“Gaman” hints at more explanation of its supernatural horrors, but can’t help spending too much time with a deeply unlikeable protagonist.
This recap of The Terror: Infamy Season 2, Episode 3, “Gaman”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Since its premiere, The Terror: Infamy has had a few problems. Its pace is more glacial than the frozen North Dakota lakes where its imprisoned cast members fish beneath the ice. Its horror elements — the defining element of AMC’s anthology series, at least on paper — have been sporadic, and not particularly effective anyway. Its social commentary, while boldly mirroring contemporary race-relations, is nonetheless on-the-nose to an extent that is sometimes a bit embarrassing. But the show has another problem, ably demonstrated in the latest episode, “Gaman”: Its ostensible protagonist, Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio), is deeply unlikable.
This shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t subscribe to the faintly juvenile belief that all stories must feature protagonists you can relate to or at least empathize with. But Chester is so unpleasant that if you’re anything like me you’ll actively wish to be rid of him. You won’t buy into his relationships or sympathize with his plight, even given the obvious inhumanity of imprisoning an entire race of people for the actions of others half a world away. But the biggest problem is that The Terror: Infamy doesn’t seem to realize this. His big decision in “Gaman” is to take a job as a translator for the U.S. Army, to be shipped off “wherever he’s needed”, leaving behind his family and his pregnant girlfriend so they can fend for themselves, and one gets the sense we’re not supposed to ask too many questions about this.
But how can you not? Last week’s episode made a pretty big deal out of Luz (Cristina Rodlo) sacrificing her freedom to be with the father of her child, but Chester is so quick to abandon her that the decision seems undermined somewhat. And very little is made of the fact that Chester is prostrating himself at the feet of the Army that tortured his father, Henry (Shingo Usami). “He’ll come around,” says Asako (Naoko Mori), Chester’s mother, clearly quite unconcerned with the whole affair.
Early in “Gaman”, there are scenes of Chester and Luz spending romantic time together, one assumes to ensure we feel something when they part ways by episode’s end. But that’s the first I’ve seen of them actually looking like a couple, so their farewell did nothing for me. By allowing its depiction of historical injustice to speak for itself, The Terror: Infamy hasn’t crafted characters I care about on their own terms; you can respect the performances of Usami and George Takei without actually caring about their characters’ fates, and that’s where I find myself. Even a grisly death in the woods courtesy of Yuko (Kiki Sukezane) didn’t do much to inject real excitement — or, more importantly, actual terror — into “Gaman”.
That death was the best sequence of horror in the season so far, but at this point, it’s only a reminder of how much that side of things has been neglected in The Terror: Infamy. Rather than feeling as though its a fundamental aspect of the story being told, each episode’s brief jump-scares and tropey hallucinations feel like deviations lifted from a different show entirely; you wait for them to run their course and then get back to the historical family drama. “Gaman” made efforts to further explain how and why Yuko became a vengeful spirit, and I hope the show continues to do so with renewed efforts since the more people get killed off, the less reason there is to spend time with anyone other than Chester. And why would we want to do that?