TV Review: ‘The Terror: Infamy’

AMC's anthology series continues with a tense, chilling chapter on Japanese-American internment.

The Terror: Infamy” didn’t need ghosts to be frightening. Alexander Woo and Max Borenstein’s new iteration of the “Terror” series, both thanks to its subject matter and supernatural apparitions lurking at the edges, is permeated by an ever-creeping sense of dread that proves undeniable. Tracing the needless devastation of Japanese-American internment during World War II, the second installment of AMC’s anthology series is straightforward about the human cost of racist paranoia. Even when “Infamy” is blunt, it’s understandable; it’s not exactly like the horrific reality that inspired it was subtle, either.

By largely following a single family, “Infamy” also finds a way to make a staggering historical event that can sometimes feel too big to comprehend feel as personal as it truly was.  After immigrating to San Francisco from Japan, Henry (Shingo Usami) and Asako (Naoko Mori) have built a life for themselves and their restless son Chester (Derek Mio) based on the strength of Henry’s fishing skills. Chester, torn between two countries to which he has never fully belonged, wants to explore the world beyond their neighborhood, a desire he enacts vicariously through photography. When Executive Order 9066 completely upends the Nakayamas’ lives, however, it’s all they can do to keep themselves together in one piece.

The Nakayamas anchor “The Terror: Infamy” in what is, in essence, a straightforward historical family drama. The moments that work often depend on the characters driving them, and it’s unfortunate that Mio’s Chester isn’t quite as compelling as he, the ostensible firebrand tying the story together, probably should be. (This holds especially true with Chester’s tragic but ultimately unconvincing romance with Cristina Rodlo’s Luz.) The series draws a stark divide between the Anglo-American soldiers rolling their eyes through their duties and the devastated people they’re imprisoning, but deliberately keeps the focus on the latter.

Despite having significantly less material to work with than Mio, Mori, Usami, and George Takei find nuanced, deeply affecting ways to portray their characters’ building trauma. Usami is especially heartbreaking as Henry, who so fiercely believed in the American Dream before the internment, finds his world crashing down around his head through no fault of his own. As AMC has noted, many involved with the “The Terror: Infamy” — including Mio, director Lily Mariye, and Takei — have connections to the real internment camps, and the care they take to get it right shines through even the show’s bleakest moments.

This being “The Terror,” however, the specters of racism and injustice aren’t the only things haunting the series. Chester finds himself dodging a vengeful spirit (i.e. a yurei) who seems to be trying to steer his life in a direction he doesn’t want or understand. With the help of some gorgeously eerie cinematography that emphasizes her ephemeral state, Kiki Sukezane’s Yuko is brittle, chilling, and eventually, as the show begins to unveil her backstory, heartbreaking. The series doesn’t especially need her to tell its timely story; “The Terror” refers just as much to the careless human malice wreaking destruction as anything else. But if it does need to exorcise its demons, it could do worse than Yuko, whose overwhelming sadness bleeds into every frame. Even if she is not solely of this earth and all its attendant horrors, her story is inextricable from the rest of “The Terror: Infamy” and its meditations on suffering, surviving, and withstanding more than anyone ever should.

“The Terror: Infamy” premieres Monday, August 12 at 9 p.m. on AMC. (Drama; 60 minutes. 10 episodes, 6 watched for review.)

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'The Terror: Infamy'

Production: Executive producers: Alexander Woo, Max Borenstein, Ridley Scott, David W. Zucker, Alexandra Milchan, Scott Lambert, Guymon Casady and Jordan Sheehan.

More TV

  • Sean Spicer Emmys

    Sean Spicer's Casting Explained? Red States Love 'Dancing With the Stars'

    ABC faced backlash this week after casting former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on “Dancing with the Stars.” But that outrage might actually spice up the dancing competition’s dwindling ratings — particularly in Trump Country. “Dancing with the Stars” has faced a relatively alarming decline in ratings over the past two cycles, falling 32% [...]

  • Peppa Pig

    Hasbro Acquires Entertainment One in $4 Billion All-Cash Deal

    Toymaker Hasbro is acquiring studio Entertainment One in an all-cash transaction valued at $4 billion, bringing My Little Pony and Nerf under the same umbrella as “Peppa Pig” and “PJ Masks” and furthering Hasbro’s growth goals in the infant and preschool categories. Hasbro aims to expand its operations in film and TV. Entertainment One’s production [...]

  • Sarah Michelle Gellar

    'Other People's Houses' Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar in the Works at Fox

    Sarah Michelle Gellar is looking to reunite with “Ringer” creators Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder on a dramedy co-produced by Fox Entertainment and UTV. Fox is developing “Other People’s Houses,” Variety has learned, and has given the project a script commitment. Charmelo and Snyder will write and executive produce, while Neil Meron, Sarah Michelle Gellar [...]

  • Ann Sarnoff Warner Bros

    Ann Sarnoff Formally Takes Reins of Warner Bros. as CEO

    The Ann Sarnoff era at Warner Bros. has begun. Sarnoff formally took the reins as Warner Bros. chair-CEO on Thursday, two months after she was appointed to the post. Sarnoff told employees in a memo that she has been impressed by the company’s track record during the past year amid a period of upheaval for [...]

  • Jamie-Lynn Sigler'Woke Up This Morning: The

    ‘Sopranos’ Cast Members to Present at VMAs in New Jersey

    The VMAs will reunite “Sopranos” castmates for the big awards show happening Monday night in Newark, New Jersey — right next door to America’s favorite crime family.  Drea De Matteo (who played the mobster girlfriend-turned F.B.I. informant Adriana La Cerva), Jamie-Lynn Sigler (who played Tony Soprano’s precocious daughter Meadow Soprano) and Vincent Pastore (who played [...]

  • The L Word

    'The L Word: Generation Q' Teaser Unites Original Cast, New Characters

    Showtime has released the first look at the next generation of “The L Word” and its new cast including Rosanny Zayas, Jacqueline Toboni, Sepideh Moafi, Arienne Mandi, and Micah Lee. Along with some of the original cast, including Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, and Katherine Moennig, the series sequel picks up where its creator Ilene Chaiken [...]

  • ACCESS HOLLYWOOD -- Season: 24 --

    'Access Hollywood' Franchise Adds New Half-Hour Show

    After a spate of recent layoffs and the departure of host Natalie Morales, “Access Hollywood” is extending its brand with a new half-hour series. “All Access,” premiering Sept. 9, will take an in-depth look into the national headlines and look to uncover the real-life drama occurring in everyday places, exploring a blend of true crime [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content