“If somebody find love here, that be something,” says Yamamoto, played by George Takei, of two young people flirting over breakfast in a Japanese internment camp. This sort of love-among-the-ruins quiet desperation permeates Infamy’s third episode, “Gaman”, helmed by Heathers and Hudson Hawk director Michael Lehmann and written by Shannon Goss of Outlander fame, and help to make it a marked improvement over the season’s first two lackluster outings. It’s not a great episode of television by any means, plagued as it is by wooden performances and shallow characterization, but by slowing down and focusing on the emotions and daily lives of the internees, Infamy finally finds the meat of its own story.
Lehmann’s direction is practiced, his images clean and thoughtfully composed. From Asako dreaming of dancing with her husband Henry under fairy lights — the camp around them still present but held at bay by the yearning force of her fantasy — to Chester’s long, silent look out over the camp’s rooftops, the episode’s visuals are strong and atmospheric. Goss’s script likewise trots along much more quickly and with more purpose than the previous two screenplays. Characters experience stimuli and react to them. Dynamics shift. It’s bare bones stuff, the kind of thing you don’t appreciate until you notice it’s missing.
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That Was Before
The episode’s material about dueling identities is serviceably sturdy, delving into paranoia, polarized thinking, and national allegiance with admirable emotional heft. The frostbite-crippled Henry’s embittered speech about being beaten by the soldiers of a country he loved and worked hard for is held back by the occasional clumsy phrase — “That was before I knew what they were capable of!” — but represents some of the show’s first actual character growth, and Chester’s enlistment as an army translator and codebreaker is handled as a complex and slippery thing about which nearly every character has different feelings. “You’re running away,” his girlfriend Luz tells him when he reveals that he’s enlisted. His mother Asako cuts a lock of his hair to cremate in case his body isn’t returned to her.
“Gaman”‘s success in exploring the complexity of Japanese American life during the war is the first sign that there could be long-term appeal to Infamy, but the show remains frustratingly repetitive. The blinded Hideo Furuya’s possessed attack on his son Toshiro communicates nothing new about the malevolent spirit Yuko. We know she can possess people. We know she has a grudge against the older men from Terminal Island, and their families. Why film this visually unexceptional scene? Not even the setting, the camp’s mess hall, feels relevant or new. The scene in which Yuko murders Furuya in the forest after escorting him there while possessing the body of a soldier is much more nuanced and atmospheric, though Mark Korven’s score — which remains little more than generic scary twanging — undercuts the creepiness of the soldier’s jerky limbs and dead expression.
The episode’s shots of the camp are among its most effective. Vast, impersonal, and dark, they hang over “Gaman” much more effectively than the shadow of Yuko and whatever crime the men of Terminal Island’s Japanese community committed against her. The otherworldly intrusions of the searchlight beam throughout the episode’s first half is effective as nothing before it had been in establishing the infuriating indignity of the internees’ lives under surveillance. It’s far preferable to the blandly false cheer of C. Thomas Howell’s turn as Major Bowen, the camp’s director. Bowen’s scenes are muddled, his introduction flatly shot and aimlessly written, his later interview with Chester’s childhood friend Amy Yoshida for a secretarial position so overtly sexually predatory it crosses into mustache-twirling territory.
Still, the tangled and laundry-strung interiors of the camp’s barracks, Henry’s seething depression and frostbite-blackened feet — this granular suffering is exactly what the show’s previous installments were missing. Properly developed and expanded upon they could bloom into something worth watching, a serious but unambitious pulp genre story built around a truly hideous moment in our shared recent history. If the episode still falls far short of the standard set by The Terror’s stellar first season with no realistic prospect of approaching that level of quality, “Gaman” suggests it might still find its footing as a minor but enjoyable piece of horror television.