The first season of AMC’s The Terror was a decent and unsettling show chronicling the fates of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror as their expedition into the Arctic Archipelago went frightfully wrong. Based on the book of the same name by Dan Simmons, it was ultimately a terrific supernatural ghost story with added layers looking at British imperialism, as well as the survival issues faced with having to survive stuck in the ice.
For the second season, the show was quickly turned into an anthology series by AMC, and is subtitled Infamy. The ghosts are back this time around, but instead of the Inuit mythology of the first season, we get a look at Kaidan ghost stories, as they bring in old-time Japanese folklore to 1940s California.
The setting here is very important, as this was a time in which immigrant paranoia during the second world war was rife and unforgiving. A time where after the effects of Pearl Harbour, a lot of Japanese families were imprisoned in internment camps due to Executive Order 9066, brought in after it was established the attack came from the Japanese.
While Infamy certainly focuses on the history of World War II in its opening episode, it is at its heart, a family drama. In the first episode, we are introduced to the Nakayama family led by Henry (Shingo Usami), a Japanese fisherman who is struggling to make money for his family under his white boss. His son, Chester (Derek Mio), who is engaged in a forbidden by law interracial relationship with an American woman, and Henry’s wife (Naoko Mori), who has not let the move to America affect her belief in the supernatural and the ghost stories she heard as a child.
The first episode really sets the stage for Infamy to be a prestige drama. The first season with its setting of the Arctic Archipelago and mythical monsters was forced to rely on CGI and green screen, whereas here, the money can be spent on set and costume design, really bringing to life Terminal Island in 1940s California. While the first episode does have some spooky happenings, which I’ll get too in a minute, the initial episode seems most focused on differentiating what it means to be an immigrant, with what it means to be the second generation, who were born in America with the rights of a citizen. Chester and his father are at constant odds with their views on what they can achieve with their lives. Chester, recently returned from studying in LA believes in the American Dream, while his father knows only too well the bigotry and hardships that his son will likely face. It’s a nice set-up, as both sides of the coin are represented well at first, although history has taught us the direction the show will likely take, it’s hard not to be taken in by Chester’s wide-eyed optimism.
The supernatural aspects are kept mostly muted for episode one and mostly revolve around the mysterious character of Yuko (Kiki Sukezane), as she appears at a few accidents that befall some of the residents of this small fishing village, and reads Chester’s tea leaves. We don’t know much about her just yet, but I will say the final scene of the episode with her had me slightly squirming in my seat with some great looking practical effects.
Ultimately, Infamy got off to a fantastic start with its pilot episode, managing to avoid a lot of the standard pitfalls that opening episodes fall into. The characters felt relatable and grounded in a way where it doesn’t feel like you’ve only just met them, and the intrigue for what is to come has been laid during the episode, as well as in history itself. I’m sure with the themes at work here, the ongoing episodes will not likely fall into fun-viewing, but as it stands, Infamy is one of the more intriguing, and topical storylines to be presented all year.