Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 20, 2020)
Back in 2018, we got the first season of an anthology series entitled The Terror. A year later, Season Two followed, and with it we found a brand-new storyline.
Whereas S1 took place in the 1840s, S2 takes us to the 1940s and looks at Japanese-Americans during World War II. This three-disc set includes all 10 of Season Two’s episodes, and the plot synopses come straight from the AMC website.
A Sparrow in a Swallow’s Nest: “In 1941, Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio) is caught between his insular Japanese-American neighborhood on Terminal Island and his current all-American life. Extreme circumstances push his community and personal life to the brink, all while someone watches closely.”
Opening episodes exist mainly to set up characters and themes, and “Sparrow” achieves those goals – mostly. I can’t claim it creates the most intriguing launch to a season, but hopefully matters will develop in an interesting manner as we go.
All the Demons Are Still in Hell: “After Pearl Harbor, the Terminal Islanders are evicted from their homes and must find shelter elsewhere. Separated from his family, Henry (Shingo Usami) faces injustice at the hands of the government, while Chester engages in a paranoid search for answers.”
S2 of Terror comes with the subtitle “Infamy”, a moniker that does double duty. Of course, it alludes to FDR’s declaration that December 7, 1941 was a “date that will live in infamy”, but it also applies to the horrendous way the US government treated its citizens of Japanese descent during the subsequent war.
Some of that bubbles up in “Demons”, as the characters find themselves relocated to internment camps. Those elements seem fairly well-rendered and without strident elements. Toss in a hint of horror and “Demons” allows the narrative to percolate a bit, even if it largely remains expository.
Gaman: “As the Terminal Islanders adjust to their new surroundings, Chester tries to provide for his family, while fending off the evil that follows him. Henry reels from the trauma of his imprisonment. Asako (Naoko Mori) sees bad omens. Amy (Miki Ishikawa) takes up a new job.”
While ostensibly a horror series, S2 actually works best as a drama that looks at the lives of those in the internment camps. “Gaman” manages some light scares, but it becomes more engrossing due to its character elements.
The Weak Are Meat: “In search of a better life, Chester is treated with hostility by fellow Americans. Luz (Cristina Rodlo) hopes to be accepted by Henry and Asako in their home as the Japanese American community celebrates Obon, a festival to commemorate the dead.
With “Meat”, we have Chester in the Pacific, separated from his kin but not his “curse”. “Meat” produces some character drama/tragedy while it also intensifies the scarier themes, and this combination works well.
Shatter Like a Pearl: “The Japanese Americans are forced to undertake a humiliating exercise that divides the community. Chester comes face to face with a man who forces him to question his very nature. Stricken by grief, Luz is forced to make an important choice.”
Unquestionably the most significant shift here comes from Luz’s literal descent into madness, and that becomes a creepy theme – one based in real-world trauma, though it may extend into the supernatural as well. Chester’s advancing position in the military adds heft as well, as does the growing revolt in the camp.
Taizo: “A story of the past provides insight into the present evil that stalks the Terminal Islanders. Chester returns home to his family. Henry and Asako are faced with a difficult decision.”
That “story of the past” provides useful backstory for the series’ themes and premise, and it occupies the episode’s first half. Add to that worthwhile exploration of the characters at the camp and this becomes another effective program.
My Perfect World: “The Nakayamas have been torn apart. Chester searches for the person he believes can help, by any means necessary. An outbreak in the community forces Amy to act, though she's caught between doing what she's told and doing what's right.”
As the season progresses, it delves much more actively into horror, which makes sense, but I admit I preferred it when the story followed a more subtle path. Still, “World” balances the two sides well enough to make it a quality piece of the narrative.
My Sweet Boy: “Chester and Luz have reached a turning point in their relationship. Amy must take matters into her own hands as she's tormented by a powerful nemesis. Chester meets a boy who gives him answers.”
Without much time left in the season, “Boy” opts for more overt supernatural materials, though we also get some real-life horror as well via creepy Major Bowen (C. Thomas Howell). This becomes a decent move toward the finale.
Come and Get Me: “The Terminal Islanders return home to find that things have changed since they left. Still tense from the pain they've inflicted on one another, the Nakayamas must come together to battle the spirit that threatens their future.”
With little time left in the season, “Get” ramps up the spooky action. Though I still feel less than enchanted with that side of the tale, the episode builds toward the climax in a reasonably satisfying manner.
Into the Afterlife: “Henry and Asako look to the past to provide answers to their current turmoil. Chester and Luz grapple with their identities in hopes of saving those who are dearest to them. Amy and Yamato-san (George Takei) struggle to once again assimilate into American life.”
As I mentioned, I prefer S2 when it focuses on the realities of life for the Japanese Americans during WWII, and the impact of the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki offers depth here. Those elements don’t dominate, though, as the show concentrates on the wrap-up of the supernatural plot.
It provides a fairly satisfactory conclusion, albeit one that makes me wonder why the characters didn’t figure out the solution earlier. Nonetheless, the season ends on a poignant note.