us scary monsters.
The Terror: Infamy airs every Monday night on AMC. Keep your eyes on Nightmare on Film Street as we continue to recap each episode and give you the latest and greatest horror news available on the web. While you’re at it, join our Facebook group, Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street and let us know what you think!