The Terror, AMC’s horror anthology series focusing on a new story each season, is back with season two. Titled, The Terror: Infamy, this season centers around a series of otherworldly and bizarre deaths that begin to haunt a Japanese American community during WWII. We follow Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio) as he looks for answers and to understand and fight the entity behind the deaths.
As “A Sparrow in the Swallow’s Nest,” the first episode of The Terror: Infamy, begins, it hits the audience with horror, cracking bones, death, and elements of body horror made famous by Asian horror cinema. It sets the tone for the show in the first few minutes of the episode. Not everything is at seems, as the opening moment shows a seemingly normal woman walking onto a dock only to have her deteriorate, her feet twisting, her neck cracking. Throughout the episode, we get elements of traditional horror that begins to weave a story of a spirit that immigrated to the United States with the Japanese community. They crossed the sea and so did the evil.
In “A Sparrow in the Swallow’s Nest,” we’re put in 1941 where Chester finds himself caught between his insular Japanese American neighborhood on Terminal Island, California, and his current life as an all-American guy. Chester has a girlfriend and dreams of a life well outside the island. He sees his family and those on the island as immigrants who left one island for a smaller one. With Chester, we see a child at odds with what his family sees as the American dream; working, fishing, owning a car, and his dreams of something bigger than just slinging fish.
For those of us from hyphenated families, you know Mexican-American, Japanese-American, and the like, you have to balance your life when everything around you is pushing back. You feel detached from your culture because it’s in the past, while the world around you keeps you from an open future because you don’t fit there either. Chester’s experience is one felt throughout the United States. The show builds out this piece of his life beautifully done and as it explains what it means to be American.
But perhaps, the best parts of “A Sparrow in the Swallow’s Nest” is the ability of the showrunners to blend the supernatural with the social, by shining a light on the real terror of the time, internment. If you had been watching the trailers for the show or keeping up with the actors on social media, you know that The Terror: Infamy is one of the first shows on television to cover the Japanese American Internment during WWII.
So, when the episode begins following Chester in his everyday life, before the events of Pearl Harbor, the dread begins to build in every interaction he and his father have with the Navy men stationed near Terminal Island, California, where they live. As a viewer, you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, for one of the many atrocities of the time to come to fruition. From 1942 to1945, more than 145,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians were forced from their homes and into internment camps by their respective governments, simply because of where they or their ancestors were born.
As Chester’s father, Henry (Shingo Usami), begins being exploited by the man he fishes for, the true terror of the show begins to become realized. Even before internment, Japanese Americans faced the threat of being reported, something that is used to pull everything the Nakayama family has earned from them. The fear of being seen as anything other than American is exploited and the audience is reminded that horror, as a genre, exists to highlight the fears of the culture it comes from. In this case, Chester’s fear, and his family’s, which propel the narrative while the evil spirit accents it.
“A Sparrow in the Swallow’s Nest” excels at building tension that works on multiple levels. The show makes you uncomfortable, using your anticipation of historical events to cast dread over each action and ultimately utilizes knowledge of the established horror visuals to keep you uneasy. With one episode in, The Terror: Infamy has become the must-watch horror show of the year. It’s a balance of social, body, and supernatural horror used to tell a story that has long been ignored in the American consciousness.
The Terror: Infamy airs new episodes every Monday night at 9/8pm CT on AMC.
Photo Credit: Ed Araquel, courtesy of AMC
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.