“Chester has a plan,” his mother Asako says confidently. “He always does.” One wonders what show she’s been watching. It’s hard to think of a character in recent memory who more transparently has no clue what he’s doing at any given moment, lurching from plot to plot and life to life without apparent rhyme or reason. Remember when he was into photography? When he joined the army as a translator and codebreaker? Remember when he fled an internment camp twice with no real plan other than “get my girlfriend and drive”? The Terror: Infamy tells us what its characters are like, but it never bothers to support that by showing them behave accordingly. “Come and Get Me” is the most damning confirmation yet of the show’s laziness.
Watching the hastily reunited core cast of Chester, his parents, his new wife Luz, and Luz’s abuela oopsy-daisy their way into a nuclear facility in the middle of the New Mexico desert in the waning days of the second World War strains credulity to say the least. The show might as well have started here for all its previous storylines matter now. Amy and Major Bowen? A few quick shots at the beginning of the episode. The Nakayamas and all their fellow Terminal Islanders losing their homes? Over in an instant. The camps? Folded up with a final mild-mannered racist flourish after an entire season of avoiding everything we know from a historical perspective befell the Japanese-Americans who lived there. Even Yuko herself is barely here at all, and Infamy spends no more time on the repulsive images and body horror which have until now been her plot’s redeeming quality.
Exit Stage Left
I wrote last week that it seemed like Infamy had precious little interest in the camps as a setting or as the logical culmination of the period’s racist ideologies and authoritarian tendencies, preferring to locate the evils of 1940s American xenophobia in individual expressions of cruelty. The show would have to pull one hell of a rabbit out of its hat to reverse that course now with only one episode remaining. On every level, from the visual to the tonal, the camps failed to gel as a site of human suffering or perseverance. Infamy lacked the conviction to get its hands really, truly dirty and the vision to ground its trivial understanding of the Japanese-American experience. The period setting feels more like a grade school diorama.
So what’s left after the places and characters we’ve spent all season watching get swept aside without a second thought? The characters move from place to place. They refuse repeatedly to discuss plans with one another. “We want her to think we’re going to stay,” Chester says to his parents of Luz’s family home, then a few seconds later he’s packing the car in broad daylight, totally visible from the road. It’s embarrassing, a welter of first draft mistakes produced uncritically with a mainstream cable budget. If it looked good, if the performances were there, if any part of this show had pulled together or kept to a coherent tone Infamy might be able to get away with skipping steps and fudging details now, or at least make an enjoyable mess. Instead we get a joyless, self-contradictory march toward some genius’s idea of a surprise twist.
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Here’s to Little Boy
Infamy is setting itself up to end with the Trinity Test or a similar nuclear experiment. The entire central cast is close enough to the testing grounds for Chester to accidentally run across a three-sheets-to-the-wind Sir Geoffrey Taylor, a real historical member of the Manhattan Project, who crows about defeating nature and disproving the limitations of modern physics. The advent of the nuclear age is a defining moment in modern history and an enduring image of tragedy and horror in Japanese art, but the idea that a show like Infamy can handle such a potent symbol feels laughable at this point. Given the elements it’s working with — a small Japanese community’s internal tensions and intergenerational struggles — and the ones it’s failed to develop — namely the Japanese-American community’s relationship with mainstream American militarism — it’s difficult to imagine this will lead anywhere but to an embarrassingly tone-deaf conclusion.
What, in this context, does the bomb’s creation mean? What does it have to do with the camps, apart from a fundamental inability on America’s part to consider the Japanese as fully human? Had the show spent more time developing that theme this might read as a natural extension of it, a chance to explore the ways in which America punished its citizens of Japanese descent out of a kind of fear of foreign contamination and finally brought those sentiments to full and horrifying light with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Instead, what focus Infamy possesses has remained directed at a conflict between individuals without much resonance with the broader lives of Japanese immigrants.