Last week on The Terror: Infamy, we saw Chester confronted by the possibility that the old country myths might be much more than fairy tales after all. In this week’s episode, “Gaman” (“persevere” in English), not only does he appear to believe but he has decided to take the late Mr. Yoshida up on his final command to Chester: “Get away.” But first, let’s start with the elder Nakayama.
The Haunted Heart
As the relatively recent The Haunting of Hill House has shown, the supernatural on TV does not have to express itself in explicit bogeyman shock and gruesomeness, like on American Horror Story for example (not a criticism by the way, it’s just a different if equally valid approach if done right). What Hill House and in turn The Terror: Infamy have and are expressing is that the personal and the human are just as terrifying and as capable of haunting as the supernatural.
Case in point: a new transportation of “prisoners” arrives at the camp, a group that contains Yamoto-San, Mr. Furuya and Henry. The other two seem as well as can be expected but something is off with Henry. As he approaches his wife Asako, he stumbles in his footsteps in a way that brings to mind Mrs. Furuya’s death-walk at the start of Episode 1. Is Henry also under the influence of that malevolent spirit Yuko?
As it turns out, no. Taking off his boot to reveal severe frostbite, he snaps at Mr. Furuya to keep silent about what happened, suggesting that he, if not the others, was perhaps left outside in the ice for a time as punishment for doing similar to Nick Spy, the traitor in Episode 2. Betrayed by a countryman; brutalised in return by his adopted countrymen. Who to trust anymore?
Henry outlines clearly not only his own fear but seemingly the whole message of the show, and he does so in one sentence. Referring to Asako’s Ofuda in the barrack, he says “it may protect us from spirits, but not from human evil.”
Clearly suffering some form of trauma from the betrayal received in Episode 2 and the unspoken events that followed, Henry is struggling. He understands now that everyone has the potential to be a spy, and he treats Luz and interestingly Chester with the same untrusting hostility.
If trauma is another way of saying that your perception of the world has changed irrevocably due to a “wounding” of some sort, and therefore is said to remain with you, can the same be said to describe being haunted?
In any case, the effect on Henry is clear. He refuses to leave the barrack, sitting for hours on end in bitter contemplation. He believes, quite understandably, that the Americans look at the Japanese as if they were rats. “They beat me,” he tells Chester, “they left me in the cold.”
Chester refuses to let his father be defeated so. He tells Henry, “you’re here now, with Ma. You have a grandbaby on the way. And yet, you just sit here. That’s no way to live.” To which Henry responds, “I know. It’s not. But this is what we do. Persevere.” Is Henry persevering? When so haunted, it can be an achievement just to get dressed in the morning. But Chester can also be said to be right: that to persevere is to continue to live one’s life in the face, not in spite of, one’s trauma. It all brings to mind a very famous line of Samuel Beckett’s: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
Henry has an addendum, a point of retort to Chester. Yes, he might just be sitting in bed all day. “But you,” he tells Chester, his voice barely restraining his bitterness, “you run away. Go. If you have to go, Chester, you have to go.”
The uncanny echoing of Mr. Yoshida’s final words spur Chester into action: “At least I’m doing something.” And if only Henry could understand why those words are so uncanny, maybe he could understand why Chester is on the move again.
Poor Chester. Yes, he might be kind of arrogant. Yes, he might be a little selfish at times, a little narrow minded. His character has certainly not translated these attributes into something resembling a complex, fascinating protagonist—a Don Draper, for example, or a Walter White. But death does seem to follow him like a little lost puppy looking for attention. In this episode we really see for the first time Chester’s acceptance, if not understanding of this, and how he in his way is also becoming haunted by events surrounding him.
Life in camp is starting to frustrate Chester. Not only is he expected to help build a fence around the camp, like some military Ikea flat pack assembly, but he finds himself as a Japanese man patronised for doing so because his race is “industrious.” He is separated from Luz in different barracks and worries about her treatment from the other women, who call Luz a “whore.”
On top of all this is the ever-present watchtower, whose searchlight at night is an omnipresent reminder to the camp mates that they are being watched at all times. When Chester smashes the light in an unguarded moment, it is a symbolic moment of the violence he is unable to unleash on his captors, on the restrictions that keep him from living his life freely.
The death of Mr. Yoshida is still fresh in the memory, the way in which this cautious man went wild and threatened his captors now bringing talk about bakemono and yurei—a literal, supernatural haunting. Chester confirms that Yoshida was not himself at the time, but then Chester never believed in any of “that old country stuff.”
It is Yakamoto-san who puts Chester right: “Old country? They in every country. Yurei be anywhere you go. It follows you.”
As do Mr. Yoshida’s final words for Chester to get away, which cling unresolved to Chester like little tormenting doubts he cannot shake off. What was meant by this? It is clear that Mr. Yoshida had some kind of insight that he kept secret. And it turns out he wasn’t the only one.
“You Said I Was Exquisite”
It cannot be said Mr. Furuya is a man with a blemish-free reputation. Nevertheless, it is still a shock to all concerned to see him storm into the mess hall as if possessed, pushing people out of the way and trying to throttle his own son to death.
Chester intervenes, soldiers drag Furuya away, but the words uttered during the attack still linger in the air: “the swallows…they’re everywhere.” This brings to mind Episode 1, “Sparrow In A Swallow’s Nest,” where Yuko advised Chester that “the moment you believe you are safe, the swallows will pick you to death.”
Is Furuya referring to Chester here when he talks about the swallows being everywhere? It’s not certain but it does bring a little bit of intrigue to proceedings.
Chester visits Furuya in prison and is told that it was not Furuya himself that was responsible for the attack but whatever is inside of him. “It doesn’t stop. It’s with me wherever I go.” And more worryingly for Chester, Furuya warns Chester that he could be next.
Interrupted by soldiers before more can be said, it can be inferred that Mr. Furuya has said too much. For the next time we see him he has been led away to a clearing by a soldier. A single soldier who walks on snapping ankles. A walk that looks very familiar.
Yuko reveals herself and in the ensuing conversation we can determine four things: 1) Yuko and Mr. Furuya have met before. 2) Mr. Furuya and Yuko shared an intimate moment, possibly against Yuko’s will, where Furuya said to Yuko that she was “exquisite.” 3) Yuko has a goal to which she is working towards, and that goal concerns a certain person. 4) That person is not Mr. Furuya, as his bitten-out tongue, courtesy of Yuko, confirms. He will not reveal any more information, and he will not whisper any more sweet nothings. The cut worm dies in peace. And the bled-out man?
Is Yuko an avenging angel? It remains to be seen. The supernatural side of things has seen such a slow build so far and yet I am more intrigued by Yuko as the weeks go by. It seems fitting that it is the hints at Yuko’s history that invite audience inquisitiveness in a show largely about the horrors of history. I’m looking forward to seeing who and what Yuko really is. And who and want she really wants. Speaking of which…
“The Baby’s Fine”?
If there is one major gripe this week, it is with the portrayal of Luz. Gone is the strong, independent woman of previous weeks, replaced by a surface-level character who is constantly being fussed over in the name of protection. Certainly time has passed and the pregnancy developing, Luz’s bump hard to ignore.
But this week the writers seem to have used this to turn Luz into a “woman who needs protection” trope to feed into the male protagonist, in this case the concerned father Chester. Surely it would be better to continue and develop her character as she was, a woman equally strong as vulnerable, and therefore a fully rounded human being? There really is a great character waiting to leap out here.
After the events of Mr. Furuya’s death, the body found by a young boy who also describes seeing a woman in a kimono, Chester is panicked further by Luz winding up in the infirmary after a fall. It turns out both baby and mother are fine. More troubling to Chester is the intimation that she fell due to the wind, which so far has been a sign of Yuko’s presence.
With the words of Mrs. Yoshida ringing in his ears that evil is following him, the deaths of Mr. Yoshida and Mr. Furuya on his conscience and now an apparent attack on his beloved and his unborn child, Chester is convinced. Whatever is happening, it seems to be following him. So how else to protect the ones he loves than to go away and take the evil with him?
In a real plot contrivance (another little gripe that seems to be becoming regular), Chester applies for a position in the U.S. army as a translator of intercepted Japanese correspondence. He appears to be failing his test, his Japanese appearing only a little more than basic. However, he miraculously gets the job when, although his Japanese is not that strong, he recognises that the letter contains a particular type of Japanese poem and within the one in the letter is hidden a secret code. As I say, miraculous.
Henry, of course, sees this as a betrayal, another one to add to the list, and Chester only barely convinces Luz that he’s doing it for her and the baby as he will be earning a wage. It is, of course, for Luz and for his family he is doing this, but he does not want to admit to them why. He thinks he is doing the right thing by leading the evil away from them. Henry would probably argue he is following the evil further. In a heartbreaking moment, Asako cuts a lock of Chester’s hair and takes it, because if Chester dies and the body cannot be recovered, the hair can be cremated so that it can be considered Chester has had a proper burial.
But for now Chester has left. And the evil has not gone away. Noticing some bleeding Luz is pointed in the right direction to a midwife in an empty barrack in a quiet part of the camp. She is directed there by Asako, curiously. It remains to be seen if this has any relevance, coming from the most spiritual of the Japanese elders.
Luz is reassured that the baby is fine. And for now it possibly is. But as the camera pans up to take in the midwife’s face, alarm sets in as we realise that Luz and the baby are now in the clutches of Yuko. Is this Yuko’s goal? Possession of a child? Why this particular child?
Join me next week where hopefully we’ll have some answers!