Four episodes in, The Terror is finally beginning to live up to its name in a chilling, haunted episode that, while still not providing much in the way of answers, compensates by bringing the scares and is rewarded by being the most entertaining episode of this series yet.
Last week we saw Chester leave the camp as an army translator, leaving Luz alone in the clutches of the yurei Yuko, acting in the guise of a midwife who seems very interested in Luz and Chester’s baby.
How would this play out in this week’s episode? Would Chester be forced to rue the error of his ways? Would Luz be able to avoid the sinister attentions of Yuko? Let’s take a close look at what transpired this week.
‘The Enemy Is Closing in on Me’
A large part of the narrative drive this week pivots on the back and forth of letters between Luz and Chester, ostensibly reiterating the action seen and filling in some blanks. By the end though we will see this device used in a way designed to break the viewer’s heart in such a way that you cannot help feel for the viewer.
In the opening scene Chester is composing a letter to Luz in his head. He is stationed in Guadalcanal, employed alongside another Japanese-American gentleman, Arthur Ogawa, to read through and decipher recovered Japanese documents to see what messages, secret or otherwise, they contain.
Whereas Arthur seems quite a level-headed fellow, wanting to get on with his work, Chester is, shall we say, a little frayed around the ends what with his obsession now with yurei constantly playing on his mind.
Having been unable to sleep for six days straight (is that physically possible?), he is paranoid that “the enemy is closing in” around him, and he isn’t just referring to his so-called comrades in arms. The wind tears around him like a presence announcing its arrival. He dreams of being stabbed from behind through the gut, only to be brought back to his table and documents. It all feels very real, as it should to someone who believes they are being followed by evil.
And if it’s not the yurei, it’s his so-called comrades in arms. The hostile glares that Chester and Arthur receive from the predominately white American soldiers as they pass by are hot enough to singe. Not even the action of serving the country via the armed forces is enough to win or warrant their fellow countrymen’s respect or even the benefit of the doubt.
So low down are the Japanese soldiers in the pecking order that they are selected for special duty: wading through a cess pit to search the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers for any clues the bodies might hold. The fighting in this area with Admiral Takahashi’s men has gotten extra heated in the last six days and now Sergeant Crittenden has gone missing. The colonel hopes there may be something on the dead that will give a clue to the sergeant’s whereabouts.
There is much distaste shown to Chester and Arthur, with the implication being that they are held as much responsible for the deaths of American soldiers as the dead Japanese in front of them. When Chester bites back and suggests it might have been easier to get information from live POWs than searching the dead for clues, he is firmly told to remember his station.
As it happens, Chester gets the last word when he locates a belt with wabun code on it on the body of a dead soldier. “Not everything is written on paper,” he tells the indignant Lieutenant Oury and another soldier called Matthis. There will be consequences to this embarrassment, particularly when the information leads to the recovery of Sergeant Crittenden…
‘Enrique Is a Good Name’
Luz meanwhile has her own problems to contend with. She is still being regularly checked over by Yuko, who appears to be playing her cards close to her chest. She even possesses a guard who discovers her in a deserted cabin, forcing him with a cracking-bone walk to climb the watch tower and leap to his death, silencing him from revealing her existence.
But is all as it really appears? The guard wouldn’t have discovered Yuko if she hadn’t left the light on in her cabin window (a silly mistake for an evil entity to make, unless she was, like a siren, luring the guard to his death. But why?). And in fact, contrary to last week’s ending, Yuko’s intentions towards Luz appear benevolent.
It is Yuko who gives some sage advice to Luz about how to broker peace with an increasingly silent, indignant Henry. Yuko advises, possibly with supernatural foresight, that Henry is feeling forgotten about, neglected. As a father and elder he wasn’t consulted about the pregnancy and only found the news out second hand.
In a touchingly sweet scene, and to make some sort of gesture, Luz comes to see Henry in his barracks and speaks to him in Japanese, a speech she would clearly have had to have gone to a lot of effort to have translated to Japanese and commit to memory.
She tells Henry that he will be remembered and that if the baby is a boy it will be named Enrique, the Spanish version of Henry. Surprised and won over by such a personal show of respect, Henry concedes that “Enrique is a good name. I like it.” A truce has been called, and it is a wonderful little moment.
Why did Yuko steer Luz into reconciliation? Surely her track record with the men of the camp does not suggest that she is particularly concerned about Henry’s happiness. Outside of Mrs Furuya, Yuko has not engaged in any violence against women. Is she striking against men for some past misdeed they cast against her? Or does Luz have some sort of worth to Yuko, something to offer?
Soon enough, Luz’s water breaks and we get a little bit closer to some kind of answer.
The Curse of Twins
Before that, Yuko drops a bombshell on Luz: she is not just having a baby but twins! While Luz is excited by the news, Chester’s family is quietly uneasy, sharing worried glances and sprinkling water to bless the house.
It takes the youthful clumsiness of Toshiro Furuya that reveals the issue: “Aren’t twins supposed to be bad luck? That’s what my dad used to say. He said twins bring death and misfortune.”
Luz, understandably, is furious, outright refusing the possibility that anyone is to treat the children as cursed when born. Later on the family will comment on how evil tends to follow Chester around and how he doesn’t appear to have taken it with him this time.
This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it is the first time we have heard Chester’s immediate family referring to evil following him, which suggests there is still a lot to be revealed about Chester’s past. And secondly, how these comments about the evil remaining this time will shortly and sadly bear fruit.
When Luz’s water finally breaks, there is only a solitary doctor and nurse to help her through the delivery. Well, not quite. The nurse is soon walking in a familiar cracked-bone way and carefully watching proceedings.
But something else is wrong. The doctor is tense, stressed. The Yuko-Nurse picks up on this and for the first time we see her flustered. She anxiously prods the doctor for explanations as it becomes clear all is not OK. Sadly the births are still-born, the implication being self-asphyxiation via their own cords. There is nothing supernatural in this, it is just an extremely unfortunate and heartbreaking occurrence, and I genuinely felt for Luz as she wept.
Of course, this will only feed into those who do believe in the curse of twins, but curiously Yuko seems upset at the loss of the babies. What did she have riding on them?
The White Devils
Back in Guadalcanal, all is not well in camp. Sergeant Crittenden has been found but he is not the same man that he was before. He was found in a semi-catatonic state, and so he remains. But Chester reveals a further cultural indignation against him and his people when the soldiers reveal Crittenden has been talking gibberish since they found him. “That’s not gibberish,” says Chester. “That’s Japanese.”
What does Sergeant Crittenden have to say? “You are a devil. A white devil.” Lieutenant Oury wants Chester moved away from Crittenden, the implication being that Crittenden might have been “turned” by the enemy, and there is no trust that Chester isn’t part of that enemy.
Crittenden continues. “I will cut out your tongue. I will gouge out your eyes.” Arthur, aware of what effect this is having on his yurei-obsessed friend, claims that Crittenden is simply parroting what his captors had said. Chester isn’t convinced. And nor is Matthis by Chester.
Come the evening, Matthis makes his feelings about Chester clearly known: “Almost took you for the enemy. I mean, how’s a fella supposed to tell?” More disturbingly, Matthis and his friends have let Crittenden out. They begin to give Chester a beating, keeping to the body lest a mark on the face bring too much attention from officers higher up. Racism here, it seems, is acceptable as long as it is not visible.
“Sarge, get in here,” they shout, “this is for you.” And get in there he does. With a flamethrower. And torches his fellow troops. An extreme example of scorched earth tactics.
Miraculously Chester is unharmed by the flames, and thankfully it doesn’t appear to be a heavy plot contrivance as compared to previous weeks. Perhaps something is protecting Chester. For a moment Chester believes so but Crittenden, under a quick questioning, reveals otherwise: “Admiral Takahashi.”
Have the enemy really gotten into the head of an American soldier or has the yurei followed Chester along to inflict its evil on other unfortunate souls, or should we say “white devils”? That’s a question without a real answer as of yet, but one thing is for certain: Yuko has not left Luz.
The Revenge of Okame
Since the birth, Luz has been resting in bed, inconsolable. Chester’s family perform a little ritual ceremony, either to commemorate or to protect the dead, it’s not clear. But Luz does not participate, and it is clear the family doesn’t know what to say to her or to do. Is this because of a social awkwardness or because Luz, to them, was never really part of the family and, with the babies lost and Chester away, she still isn’t? Will the family still look after her or will they shun her? And is there any point in her still being in the camp if she is no longer carrying any Japanese blood?
Regardless, it looks like the authorities will want to keep Luz under watch for a while, thanks to Yuko.
Dressed in ceremonial clothes and wearing a Okame mask, Yuko sneaks past a sleeping Luz and in a genuinely creepy moment slices the doctor across the belly, letting him bleed out on the floor. Luz does not see a thing.
The Okame mask in this context is terrifying, the chubby misshaped face and empty eyes and smiling mouth give a feeling of uncanniness and unreality to the living figure of Yuko. Interestingly, in Japanese culture Okame is a goddess of mirth and “may have represented an idealized form of feminine beauty”. Yuko’s victims have nearly all been men. Is the Okame mask here symbolic of a revolt against this ideal, a rejection of the idea that feminine beauty can only be perceived and exist in certain ways? We have already seen evidence that men Yuko has killed have or had some sort of relationship with her in the past. Expect this to be teased out more in the coming weeks.
As for Luz, it is uncertain what is next for her but it will be interesting to see how the army will react to the doctor’s murder, seeing as she will be the prime suspect. For Chester, we know at least that a nasty shock is in his future. For as Luz lies in bed, in tears after the birthing experience, we hear her in voiceover as a letter to Chester that he is reading. “I can’t wait for you to come home. Me and the babies will be waiting for you.” Will there even be a home for Chester to come to? Will Chester still want Luz or will he turn his back on her?
Join me next week and let’s see if we come across some answers!