The past two episodes of The Terror: Infamy have been all about answering questions. Episode 5, “Shatter Like a Peal”, involves a lengthy interrogation scene between two characters. And episode 6, “Taizo”, finally fills us in on the backstory of Yuko, the mysterious, ghostly demon that has been plaguing the show’s characters from the start.
Shatter Like a Pearl
It’s 1943, and Chester, now in full-blown translator mode, finds himself in Guadalcanal. We know he’s there because we’re hit over the head with a scene where one character loudly asks, “Hey, where we going?!” and another shouts back: “Guadalcanal!” Thanks, exposition guys!
Chester has by now found out about the death of his twin sons, and he’s understandably morose. His mood changes from sadness to rage when he thinks the yurei that has been tormenting him, and that possibly played a part in his children’s deaths, has arrived at camp in the form of a raving, ear-biting POW. The POW proudly proclaims himself to be inhuman and threatens Chester ominously: “I will present you with the corpse of every person you love, no matter how young!”
But as it turns out, the prisoner isn’t a demon at all. He’s just a half-mad Japanese soldier, and soon, he and Chester are bonding over baseball. It’s a genuinely warm moment in an otherwise bleak episode, watching Chester and the prisoner talk about America’s pastime. The prisoner claims to be one hell of a pitcher. So great, in fact, that he actually struck out Lou Gehrig once.
The bond between Chester and this man grows so tight that Chester does something risky – and potentially stupid: he unties the prisoner and hands him a dagger so that the man can commit ritual suicide rather than remain imprisoned. After a quick fake-out, the prisoner does just that in a particularly gruesome moment, aided by fantastic sound design that plays up the tearing flesh as the dagger is drawn across the man’s belly.
The POW may not have been the yurei, but that doesn’t mean Chester is safe. The demonic ghost does eventually arrive at Guadalcanal, possessing one soldier carrying a leaky duffle bag, and then jumping into the body of one of Chester’s translator friends. This leads to a shocking moment in which the possessed man forces Chester to steal a Jeep – only for Chester to crash the vehicle after being fired upon by U.S. soldiers who think he’s about to go AWOL. The crash is nasty, but it’s nothing compared to what follows: Yuko, in full gooey yurei form, comes twitching out of the duffle bag. It’s a particularly spooky image, and it’s not the only moment that creates a jolt in this episode.
Back in the internment camp, Luz has gone into full-blown Ophelia mode, wandering around the camp in a dirty white dress with a vacant look on her face. At one point she stands in murky water and can see the reflections of her dead babies within, and what a shudder that imagery creates. But Luz’s time at the camp is soon at an end, because her father shows up and argues that she should be allowed to leave now that she no longer carries offspring with Japanese blood.
This leads to a beautiful moment: Luz and Chester’s father Henry, who was once so cold to her, share a warm embrace in the drifting snow. Henry has come to care for his would-be-daughter-in-law, and while I would’ve liked more scenes fleshing this emotional turnaround out a bit more, it’s still a powerful moment.
The same can’t be said for the other plotline running through the episode – a rushed, clumsy segment in which we learn Chester’s friends Ken and Amy are now in a love affair, and that Ken has become something of a revolutionary in the camp. The Americans are handing out a form to all the Japanese prisoners that requires them to swear loyalty to Uncle Sam, and Ken rightly points out that being forced to sign the form is unconstitutional. But that doesn’t matter to the army, because anyone who says yes will be automatically drafted, anyone who says no gets thrown in jail.
Ken is willing to take that risk, but Amy is not. She uses her clerical job to alter Ken’s form and he’s spared as others are hauled away. But he’s none too pleased about this, and breaks it off with Amy. The relationship between Ken and Amy was too brief for us to get hung up on it, and Ken has been so much in the background for the bulk of the season that suddenly giving him a big storyline like this rings false. It’s the weak spot in an otherwise strong episode.
After keeping us almost entirely in the dark for the last five episodes, The Terror: Infamy episode 6, “Taizo” holds nothing back. This is the very definition of a fill-in-the-gap episode, one where nearly all our questions are answered. So much so that you wonder what’s left for the season to say.
The first half of “Taizo” is the most compelling, and genuinely disturbing. We finally learn the story of Yuko, the ghostly presence that has been haunting Chester and company. The episode jumps back to Terminal Island in 1919, where a still-alive Yuko arrives at the home of the still-alive Furuya (remember him?). Yuko is meant to be his arranged bride, but that all changes when she reveals that she’s pregnant with another man’s child. Furuya is furious and throws Yuko out onto the streets.
Cut to 1920. Yuko has given birth to a son named Taizo, and is currently homeless. Realizing that raising a child on the streets is going to be incredibly difficult, Yuko gives the baby up to an orphanage and then decides to kill herself. She staggers up onto a bridge, weighs herself down with rocks, and is just about to make the leap when she’s interrupted by a mysterious woman (Natsuki Kunimoto). The woman offers Yuko some words of encouragement, and it’s clear she can tell Yuko is contemplating suicide. One gets the sense that this mystery woman is trying to help…but she also seems to have a secret or two. And sure enough, when Yuko finally takes the plunge, the woman only looks on with a blank expression.
Here is where things get interesting. Yuko wakes up in a gorgeous room in a gorgeous location that may or may not be Japan. Wherever it is, it looks lush, and vibrant, and lovely. She has no idea how the hell she got there, but that mystery woman from the bridge is there, too. Day after day, Yuko wakes up in this place, encountering the same buzzing fly. Soon it becomes clear: she’s dead, and this is the afterlife. On top of that, the mystery woman is one of her ancestors, and she explains that only people from their bloodline can occupy this particular afterlife.
But Yuko wants out. And after tricking her ancestor into succumbing to a nightmarish gravel pit that leads to another underworld, Yuko manages to climb back into our world. This results in the most striking image of the episode, and indeed, season as a whole. We watch as a Yuko comes crawling out of her grave while oil Derrick’s pump mindlessly in the background. And here comes a stinger: it’s now 1941. Years have gone by in the blink of an eye.
By now you’ve probably guessed where this is going. The baby Yuko gave up for adoption is, of course, Chester. Chester returns to the internment camp where he’s given a massive exposition dump: the woman he thought was his mother was actually his aunt – Yuko’s sister, who adopted Chester. Chester is perturbed by all of this, and perhaps a bit cruel. When his “father” tries to say something, Chester rudely cuts in: “She’s my blood,” referring to his aunt/mother. “You’re nothing!” A bit harsh there, Chester.
In the midst of all of this, Yuko has departed her body and gone back to her own personal afterlife. As it so happens, Chester finds the currently uninhabited body and turns to Yamata-san for advice. This gives the show a reason to bring George Takei back, and boy, I sure wish this season had given him more to do.
Yamata-san thinks up a solution: they’ll burn the body, and trap Yuko in the afterlife. This sets the stage for another stunning visual: a cabin in flames set against the backdrop of 4th of July fireworks. As for Yuko, she gets wind of the plot to destroy her – and breaks on through to the other side yet again. And I’m guessing she’s going to be pissed.
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