This The Terror review contains spoilers.
The Terror Season 2 Episode 2
Two episodes in, The Terror: Infamy is a completely different beast than its predecessor, tackling a horrific moment in American history that makes last year’s cannibalism-themed massacre on ice feel almost tame in comparison. While the men of Captain Sir John Franklin’s doomed expedition to the Arctic found solace in simple pleasures (mostly from a bottle), the Japanese residents of San Pedro enjoy no such comforts in “All the Demons Are Still in Hell.” Over the course of the hour, we watch the Nakayamas, their friends, and acquaintances get displaced from their homes, forced to live in shit-covered horse stalls by order of the U.S. government, and then moved to a concentration camp. Japanese men are tortured and killed, while orphaned children (including infants) are incarcerated by men “just following orders.” Needless to say, the episode is a very hard watch and painfully relevant in 2019. In fact, The Terror season 2 is quickly becoming the year’s most important horror series.
At a time when media companies such as Universal Pictures and Marvel Entertainment are trying to take an apolitical stance on issues such as gun violence, fascism, and racism, this AMC series pulls no punches, and it should be given all the credit in the world for that. The Terror season 2 is at its very best when tackling our current events through the lens of history. Certainly, the final shot of the episode, an American flag proudly blowing in the wind as men and women are forced into the Colinas de Oro “War Relocation Center” (read: concentration camp) is one of the season’s most haunting moments thus far.
Derek Mio’s Chester Nakayama is once again the anchor of an episode that feels best when focused on other characters — namely, his father Henry (the excellent Shingo Usami), family friend Nobuhiro Yamato (George Takei), and pregnant girlfriend Luz Ojeda (Cristina Rodlo). But overall, Mio’s protagonist has a much better second outing than in his dull scenes in the first episode.
Mio and Rodlo have a bit more chemistry in the second episode too, even if I don’t fully believe Luz would give up the safety of her child to be with Chester in a concentration camp. Up until the moment she gave herself away to the FBI agents, forsaking the refuge given to her by Chester’s college professor, I didn’t really think she even actually liked Chester, which makes her decision feel like emotional shorthand and a way to present the main character with another challenge.
Usami’s scenes are once again the best of the night, as we watch him go from cell to ice fishing to weeding out a traitor, all while trying to prove to the scummy American MPs that he’s not a Japanese spy. Henry, Yamato-san, and the blinded Hideo Furuya (Eiji Inoue) have a great scene late in the episode when they confront Nick Okada (Kai Bradbury), a fellow inmate they suspect to be an obake, a shape-shifting spirit. While Henry and Yamato-san don’t strike me as the murdering types — and we never see the traitorous Nick sink into the cracking Dakota ice — it was entertaining to watch them face off against a (not) supernatural threat. Perhaps this is a bit of foreshadowing for when they finally confront the mysterious Yuko?
The show’s actual evil spirit is hundreds of miles away and haunting Wilson Yoshida, who seems to be the keeper of some secret that leads back to Chester. Wilson is clearly disturbed when he first spots Yuko in Los Angeles and even calls her by her name when he sees her for the final time late in the episode. Before anyone can ask any questions, Yuko possesses Wilson and forces him to assault a soldier and get himself shot to death. (A later scene where Wilson’s daughter Fumi [Hira Ambrosino] is forced to leave her father’s bags behind before boarding the bus to Colinas de Oro is devastating.) While shocking, Wilson’s demise doesn’t quite make a strong case for why this story should feature a supernatural element in the first place.
Yes, Yuko, played by Kiki Sukezane (Lost in Space), is perfectly creepy — thick, black blood spilling from her forehead in her final scene of the night — but what has she really contributed to the story so far? It almost feels like co-creators Max Borenstein and Alexander Woo were obligated to add a more conventional horror element to a story that is at its best when acting as a grounded examination of the sins of our past. Yuko, who is keen to punish the Japanese people of San Pedro for their own sins, almost trivializes the much more interesting story. If this weren’t The Terror, would Yuko exist at all?
So far, The Terror season 2 has struggled to marry its historical and supernatural elements, and the second episode goes a long way to show that one half of the plot is definitely stronger than the other. It’s the historical focus, the major source of this year’s terror, that makes “All the Demons Are Still in Hell” a much better episode than last week’s premiere.