It’s hard to imagine a more relevant moment for a horror story about immigrant suffering, which makes Infamy laying its second dud in a row all the more frustrating. “All the Demons Are Still in Hell” is forty minutes of hold music to get us to the show’s inevitable and presumably final destination: a concentration camp for interned Japanese-Americans. Along the way, the show’s recreation of the chaos and cramped living conditions of the uprooted Japanese is shallow and airless, a succession of increasingly gloomy rooms to which no real attention is paid. Director Josef Kubota Wladyka and screenwriter Tony Tost speed through the material with no apparent goal. It’s too slow to be disorienting, too fast and choppy to be atmospheric.
The mysterious Yuko, who has the power to possess others and act through them, haunts the episode’s proceedings, forcing mild-mannered Wilson Yoshida to steal an American soldier’s gun and commit suicide by military police. Wilson recognizes Yuko before his death and warns Chester to run, which is as close as the show has come to connecting its monster to its characters. The minute and careful framing of Yuko in the show’s equally disappointing but more visually intriguing premiere here dissolves into shopworn end-of-hallway silhouette shots and menacing fingernail drumming executed hastily and without flair. There’s precious little to this episode worth looking at for long.
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You Can’t Get There from Here
The middle of “All the Demons Are Still in Hell” is a series of awkward stop-and-start storytelling beats as Chester tries to flee the state with his pregnant sort-of-girlfriend Luz, dodging the order to report for internment in the process. Given refuge by his principled photography professor, Chester is betrayed to the FBI by the man’s paranoid neighbor and Luz elects to join him, revealing the Japanese paternity of her baby to justify her imprisonment. It’s an incredibly convoluted way to bring the two characters back together, as well as a ten-minute detour on the way to an obvious destination. Along the way the show keeps up a constant flurry of expository dialogue, repeating itself endlessly rather than delving visually or narratively into the moment in history it’s trying to invoke.
The material with Chester’s father Henry, the blinded Furuya, and the elderly and superstitious Yamato being held at an interrogation center feels similarly both underdeveloped and overlong. What do we learn about any of these men, really, by watching them hem and haw over whether or not another prisoner is really a shapeshifting spirit in disguise? What are they thinking when, after he admits he’s not a spirit but a government informant selling innocent Japanese people down the river as spies for the Empire in order to keep his cushy gig, they weaken the surface of the frozen lake on which he stands and leave him to make his own way back to shore? Surely his survival or his death would ruin whatever slim chance of going free again remains to them. The lake itself, clearly intended as the episode’s defining image, is mishandled from the jump, shown only from a distance and covered with some of the most transparently fake snow imaginable. What could easily have been a source of suspense and quiet beauty is instead a cheaply gloomy special effect at which even the show’s creators know we shouldn’t look too closely.
The show’s immaculate costuming is frequently at odds with its subject matter, especially in Yuko’s case where her disintegrating skin and dirty nails look not disorienting but laughable in company with her brand new haute couture waist-length jacket. Nobody looks dirty in a situation where they’re almost certainly not showering or eating regularly. Nobody is anything less than beautifully and soberly dressed. It’s another layer of unreality preventing what emotional content Infamy’s horror material possess from sinking in. There’s simply nothing scary to the show, no visceral ugliness, no attempt to root the audience in any particular perspective, no suspense or surprise or even unease.
Infamy feels like it’s just marking time, checking boxes on its table of historically accurate events (Chester telling the FBI agents who track him down along with Luz “We’re not married, no laws have been broken” is one of the episode’s few affecting and genuinely ugly moments) on its way to wherever the real story starts. It has no tolerance for silence, no eye for desolation or for beauty, no sense in its gut for what frightens even the most vulnerable people. It depicts a hideous moment in American civilization with no more thought than a History Channel live reenactment, mistaking simple reproduction for genuine insight. Why situate a story in such a brutal moment in time if you have nothing to say about it?