“You wanted a demon?” the rebellious Ken Uehara (Christopher Naoki Lee) growls at relocation camp director major Bowen (C. Thomas Howell), whom he spends most of the episode holding at gunpoint in a locked barracks. “You got one.” That’s about as deep as the hostage subplot in “My Perfect World” gets. It’s all Bowen saying generic tough guy stuff like “some dogs you just have to put down” and Ken explaining that he’s only doing this so Bowen will acknowledge the outbreak ravaging the camp and call for medical help. Everything The Terror: Infamy has to say with this dynamic it says before the two characters are even in the same room, and everything that follows just rehashes those same two ideas on the way to a needlessly drawn-out violent conclusion.
The episode’s dialogue, penned by writers Danielle Roderick and Tony Tost, never rises above this kind of trivial back and forth. Luz’s father Bart (Ruben Garfias) nonsensically accuses Luz (Cristina Rodlo) of collecting unopened letters from her former lover Chester (Derek Mio) like “paper dolls” in an apparent reference to the Mills Brothers song ‘Paper Doll’ that plays over the episode’s nominally gruesome opening scene, which director Meera Menon (The Walking Dead, The Magicians) defangs with soft focus and a meandering camera. It’s like the writers heard the song too many times and just spat out random chunks of its lyrics without any thought as to how they actually applied to the action on-screen.
Pieces of You
The scene which opens “My Perfect World” is the episode’s only actual piece of horror filmmaking. In it, undead spirit Yuko (Kiki Sukezane) possesses a surgeon and forces him to replace her skin with grafts taken piecemeal from dead bodies. It’s a nasty conceit and Menon’s direction doesn’t fudge it too badly, but if Yuko killed one of the camp’s two doctors then why don’t we hear about it? Why, later on, does Ken clearly state that both doctors are sick? Horror is only upsetting if it’s anchored to reality and daily life, and while a better and tighter show than Infamy might earn the license to play fast and loose like this, the groundwork just isn’t here.
That Yuko survived last episode’s blaze (another camp catastrophe which goes totally unremarked upon) was a lock, and aside from her grisly reskin there’s nothing new going on here. We don’t learn anything more about what she was like in life, about her relationship to her sister, Chester’s adoptive mother Asako (Naoko Mori), about her personality or character. We do learn she gave birth to twins and that Chester may have a long-lost brother somewhere out there, though what that means in terms of the show’s story is left an open question. Chester remains a frustratingly blank slate of a character, Mio’s performance totally devoid of interiority. Whenever the show has a chance to push deeper into him it pulls away instead, leaving a middling actor to fumble with thin, indifferent material.
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Home on the Range
Luz’s depressed home life with her father and her acceptance of the runaway Chester’s offer to drive her anywhere she wants is a long and tedious road to nowhere. None of these characters feels real enough to make their unhappiness sting or their joy register as anything more immediate than smiling strangers on greeting cards. The show’s inability to focus on any one dynamic or setting long enough or with enough insight to produce actual atmosphere hamstrings its every attempt to look more closely at its cast.
What do we learn about Luz as she flees to New Mexico aside from the fact that as a child she was happy there? What do we see of her other than her flat affect and the dull, repressed life she contemplates when a man from her community takes her out on a date? There’s a spark of something desperate when she tells Chester “everything about you hurts me,” but it doesn’t catch.
“My Perfect World” is an aimless, talky hour of television too clear to be mumblecore and too bland to be dramatic. After seven episodes, where do we find ourselves but back at the beginning — Chester ensconced in a happy domestic setting and chasing some impossible to define feeling of emptiness while a specter of his family’s buried past slowly closes in on him. With only three episodes still to go, it feels more and more like we saw every trick Infamy had up its sleeves before the credits rolled on its premiere.