Much like a certain other horror series from AMC, The Terror: Infamy has seemed to stall. We have been waiting for weeks for the spookiness to arrive, but we haven’t seen anything that might keep us up at night. Chester has been on the run from Yuko for 75% of the season now, and it’s becoming redundant. Major Bowen seemed like the logical next-level for villainy in the show, but he has been doing the same things for weeks now and hasn’t taken that next leap into evil beyond what the United States government is doing. The old-world mysticism of the first few episodes has been completely forgotten, being dropped for a cross-country game of cat and mouse between a Mother and her Son. For a show about spirits, the afterlife, grief, institutional racism, and the need for belonging, The Terror: Infamy has run out of mysteries to solve or the ability to scare.
The first season of The Terror was a triumphant achievement in the horror television genre. Every episode was packed with monsters, both supernatural and human. The show’s second season, however, has lacked the mysterious nature and emotional impact of its predecessor. Why is that? The season started off so strongly and set us up for a whopper of a terrifying tale, so what went wrong?
“For a show about spirits, the afterlife, grief, institutional racism, and the need for belonging, The Terror: Infamy has run out of mysteries to solve or the ability to scare.”
Let’s take a look at our “villains” in the two seasons. In season one, the initial threat came from Tuunbaq, the spirit creature and protector of the Inuit peoples. The first few episodes of the show led us to believe that it was going to be a straight-forward monster tale. After a while, however, the grotesque beast became a backdrop in the show. Once its mysteries were solved, we understood what it was and what it wanted and became sympathetic to the beast. So, the show needed a new threat to take its place. This secondary threat, the real villain of the season, then took over and carried the show into the finale. This was one Mr. Hickey. This dastardly, evil man who brings out the true monsters inside his fellow survivors was more than enough to keep our interest during the periods of the season where Tuunbaq wasn’t around.
The writers of Infamy attempted to take a similar approach to the villain structure of season one. The first, initial threat to the characters is Yuko. She is possessing those around Chester, forcing them to kill themselves and others. She is terrifyingly crawling out of duffel bags and reaching for the one she lost so long ago. As a secondary threat, the show brought us Major Bowen, the ruthless camp leader who was hiding his racism behind proclamations of patriotism and loyalty. The problem is, unfortunately, Major Bowen is no Mr. Hickey. Once Yuko’s mysteries were solved and we gained some sympathy for her and her plight, we needed a new villain to emerge and take the show into the final stages of the season. Bowen was a bad dude, that’s for sure, but he was almost pedestrian in his evil compared to Mr. Hickey. The worst thing he did this season was order the murder of Ken after the young man beat him and held him hostage in his barracks. While not great, it’s not exactly “making people eat each other” evil.
After this episode, where Major Bowen is easily overpowered and killed by a captured Amy, that secondary threat is now gone. What we’re left with is Yuko, and we have nothing else to be afraid of from her. We know what she wants, we know what she can do, and we know that there’s very little in the world that will stop her. We don’t like Chester, and the impromptu wedding between him and Luz, and a brief encounter with his dead brother this week won’t change that fact. At this point in the season, we are almost rooting for Yuko. Anything to get this thing over with and save Luz and (again) her unborn child.
Beyond the lack of a secondary villain to make up for the lack of interest in Yuko, Infamy is devoid of any amount of true depth. Season one dealt with massive themes like colonialism, hubris, the superiority of white explorers, survival, and the meaning of humanity itself. Each moment meant something, and each episode made us scrutinize ourselves. This season took a swing at something bigger by setting it in a horrifying moment in American history, but it has used it as a prop instead of a vessel for existential examination. Instead of using the story of Yuko and the incarceration of the Japanese citizens to explore the depths of human bias and hatred, we have been given a token racist character in Major Bowen and a supernatural slasher.
“This season took a swing at something bigger by setting it in a horrifying moment in American history, but it has used it as a prop instead of a vessel for existential examination.”
There are still two episodes remaining in the season, so here’s to the hope that the writers can bring it around and actually have it mean something. For all their posturing and inference that the setting of Infamy is a parallel to today’s issues, they sure have backed away from using that message to say anything to the audience. It’s one thing to show us kids in a camp, but it’s quite another to use the story to force us to examine our hearts. When you make the real evil take a back seat, all you’re left with is a villain with a stitched-up face chasing someone across the southwest. If we had wanted that, we would have just watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
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!