After last week’s exciting episode, with its heavy focus on Yuko and her backstory, this week it’s back to business as usual and, with the appearances of Yuko scaled back, a lot of the horror evaporates, leaving the focus on the human drama, which has become less compelling as the series has gone on.
What did The Terror get right this week and what did it get wrong? Join me in the camp where we find a very frustrated Chester looking for a way out.
‘My Parents Are Dead’
After the revelation last week that Asako and Henry are Chester’s adopted parents, we arrive this week to find Chester with a grudge. As he tells Amy Yoshida, “if I had known who I was, whose son I really was, I could’ve protected Luz, and our boys. If they hadn’t lied to me my entire life.”
Whilst I understand Chester’s hurt and upset of having his real identity withheld from him, I still (rightly or wrongly) find his complete dismissal of Asako and Henry to be awful. I cannot begin to imagine the sacrifices involved in taking someone else’s child on and raising them and loving them as your own—emotionally, they will become your own. The money and energy spent working to clothe and feed the child, the time and mental energy spent on nurture and development—does the blood matter when such devotion is paid to the child?
As we established last week, blood is important in Japanese culture, but more than that, Chester is suffering from wounded pride. Whilst he doesn’t really question his identity at the start of the episode (we shall return to this), he quite actively lambasts Asako and Henry for what he perceives has been a lifelong lie. (How do you even tell a child they were adopted? When’s the right time? To anyone reading who has ever been in this position, you have my complete respect.)
Then there’s the Luz problem. Chester keeps writing to her but she never replies. Eventually a package arrives for Chester at camp but it is not good news: every letter Chester had sent Luz since his return, all unopened. Welcome to Chester’s tipping point.
In a fit of utter frustration, and with a complete need to see Luz in the flesh, Chester, as impulsive as ever, marches to the camp gates, which are conveniently open for him to do so. Chester is not stupid enough to think he can get away with this, and so the soldiers play into his hands when they take him down with the butts of their rifles, putting him on the next truck out to Tule Lake, a facility “for agitators.”
Chester is given a chance to say goodbye to his parents but in his words, his “parents are dead.” Later Henry will say of Chester “he left on his own, without even wasting a tear. Why waste ours?” I’m almost tempted to say like father like son…
A Good Catholic Family
This week I’m pleased to report the return of Luz, even though she is cowed under the debilitating atmosphere that emanates from her father.
He tries to make happy small talk at the table about the weather and the neighbour’s porches, all the while not acknowledging Luz’s trauma or helping her come to some kind of terms with it. Luz doesn’t reply and you can feel her father seething, barely contained by his skin. He wants his “little girl” back but he doesn’t want to put in the work to help Luz, nor does he understand that his idea of Luz is not the idea Luz has of herself.
In this spirit of “reclaiming” his daughter it appears her father has been pushing on Luz the attentions of a suitor named Julio, who comes from a good Catholic family and has just arrived to go to medical school, the perfect tick box son-in-law, as if out of a mail-order catalogue.
Luz gets to the heart of the matter, the reason why Julio’s recent arrival is more important than anything: because, in Luz’s words, he “doesn’t know that I got knocked up by a Japanese man and ran away with him?” Pride and shame, she realises, are more important to her father than love, healing and forgiveness.
I asked a couple of weeks ago if Luz’s father was really forgiving of Luz’s predicament, after it was him who kicked her out of the house in the first place. Here he gives an indication, the forcefulness of his words and restrained anger showing cracks in his caring façade. “I told Julio you’d be happy to have dinner with him,” he says through gritted teeth, “and I’d prefer not to be made into a liar.” The implied outcome to such disobedience hangs pregnant in the air and the memory.
Ultimately Luz does go out for dinner with the sweet but uninspiring Julio. But luckily for Luz there is a very interested part who is quite happy to gooseberry…
The Virus and the Problem of Major Bowen
Back on the camp things are not looking rosy. A virus, TB it is suggested, or influenza, has broken across the camp population, confining people to their beds. The two doctors there have been struck down with the illness, and without urgent medical attention, there is the likelihood of mass deaths.
A strange thing about this is that the show downplays the cause. In a way it makes sense. People who, not having the vital medical skills needed, are scrambling around trying to keep seriously ill people alive will not have the time to question the root cause, only treat the effect.
What is strange is that for a show that likes to blur the lines between supernatural and human causes of tragedy, it does not dip its toe too heavily into this area, where an ambiguity over the cause of the illness might have led to an interesting tension. The show however uses the illness to create or reinforce a different kind of tension seen previously: the disregard for the Japanese citizens by their American military captors.
Major Bowen, the person charged with keeping the camp in order, has been a benevolent form of evil so far. The worst of his crimes was to confiscate some illegal hooch. True, he confiscated the illegal hooch maker, Walt, as well, and the show didn’t deem it worthy enough to tell us what was done with him, but still. Bowen has been reasonably in the background as the Yuko and yurei plotline came more and more into the fore.
This week is Major Bowen’s turn at the front, and while his actions, as we’ll see, are bound to have severe consequences over the remaining three weeks, he has not been built up enough over the proceeding weeks as a character in his right for his actions to have real depth. The character’s failing is ultimately the failure of the show’s to develop him.
Instead, the show takes the ambiguity that would have served the cause of the illness and applies it to Bowen instead. And it uses Yuko to do so.
‘Some Dogs You Just Have to Put Down’
The last time we saw Yuko, or, more correctly, hints of her continued existence, it was in footprints left on the ground moving away from the wreckage of the fire in the barracks decided to destroy Yuko once and for all (a quick note: why has the fire not been addressed by the camp authorities this week, at all?).
When we rejoin our favourite yurei, she has made the reasonably clever move of possessing a mortician and having him take otherwise healthy skin from cadavers to be sewn over her own charred flesh. Once finished she has the mortician kill himself as she surveys her handiwork: grotesque and misshapen, like a baseball stretched into unnatural proportions.
The next time we see Yuko she is looking for her son Taizo, aka Chester. She finds Luz’s address on one of Chester’s returned letters and makes to go when she is confronted by Major Bowen, who thinks he has stumbled upon a snooper. This is where things get ambiguous, perhaps problematically so.
Yuko takes some sort of control of Bowen’s body (it is not clear whether Yuko inhabits Bowen at this moment, so it’s not certain whether this is a possession or not). Bowen’s body jerks and spasms as if he is under some kind of attack but ultimately Yuko lets him live.
The question here is to whether Bowen’s subsequent actions are a deliberate consequence of his meeting with Yuko and therefore a part of her plan somehow, an unfortunate knock–on effect or whether Bowen would have acted in the same way regardless. The show does not clarify this but at the same time doesn’t add any value as its not so much a mystery but unclear. It actually dilutes the motivation for what occurs because we don’t know if we are to consider Bowen evil, contemptuous of his captives (the most likely option, to be honest) or whether it is part of Yuko’s plan (less likely as she seems intensely focused on locating Chester, and the attack on Bowen seemed more of an afterthought to her). We are left in a grey area but it does not enrich our viewing experience to be there.
Whatever the motivation, Bowen refuses to call in the ambulances for the sick, claiming that the Japanese won’t look him in the eye because they know something he doesn’t, referring to “your people” as associating everything to superstition. More telling is Bowen’s command that no one is receiving medical attention “until somebody tells me what kind of evil spirit or oriental magic tricks are taking over this place.” Bowen clearly remembers his experience with Yuko and, even if he doesn’t understand it, he knows it is something to be afraid of.
Such commands do not hold much weight with Ken, another of the camp’s citizens. Taking Bowen’s words as being an evasion of his duty of care to the occupants of the camp, he takes Bowen hostage at gunpoint. Amy Yoshida becomes aware and, to alleviate her conscience at having been working passively as Bowen’s secretary, turns off Bowen’s secret tape recorder and calls the hospital to send ambulances and pick up 2,000 people (which will assumedly leave the camp pretty empty—we never quite know the camp population).
Meanwhile, Bowen is disturbed enough by his encounter with Yuko that he reveals in his panic a self-awareness of the awful things the camp does, mixed with a desire to evade blame and therefore punishment: “What does she want with me? Does she want revenge? Is that it? You tell that demon that this place wasn’t even my idea, OK? This is just my goddamn job.”
Amy is discovered by a soldier, Gimbel, who enters the hut with a scared Amy and two other soldiers to rescue Major Bowen. After confessing to Bowen that the ambulances are on their way, and with Ken’s assurances that he coerced Amy into her actions (so as to avoid any retribution against her), Bowen successfully negotiates for Ken to put his gun down so that Gimbel can put his down also and cuff Ken. Ken, resolved to his fate of a trip to Lake Tule and having achieved his aim of obtaining medical aid for the camp, allows himself to be cuffed. A very dangerous situation has been averted.
Except...as Bowen escorts Amy out of the hut, and to save face, he reveals he didn’t believe in any of his demon talk, that the first rule of being taken captive is to act crazy to throw things out of whack (I don’t believe Bowen for a second, but he doesn’t need to throw this in: his soldiers didn’t hear his demon talk, unless he is worried Ken is about to spill the beans). Not only that, he goes back on his word. Giving the nod to the two soldiers, they enter the hut and shoot down a handcuffed, defenceless Ken in cold blood. Bowen’s reasoning? “Some dogs you just have to put down.”
Amy’s scream says more than words. The Japanese citizens, through Ken, had gone to an extreme for an honourable intention, to get medical attention for the sick. The Americans have gone to an extreme through a vile sense of superiority. While a very simplistic breakdown of attitudes, Bowen’s dishonesty and unflinching attitude to the murder does its best as a shock to the audience and reaffirms the lines in the sand.
Later, Amy is tending to Bowen, most certainly out of a fear for her life. He gives her a flower and reveals that he “knew you were one of the good ones. I always trusted you.” There is more than a hint of romantic attention here, which makes me uncomfortable, but as we see the tape recorder, now under Bowen’s hut and switched back on, I can’t help but think Amy has some sort of plan up her sleeve and I’m curious to see what it is.
Double Trouble in New Mexico?
Outside of camp life, Luz has gone on the threatened date with Julio (down by the schoolyard, no doubt) and has politely and successfully managed to evade commitment to another date. At which point she notices a certain Packard parked up and its very familiar driver: Chester.
It is an emotional reunion, but it is not easy. Chester asks Luz why she never opened his letters, to which she replies “Because I knew, if I opened them I’d hear your voice again.”
Luz has become one of my favourite characters in the show, maybe because she is one of the most well rounded. She is complex, both strong and vulnerable. Check out where she tells Chester about the girl he left behind:
“The girl you loved? The one who loved you? She’s buried, with them. Everything about you hurts me. Do you know who I was an hour ago? Sweet, quiet Luz, on a date with a guy who thought I was scared of kissing him, and I was thinking, if I smile enough for this Julio, he’ll never expect me to ever say or feel anything real with him. I could marry a man like that.”
In one short moment, we get a great sense of self-awareness, disillusionment, and despair, as well as questions about whether it is better to settle than to be hurt. If only other characters had this great sense of depth to them, I would be a very happy man indeed.
In any case, Chester argues that he doesn’t see Luz as the settling for what you can get kind. He quite sweetly doesn’t fight or try to force her to stay with him, but he does give her an offer of her freedom. He will take her in the Packard to wherever she wants to go to start a new life, which in this case is her grandmother’s house in Aguayo, New Mexico.
Before they leave, Chester makes a stealthy stop at the orphanage Yuko left him at to see what records they have on him. Here he makes a shocking discovery: he has a twin brother, Jirou. He was taken to a children’s hospital at eight months old, but the records do not reveal more than that. It raises the question as to why Yuko is focused so much on Chester and not the brother, but I get the feeling we will get the answer to this sooner rather than later (well, there’s only three weeks left!).
As Chester drops Luz in New Mexico, where she sweetly asks him to stay, Yuko pays a visit to Luz’s father where she gets him to reveal on a map where Luz’s grandmother lives, then forces him to slam his eye against the upright pen, reminiscent of The Joker in The Dark Knight. Whatever happens next, there is a feeling of things heading towards a conclusion and I am intrigued to see where things go from here.
Join me next week as we see whether Chester’s brother will make an appearance, whether Major Bowen will make his move on Amy and what Yuko has in store for Chester and Luz!