After director Brad Anderson elevated The Man in the High Castle's previous episode, "End of the World" turns directorial duties over to Karyn Kusama, the filmmaker behind Girlfight and Aeon Flux, as well as two great chapters of AMC's Halt and Catch Fire. It's a well-paced, emotionally resonant, and technically accomplished hour of television. With two episodes left in the season, series creator Frank Spotnitz seems to be wrapping up the big narratives on a high note.
In a brief prologue, Lem (Rick Worthy) is given a code that orders him to go to San Francisco, secure the newest film in circulation, and bring it to the Man in the High Castle. This is an unusual task; Lem doesn't leave the Neutral Zone. This new film must be important.
Juliana (Alexa Davalos) goes to tell her mom and stepdad about Trudy, whose body she found in a mass grave at the end of last episode, confirming her death. She reveals that Trudy was shot by the Kempeitai, devastating both her mom and Arnold (Daniel Roebuck), who sold Trudy out from his position within the surveillance office. It's interesting how the inciting incident of The Man in the High Castle has lingered through so much of the first season. Though it's an action-driven program, the violence carries real emotional consequences. The way the show has handled Trudy's death exemplifies that — it wasn't merely a plot device.
Frank (Rupert Evans) is working on the fake antique for Childan (Brennan Brown) when there's a loud knock at the door. It's Ed (DJ Qualls), who hasn't really done much this season, but now he wants to help his buddy out. He says he's going to buy bus tickets and get them out of town. Childan almost backs out of the deal, while Juliana tells Joe (Luke Kleintank) that she's thinking about backing out too. Neither of them do.
Juliana goes out to buy "three yellow daisies," which puts her back in touch with the Resistance. Interestingly, she doesn't tell them about Sakura Iwazaru, or how Arnold betrayed Trudy. She does tells them, however, that she knows an operative who wants to help. Joe is now involved, too.
When Lem and his partner try collect the High Castle film from their contact, they discover his dead body. There is no film. The phone rings: "Listen carefully. We have what you came for." The Yakuza have stolen the film and want 100,000 yen for it. At the same time, a Yakuza boss meets with Kido (Joel de la Fuente) and Yoshida (Lee Shorten), offering to sell the film to them for 150,000 yen. The gangsters are playing both sides, which certainly won't end well. Kido is particularly unhappy about the shakedown.
In the episode's most heartbreaking and fascinating subplot, Smith (Rufus Sewell) visits a doctor with his son. He's pulled a muscle. No big deal, right? The doctor reports otherwise. Thomas has a serious degenerative disease called Landouzy-Dejerine Syndrome. It's classified as a class A congenital disorder. Smith tries to deny this diagnosis, but soon realizes his son's awful fate. As we learned when Joe spotted ash falling from the sky in the Midwest, the Nazis kill any sick or crippled people. The doctor allows Smith a small bit of kindness: "What must be done can be done in the kinder setting of your home." He hands him a syringe and chemicals, then tells him to kill his son. Like the Childan subplot, this is a narrative twist I really didn't see coming — and Sewell's performance in the scene is truly stunning.
As if the news about his son wasn't horrifying enough, Smith is visited in his office by Oberst-Gruppenführer Heydrich (Ray Proscia) a legendary Nazi figure. Heydrich is known as "the Man with the Iron Heart," and there's an allusion made to his "enslavement of the African continent." (Comparatively, Smith almost seems like a nice guy.) As I was just beginning to wonder if Smith had given up on his mole hunt, Heydrich asks the same question — but Smith knows he doesn't really care about the mole. Heydrich is there to take Wegener (Carsten Norgaard) into custody. These two men clearly don't like each other.
Smith goes to meet with Wegener, who tells him he's prepared to die for his cause: "I prefer it to breathing one more breath under service to the State." The walls are crumbling around John Smith. You can see it in his eyes. This is no mere two-dimensional villain, and it's becoming clear that he will falter. Later, Smith looks at photographs of his physically disabled brother, who was "allowed to suffer." Is he actually capable of ending his own son's life?
Childan takes the fake antique to his clients, who deliver yet another sleight when they tell him to use the side entrance. When his clients see the antique, they're fooled. They believe it belonged to "a noble man whose people were annihilated" and "someone who has known great sorrow." Of course, these statements are true. They're clear references to Frank's Jewish heritage. After the con is completed, Frank gets 46,000 yen. He wants to use the money to get out of town and start a new life with Juliana.
Frank convinces Juliana that it's time to leave. She wants to tell her mother and stepfather before they go, but Frank think it's a dangerous idea given Arnold's job. They decide to visit them, but not say anything about their plans. Roebuck does great work in the scene that follows, conveying true grief about Trudy's death. He also reveals a crucial detail: When Joe and the Resistance try to pick up the film at a Yakuza nightclub, they will be killed. Juliana rushes off to save Joe. Before she goes, though, she promises to meet Frank at the bus.
While Joe prepares for the handoff in the nightclub, we know he's walking into an ambush. A lounge singer croons a number about "The End of the World" just as Joe gets his hands on the film. (It's labelled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, just like the other one.) Kido and Yoshida wait outside, ready to pounce. Juliana runs in just as dozens of Kempeitai speed up to the scene. They swarm the club, but Joe and Juliana escape out the back. (Kempeitai aren't very good at securing exits, it seems.) A car slams to a halt nearby, and then they're thrown inside at gunpoint. Kido isn't happy. Did the Yakuza grab them? The singer wails, "Sayonara."
- I haven't noted it often, but the costume design on this show is excellent. Each outfit informs a character, whether it's a suit (Kido and Yoshida), blue-collar garb (Frank), or the Americana look inspired by James Dean (Joe).
- As The Man in the High Castle approaches the end of its first season, the writers are deepening emotional subplots, such as Smith's relationship with his son and Arnold's shame about what happened to Trudy. This isn't the typical writing you'll on a spy show.
- The script for "End of the World" was written by Walon Green, who co-wrote Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch and wrote William Friedkin's Sorcerer, before he became a major TV pioneer with teleplays for Hill Street Blues, Law & Order, NYPD Blue and ER.
- Have you wondered what "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" means? It's a clear nod to Philip K. Dick's source material — in his novel, the "Grasshopper" material is a book — but it may also be a biblical reference. The King James version of Ecclesiastes 12:5 reads: "Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets."