In the first episode of this second season of AMC’s horror anthology series The Terror, Japanese-American protagonist Chester was told by his father Henry, who was being rounded up for transportation to a work camp, ‘you’re a citizen, boy. Fight for your country.’ In this week’s episode, “All The Demons Are Still In Hell,” Chester finds out what the true worth of that citizenship is to his government. We see to what desperate acts the old myths and fears will drive the Japanese elders. And we will question where the real evil lies—with the spirits, or with the military.
But first let’s start at the beginning.
‘I Am Not A Spy. I Am a Simple Fisherman. I Love This Country.’
We open by sneaking up on Henry, alone in a dark featureless lonely cell, quietly chanting what could be a comforting mantra to meditate on: ‘I am not a spy. I am a simple fisherman. I love this country.’
What’s interesting here are the subtle changes in inflection each time Henry repeats his speech. At first it sounds like a man trying to steady himself, so as not to stumble in front of his accusers. But with each new repetition comes a slight change in tone that alters the possible meaning. From stoic to fearful, from honest to scornful to deceptive, he seems like a man rehearsing a routine with which to con someone. Is Henry a spy? I’m certain this isn’t the case, but the little changes in inflection do raise some interesting questions.
As some kind of luck all the Japanese men have been kept together: Henry, Yamato-San, and the now-blind Mr Furuya. They are being kept in a cold, dank, miserable non-descript building, being drilled through arbitrary, monotonous tasks such as walking around the hall in a circle over and over again. There has been talk of Japanese men there going missing, never to be seen again. There is very little to be found in the way of hope.
The disdain that the Japanese men are held in by their captors is palpable, unnerving. The guards look at the men as if they were looking at something dirty they had trodden their shoes in. There are no individuals here, just ‘Japanese,’ singular, with no feeling that the guards believe them to be people, or at least people like them. This is contempt magnified into dangerous territory.
One of the guards takes Henry alone to a deserted wintry spot where the sea is frozen and desolate. The guard is armed and for a moment I thought I knew why the other Japanese men are missing. But we have not got as far as cold-blooded assassination, not yet. Henry, for reasons unclear, perhaps sensing murder in the air, recites his mantra. The guard is scornful: ‘Yeah? What’s the next part? [A simple fisherman] who was probably transporting fuel to the Emperor’s warships. Tell me, is that why your boss was killed? Did he figure out what you were up to?’
Henry does know, or at least believes he knows, who killed Mr Grichuk: the spirits who have followed from across the sea. Henry can’t tell the guard this. He knows the guard will not believe him. In fact he may single Henry out more with such a story. And the guard makes an interesting point: with Henry suspected of being of killing Mr Grichuk, it instantly makes him a person of interest. What else is he suspected of?
The guard wants to test Henry, by making him fish on the ice, driving away as he does so. The danger of such an activity is obvious, and Henry, although an experienced fisherman, has never ice fished before. And besides, what difference does it make if he passes the test or not? The guard has already suggested fishing might be a cover for spying. What point is there in the test, other than to make Henry aware of his vulnerability and to assert the strength and authority of the American military? In any case, Henry earns a minor momentary victory. The guard returns to find Henry, sat by the ice, a bucket full of fish revealed to both the guard’s and our surprise.
A Dangerous Nationalism
Back on Terminal Island things are not much better. The island is now navel property and all Japanese citizens must be gone by midnight. Chester and his mother Asako join up with the Yoshida family and Mr. Furuya’s young son, Toshiro, and together they are driven off into the night to L.A. for relocation, eventually being escorted to a empty stables/race course to be used as a makeshift detainment camp.
‘Can you believe this is happening?’ Chester is asked. ‘I’m beginning to,’ says Chester, thinking of his old navel drinking buddy who told Chester he was lucky it wasn’t one of the other grunts moving him on, as they’d love to see him have an ‘accident.’
Here we clearly see the narrow reductive thought of nationalism in action. The attack on Pearl Harbor was an horrific moment in history, no question. It makes sense that the American government would want to tighten security and would look more closely at its Japanese citizenship. War ultimately is the great de-humaniser. But the way in which the American soldiers treat the Japanese people is as if they were all one person and therefore all personally responsible for the attack.
This is clearly ridiculous but under extreme nationalistic thinking, such as might arise under a war, one becomes all and all becomes one. You could believe the flip of their attitude to the Japanese applying to the American soldiers themselves: Pearl Harbor was attacked, and yet because they all love ‘America’ (an idea thereof) they all, as citizens, take the attack as a personal assault on themselves—a very dangerous way of thinking, as I’m sure we’ll see more of as the series progresses.
‘Who Are These Children A Threat To?’
Chester returns to his college in L.A. to return his photography equipment to his sympathetic lecturer. The tension in the college hallways is palpable at Chester’s presence. I felt uncomfortable watching, so we can only imagine how singled out Chester feels.
Here he bumps into Luz, which feels a little contrived, but she has news: she kept the baby. Her own mother died in childbirth and so Luz sees carrying the baby as a kind of penance and, as a Catholic, a punishment for indulging in sins of the flesh.
Chester wants to help, but Luz shoots him down. He has no job, even no home now. She will raise the baby at the orphanage where she is working and living, having been kicked out by her unforgiving father. Chester is disgusted at the idea, but as Luz quite rightly says, ‘it’s not romantic, it’s not inspiring, but at least its a plan.’
This plan is swiftly kicked to the curb, though, when the military march in and in a heart-breaking moment begin to remove all Japanese children. ‘Its for security,’ says a soldier without any kind of awareness of the ridiculousness of such a statement. ‘Anyone with even one drop of Jap’s blood gotta go.’ Luz fears the worst. If they’re taking babies and kids, then what will they do to the unborn?
‘I Guess You Do Have A Plan. Or At Least Your Professor Does.’
In what is another obvious plot contrivance (an unfortunate weakness in the show this week), Chester is provoked into confession and rebellion by the sight of Japanese babies and children being escorted into the detainment camp as he waits in line to enter. ‘This may not be the best time to tell you this,’ he says to his mother, and it’s hard not to agree. The moment feels forced, and rushed, as Chester confesses his indiscretion with Luz to her.
Asako of course takes the news as well as you might imagine, asking Chester not to run away now with things as dangerous as they are and to stay with the family. But Chester wants to do the right thing and protect his unborn child, miraculously escaping from a line being watched by a large group of armed guards, stretching the credulity of the show a little too thin for a moment.
At the orphanage Chester convinces Luz that his intentions are not a romantic gesture but an effort to protect their child. He has contacted his college professor, at whose house they can lie low and who has contacts in Santa Fe who can possibly get them work. Luz is finally won over, possibly by Chester’s sudden burst of pro-activeness, and off they go to seek shelter.
This would have been a plot development I would have been interested in seeing played out over a few episodes: Chester and Luz on the run, trying to survive in a country that doesn’t want them, whilst the FBI is hot on their tails. I would have liked to see how their relationship would develop under such trials and tribulations.
Alas, it was not meant to be. After less than a day at the professor’s abode, the FBI arrive to take Chester back to the camp. On the way out, it is heavily implied that the tip-off came from the professor’s neighbour, who watches proceedings with a self-satisfied smirk. Instead of doing perhaps the sensible thing and letting the matter pass so she can sneak away into hiding, Luz demands to be taken with Chester – she is carrying Japanese blood also.
What Luz thinks this will achieve remains to be seen. There’s every chance the military could play King Herod with their child once its born. But in any case, it is clear the writers were going for a big emotional moment full of pathos. It could have worked too, if allowed a little more room to breathe and develop. But the emotional response it desires here from the audience is ultimately unearned. There is no real reward, no big pay off.
Instead, we find Chester introducing Luz into a Japanese community that is preoccupied with cleaning out the still hay-filled and muck ridden stables so that they may have a least a shred of dignity in such degrading surroundings. It may play the ‘American government seeing Japanese people as animals’ metaphor a little too heavily, but my heart at least broke a little as Asako saw for the first time where she has been reduced to sleeping.
‘There Is Evil Around You.’
So what of the supernatural this week? This is billed as a horror anthology after all.
Again there were hints and clues along the way, leading to a deserved payoff at the end and setting up some interesting questions for the future. While it can feel at times like the supernatural element is forgotten about in the face of the human tragedy, I like to believe this a slow build to something bigger, and when that something reaches its payoff we are going to be in very sinister territory indeed.
This week it is Mr. Yoshida that is haunted by the presence of Yuko, the delicate looking woman in ceremonial dress that read Chester’s tea leaves in the brothel in last week’s episode (who according to the owner this week doesn’t exist). Mr. Yoshida sees Yuko at the run down office where they initially applied for accommodation, watching him without obvious emotion. He obviously is unnerved by the encounter and hurries his wife along with proceedings.
Later at the stables Mr. Yoshida encounters Yuko again, emerging from the shadows whilst sinister music plays. Mr. Yoshida clearly recognises her, but from where? He says “Yuko? How did you…” before running off to warn Chester that he needs to go. What does Mr. Yoshida know about Yuko that yields such alarm and panic?
Mr. Yoshida is knocked down by an unseen emanation and after a moment’s pause knocks down a soldier and steals his gun. His eyes look disturbed, focused. He approaches a group of American soldiers slowly, gun raised. The soldiers warn him to put down the gun, the consequences obvious, but the possessed don’t heed any such warnings. The soldiers react violently and there is much panic as Mr. Yoshida dies in Chester’s arms, while Yuko still remains in the stables, apparently unseen, cracking her neck in a hideous manner with blood falling down the side of her face.
Later, Chester tries to comfort Mr. Yoshida’s daughter Amy but is told to leave but Mrs. Yoshida and her son, who want to know why Mr. Yoshida told Chester to go. They claim there is evil around Chester, evil that has taken Mr. Yoshida, and that he should leave them be. They won’t name the evil but it is clear the old superstitions remain.
Which leads us back to Henry and his companions Yamato-San and Mr. Furuya. Mr. Furuya is haunted by visions of Yuko watching him, ‘expecting something, wanting something.’ Yamato-San meanwhile is convinced that they are being watched and picked off one by one by a obake or yurei. A young man, Nick Okada, has taken the place of two men, Irv and Hitoshi, on the Wednesday exercise and Irv and Hitoshi haven’t been since. Is Nick Okada a shape-shifting spirit, making men disappear for its own evil means?
As it happens, no. In a shocking little twist he is brought out to the ice with Henry, Yamato-San and Mr. Furuya to catch more fish for the soldiers on the sly. But once the guard has driven away, the other three force Nick on to the ice, threatening him by cracking the ice with their tools, with the aim to sink him in the ice water if he does not confess to being a shape-shifter. Mob law applies here, it seems.
The truth turns out to be a much more human form of torment. Nick has been working for the American government, ratting out informants so that he can remain ‘free.’ But he couldn’t find any informants and so he gave the names of innocent men, the so-called disappeared, so he could continue to enjoy a certain freedom.
Shockingly, Henry advises it is for the spirits to decide what justice is owed to Nick, as the three men walk away leaving Nick to a cracking sheet of ice, his very fate fragile beneath his feet. Does one form of betrayal merit such hard retribution as this? Well, the Japanese men feel betrayed by their adopted country and now by one of their own, and while I don’t believe an eye for an eye is an acceptable philosophy, it will be interesting to see how far Henry and company will go to maintain their dignity in the coming weeks.
Overall, I enjoyed this week’s episode less than last week’s—the pushing for unearned emotional response and the occasional noticeable plot contrivance detracting from my enjoyment. There’s certainly enough to keep my interest though and I am intrigued by how things will proceed.
What did you think? Let me know in the comments section!