The penultimate episode of The Man in the High Castle is choppier than the two chapters that precede it, leaving reason for concern as Amazon's breakthrough drama wraps up its first season. Will Frank Spotnitz and the team will stick the landing? Let's hope the show rallies for a strong finale.
When we last saw Joe (Luke Kleintank) and Juliana (Alexa Davalos), they had escaped the Yakuza club where Joe attempted to buy the Man in the High Castle's latest film — but both were kidnapped by gangsters as the Kempeitai stormed the building. After being thrown in a dark room, Juliana reveals that she was supposed to leave town with Frank (Rupert Evans), whom we see refusing to skip town without her. Joe is curious how Juliana knew about the Kempeitai ambush, but she doesn't reveal that her stepdad works surveillance for the Japanese.
After she admits that she thought she might run to South America with Joe — and we wonder how that part of the world would develop under Nazi and Japanese influence — Juliana is grabbed by a burly man and taken to the head of the Yakuza. The Resistance paid 10,000 yen to free her, but they don't have the money to pay for Joe, who will likely be given to the authorities and executed. Nothing matters but money. Juliana learns that the price on Joe's head is much higher: 50,000 yen. She says she'll get it, presumably from Frank and the money he earned from his forgery. Imagine that: A would-be assassin scams a wealthy Japanese couple, then is asked to rescue a Nazi.
John Smith (Rufus Sewell) visits his colleague Erich at the Reich Rehabilitation Hospital in New York. Erich is crippled, a victim of the Resistance ambush that Smith survived in episode two. He thinks Heydrich (Ray Proscia) ordered the ambush, but why would he want to kill Smith? Smith has a note for Erich that can only go to the Führer. Smith needs men he can trust now, especially as he deals with his son's illness and Joe's potential betrayal.
Kido (Joel de la Fuente) goes to Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) with an order: he needs information about the drugs smuggled by the Yakuza through San Francisco's ports. Kido has been a bit misguided all season, but is this really his best plan of action? He wants to go to war with the Yakuza?
Ed McCarthy (DJ Qualls) finds Juliana and brings her to Frank, who's hiding in the apartment Ed shares with his wheelchair-bound grandfather. He's the second disabled character in this episode, which is especially interesting given how crippled people are cruelly executed in this world. When Juliana asks him for money to save Joe, Frank is understandably furious. He says, "Let him die." Who can blame him? If they pay the Yakuza and Frank is arrested, what would that accomplish? Juliana convinces Frank that Joe saved her life, so they have to try. Frank is going to do the deal. He's as deep in this as anybody now.
Colonel Wegener (Carsten Norgaard) dines with the remarkably creepy Heydrich, who is aware of his treasonous attempt to pass weapon designs to the Japanese. Apparently, the Führer sees merit in Wegener, and Heydrich uses that to his advantage. He cuts a deal. Wegener's life is over, but Heydrich will spare his wife and children if he follows his exact orders. In many ways, Wegener shares a fate with Frank and Joe — men caught up in things greater than them. Later, Wegener gives Heydrich a list of ten lives to protect in exchange for his own, and Heydrich reveals his end game: Wegener will assassinate Hitler.
Meanwhile, Frank gets the gun that he had when the crown prince was shot. What is he planning? Surely, he can't get into a shootout with the Yakuza. Is he going to kill Joe? The gun turns out to be protection, as the Yakuza leader takes the money and releases Joe. However, Joe still wants the High Castle film. When he's denied, he grabs Frank's gun, kills a few henchmen, and flees with the film and Frank. In a bit of questionable screenwriting, Yoshida (Lee Shorten) and Kido know about all of this before Frank and Joe even get back to Juliana and Ed. Anyway, this means Frank, Juliana, and Joe are really stuck together now. They can't exchange the unused bus tickets, and they're united by cause and circumstance.
In a scene that should teach us all a lesson, Smith interrogates the Nazi mole on a ledge high above New York City. If you betray someone, don't ever meet him anywhere he could push you to your death. Of course, that's exactly what Smith does, especially after he learns that his betrayer doesn't even know that Heydrich wants him dead. Not much later, Smith gets a call from Joe, who needs his help to get them out. Smith refuses. "You owe her nothing, Joe," he says. "She's not to be rescued. She is to be shot."
Kido must make an arrest by tomorrow, or else he will commit seppuku. Kido reveals that he has a suspect, but he's informed by the Yakuza that the real assassin fired from a clock tower with a sniper rifle. The assassin is a Nazi agent, but that fact would spark World War III, a fight that the Japanese empire would almost certainly lose. Kido learns the name of the assassin, but what's the point? Will he bury the information and frame Frank? That would strengthen the idea that Frank is the Lee Harvey Oswald of this world, an alleged patsy for conspiracy theorists.
When Smith comes home, he finds Heydrich in his home — just a little "drop-in" by a Nazi sociopath. He has questions about the "suicide" — he knows his contact has been killed. He invites Smith hunting, then insists on it. Is this going to be a Nazi showdown at dawn?
Finally, Frank and Juliana watch the newest High Castle film. It shows the aftermath of an atomic bomb. "This isn't like the other film," Juliana says. The earlier ones showed the positive impacts of the real end of World War II. This one opens with the cost of war, portending what would happen if the Nazis and Japanese fight again. The film also shows Nazi soldiers as they execute prisoners, including Frank Frink himself. They watch as this alternate Frank is shot in the head by … JOE BLAKE?!
- I like how little elements of The Man in the High Castle hint that not everything would change in this timeline: Gene Pitney would still record "Town Without Pity" in 1961, as the still-great song plays as Wegener gets dressed. It's a very American song, as have been most of the song choices this season, adding to the idea that art and music could survive the fascist regimes.
- Ed hasn't served much dramatic purpose, has he? He's only been a plot device to push Frank and Juliana in certain directions, but I'm guessing something major will happen with him in the finale.
- Joe wouldn't have known he was pointing an empty gun at Okamura's head. Frank only bought three bullets: Ed accidentally used one, and Joe unloaded the other two into Okamura's henchmen. The gun that gets the High Castle film is unloaded.
- "Kindness" was directed by Michael Slovis, a TV veteran and the director of photography on Breaking Bad, arguably the best-looking show of the last decade.