“I married in Hiroshima,” says the ghost of Yamato-san’s childhood friend. He goes on to describe his life there, his children and grandchildren, the arrival of his first great grandchild. Yamato-san peers around him and sees those people standing silently in single file behind his friend like the other man’s shadow transmuted into flesh. We know before his great granddaughter looks up from her mother’s breast, half her face a burning cinder, why this family appears together in Yamato’s dream of life after death. It’s a moment of quiet grief more immediate and powerful than anything Infamy has yet managed to pull off. Rather than incorporate an atomic test into its storyline — something I worried last week’s Los Alamos-set ‘Come and Get Me’ was building toward — the show wisely uses them to cast a pall over its final episode.
‘Into the Afterlife’ is a surprisingly tender, thoughtful finale to a show that struggled and mostly failed to find its voice. In its resolution of Yuko’s muddled story and the laying to rest of her spirit it displays real creativity and empathy, diverting relatively straightforward supernatural violence into a larger story of generational trauma and remembrance. If it uses its hokey idea of Mexican folk magic to get there, well, it’s still the same show that could only wring two more or less good episodes out of a season of ten and this is still just a thoughtful finale, not a miracle. There are still ugly shots, bad performances, storylines that come to nothing. It’s affecting, though, and intermittently beautiful. Sometimes that’s enough.
Everything Is Gone
“I cry more tears leaving the camp than I did going to it,” says Yamato-san, sitting with Amy in the aftermath of San Francisco’s wild impromptu celebration of the bombing of Hiroshima. “Everything that was ours; gone.” Their conversation about the ruin of their past and the frightening, ash-choked shadow of their future comes during one of the show’s most beautiful shots, a slow vertical pan into an alley behind the boarding house where Yamato and the other Terminal Islanders are living. Drunken revelers stagger home after a night of fireworks and carousing in the streets. Confetti and leaflets litter the alleyway. It’s as though an explosion which on the far side of the world swallowed up nearly 150,000 people has burrowed its way through the earth to erupt in San Francisco as an outpouring of ghoulish merriment; a whole city dancing on the mass grave of another just like it.
The episode’s final shots of the floating of memorial lanterns at an Obon festival held by the Terminal Islanders are uneven and only occasionally successful at communicating the hushed gravity of this endless cultural farewell, but the final distant look back at the shore across water dotted with flickering points of candlelight communicates better than the rest of the entire show what it is to carry your past and the heavy history of your community with you. It’s an image of strangers making a home in a strange and often hostile land, a place that has scarred and hurt every one of them, that has killed and maimed and imprisoned. It’s a defiant image, and the memorial photographs of cast and crew family members (as well as series co-star George Takei, taken as a child to the camp at Tule Lake) imprisoned during Internment which accompany the credits are a heart-wrenching fade out from it.
We Have to Keep Remembering
Yuko’s final moments on the show are some of its grisliest and most abject as she writhes bleeding in the dirt, gutshot and papered with sutras that bind her to her flesh, her own grieving sister Asako stabbing her again and again in a fugue of despairing rage. When we next see Asako five years later she remains stricken, her hair fading to gray, her lined and joyless face recalling Grace Zabriskie’s brutally immediate misery as Sarah Palmer on Twin Peaks. The flashback she has of being with Yuko while the younger woman gets a bridal portrait taken is marred by jarring de-aging effects, but it finally communicates the queasy hatefulness of what Asako did to her sister by shunting her off to a man she knew to be violent.
In the end the Nakayamas don’t defeat Yuko; instead they give her a gift, one only she could truly receive. Chester invites the tortured spirit into the memory of a perfect day preserved within a photograph of her younger self. “That was a hopeful time,” says the mutilated present day Yuko, watching her still-unmarred self walk out under blooming cherry trees. Chester returns to the present, to a world where Hiroshima and Nagasaki are smoldering craters and his father Henry lies dead in the woods of New Mexico. Yuko fades into the past, the endless loop of rage and wanting which pulled her back from the grave tied off by her acceptance into a place of honor and hope in her family’s living memory. The Terror: Infamy may not have been a particularly good story, but in its final moments it managed to communicate the unique pain of immigration and of the ghosts born and discarded on the long, cruel voyage to a new world of uncertainty and violence.