The Man in the High Castle
Although the plotting in this season finale is questionable, it hints at a deeper version of The Man in the High Castle, one that embraces a more complicated morality and politics. Our heroine, Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), has to shoot a good man to allow a bad one to live. By killing a Resistance leader to save a Nazi, she stopped nuclear devastation. That’s the kind of complex morality that I hope the show will embrace more completely in season three.
Now that it’s over, it’s clear this season served a transitional role, effectively passing the torch from the Frank Spotnitz era to whatever The Man in the High Castle becomes next. It was entertaining at times, and I wouldn’t say it was worse than season one, but it didn’t quite fix any of its flaws, even as it offered hope that it still might improve down the line.
“Fallout” opens with a bookend of sorts: Much like the season premiere, it has a pre-credits scene. This one takes place on December 11, 1945, as John Smith (Rufus Sewell) and his wife Helen (Chelah Horsdal) seem to be in happier times. She’s pregnant with Thomas. They look out their apartment window to see the bombing of Washington, D.C., that ended the war. Could the atomic fallout have caused Thomas’s genetic defect?
Back in the current timeline, Kido (Joel de la Fuente) stares at the aftermath of the Kempeitai HQ bombing. The Resistance has already claimed responsibility. I assumed the Japanese would think it was the Nazis, and it’s odd that this subplot gets swept under the rug rather quickly. In the Frank-Ed-Childan subplot, which may have ended with all three written out of the show, I feel like we can sense the most disruption after Spotnitz’s departure this season. Perhaps the show’s makers disagreed over what to do with these characters, and just killed them off after Spotnitz left. We won’t know till next season. For now, Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuji Tagawa) has a film to give Kido — the one from the other side that shows nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll.
Meanwhile, the Nazis are just itching for war. They meet with Smith, who reports on continued Resistance uprisings. How do you stop a revolution? With a show of force. Savannah, Georgia, is the U.S. city with the most unrest, so they’re going to raze it, killing everyone. John Smith has been a Nazi only in relative peacetime. Is he willing to kill thousands of people for the Third Reich? As he considers this question, Tagomi shows Kido the film. He needs to bring it to the Japanese powers that be.
Forget another war on U.S. soil, though. The Nazis wants to blow up Tokyo. Why think small when you can start World War III? This isn’t just a fight against the Japanese; this is a Nazi takeover of the world. The numbers are staggering. They suggest killing close to 20 million people, while Nazi casualties wouldn’t reach even half a million because they’re convinced nobody else has nuclear power. Heusmann (Sebastian Roché) plans to give the kill order on national television. He tells Joe (Luke Kleintank) that this will be “the last war.” If the world unites under a Nazi flag, what will a war hawk like Heusmann do next?
Back in New York, Thomas Smith (Quinn Lord) knows the truth about his illness. His dad comes home to encourage him, but Thomas has grown up in a world with the phrase “Useless Eater” and he knows that it won’t keep him safe. He’s “defective.” Would Smith defect to save his son? Before he can decide, he gets a call. Kido is town, and he’s got something to show him.
In arguably the season’s most interesting twist — and I’m surprised I didn’t see it coming — we discover that Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) is the one who saves the world from nuclear fallout by killing George Dixon (Tate Donovan). Remember how the only High Castle film in which San Francisco didn’t explode featured George getting shot in an alley? Well, it’s time to connect those dots. Juliana refuses to let the Resistance use the knowledge of Thomas’s illness against Smith, and she shoots Dixon to stop him from doing so. By killing Dixon, she saves Smith, who will later stop the Heusmann regime, and so she saves the world.
While Joe and Nicole (Bella Heathcote) are getting some loving in before the world ends, Kido shows Smith the film that Tagomi brought back from the other side. Smith looks devastated. He also learns that the Japanese didn’t kill Hitler. If there’s a war, Heydrich and his co-conspirators will be the only victors.
Smith figures out that his best path to Heusmann is through his son, but he needs help getting Tagomi’s film to the new Nazi leader. Joe is a little petty about it, until Smith drops the knowledge that Juliana isn’t dead. It was kind of daring on the part of the writers to allow Joe to believe otherwise all season long. Will Blake save the world for one person he still loves? It seems to work. Smith is allowed into the Nazi war room. They watch the nuclear tests of a bomb that is magnitudes more powerful than what the Germans currently have in their arsenal. When nobody reacts with the horror he expected, Smith plays his trump card, showing Himmler the file on Heydrich. He was working with Heusmann. The Fuhrer was not assassinated by Japanese agents; he was poisoned by his own people. Smith goes in with Himmler and they arrest Heusmann and Joe. John takes his rightful place at the front of the Nazi party as thousands give him the sieg heil sign. Even as John has started to doubt his party, he’s now on the path to lead it.
While Juliana burns the film that proves Thomas’s illness, Smith is shown a basement full of films stored by the Nazis. Thomas decides to turn himself into the medical authorities, much to his mother’s dismay. The season finally climaxes in a scene between Juliana and the Man in the High Castle (Stephen Root). He knew Juliana could save the future. She appeared in the films over and over again. If you think about it, she really is the centerpiece of the show: Her actions affect everyone else, even characters like Tagomi and Smith who rarely cross her path. The music swells and she is taken outside where sees a familiar face: the sister she thought was dead. Cut to black.
In the epilogue, Tagomi is praying before a shrine of the family members he had to lose to save this world. He hears a knock. It’s Lem (Rick Worthington) from the Resistance. He has the films that the Man in the High Castle saved. He wants to show them to Tagomi.
- Anyone else surprised that the tag at the end of last season — in which Tagomi meditated his way to the “real world” — ended up helping to save the Earth from nuclear devastation?
- The season spent more time on Thomas Smith’s illness than it did with Joe Blake or Frank Frink. It hints at a show in flux, unsure of what to do with some of its major characters. Will either of them return next season?
- The scene in the basement after Smith is given power reminded me of one of the best stand-up bits of all time by Bill Hicks. Enjoy.
- Time for the season MVP: The show’s best performance and most interesting character come in the form of John Smith, played with depth and remarkable range by Rufus Sewell. Anyone else on your ballot?