'The Terror: Infamy' Review: AMC's Historical Horror Series Returns With A Horrifyingly Timely Tale

We find ourselves in terrifying times. Racism continually prevails. Fear is stoked daily. And there's no end in sight. The Terror: Infamy understands this, and faces it head on. The latest season of AMC's horror anthology show looks to the past, while also looking to the future. "Look at how little things have changed," the series seems to be saying. "Look at how many horrible mistakes we're making all over again." Using the reprehensible World War II-era Japanese internment camps as a backdrop, The Terror: Infamy manages to mine horror from painful reality, while also dipping into the supernatural.

The first season of The Terror was a straight adaptation of Dan Simmons's novel of the same name. It used the historical story of the lost Franklin expedition to craft a tale of horror, blending history with the fantastical. It used up all of Simmons's story, and was entirely self-contained, which made any hope of a continual show unlikely. Rather than let The Terror go, AMC instead decided to turn the show into an anthology series, with a new story and new characters on hand for season two.

Real-life history is still being used as a backdrop, but The Terror: Infamy has jumped forward in both time and place. Gone are the cold, harsh, uninhabitable icy wastelands; they're replaced here with damp American waterfronts. We're in California now, and the series kicks off mere days before the attacks at Pearl Harbor. The tiny, primarily Japanese-inhabited neighborhood of Terminal Island is home to a mix of people from the old world and the new: Japanese immigrants who came to the United States with a dream, and their American-born children who look upon their elders' traditions and superstitions with a mix of bemusement and disdain.

At the center of this all is Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio, turning in an instantly likable performance), the American-born son of immigrant fisherman Henry Nakayama (Shingo Usami). Father and son don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things – in fact, they don't see eye-to-eye on anything, really. They're only one generation removed, and yet that distance might as well be thousands of years. Chester is a modern (well, modern for 1941) man, a college student who's had a secret affair with one of his classmates, Luz (Cristina Rodlo). He's mostly integrated nicely into American society, so when his father and his father's immigrant friends, like local elder Yamato-san (George Takei, lending remarkable gravitas with every action and word), begin talking about an old world spirit that might have followed them across the sea to America, Chester scoffs.

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But it quickly becomes difficult to shrug off the talk of the supernatural as strange, horrifying occurrences begin to unfold – most of which seem to revolve around a mysterious woman who seems to be everywhere, and nowhere, at once. What does she want? Who is she? And is she even human? The answers won't present themselves in the first few episodes of The Terror: Infamy. And before anyone can start really asking questions, Pearl Harbor is attacked, and the lives our main characters are turned completely upside down. They're shuffled off to internment camps, and forced to face a whole new breed of horror.

That The Terror: Infamy should arrive now, when America is once again in the diabolical business of locking immigrants up in deplorable camps, is no accident of coincidence. "This season of The Terror uses as its setting one of the darkest, most horrific moments in our nation's history," said writer and executive producer Max Borenstein. "The Japanese-American internment is a blemish on the nation's conscience — and one with dire resonance to current events." That's not to say this season of the The Terror dips into political screed territory. But it's impossible to watch the happenings of the season unfold without thinking of what's happening right now.

While the first season of The Terror had the occasional supernatural occurrence, its horror mostly relied on events created by the harsh elements, or the foolishness of humans. Infamy, in sharp contrast, goes all-in on the metaphysical and the ghostly. As a result, this season is much scarier than season 1. The first few minutes of the season alone unfold at a fever pitch, focusing on a seemingly-possessed character slowly pushing a long, sharp object into their ear. It's ghastly, and nasty, and instantly sets the tone for the season. There's always something horrible lurking here – something unspoken, something dire. The atmosphere is thick and oppressive. You can feel the dread weighing down on you like heavy humidity.

The Terror: Infamy isn't as relentlessly bleak as its first season, but it's not exactly an easy watch, either. The series has carved out a nice little corner for itself, one that looks back at history, and says: "Look at where things went wrong." As the saying goes, those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. And if there's one recurring theme from season one and two of The Terror, it's that we are all indeed doomed.


The Terror: Infamy premieres on AMC August 12, 2019.