Last year, I was surprised that many viewers became sympathetic to Kido as the season progressed. Didn’t they remember what he did to Frank’s family? Were his crimes really that easy to forget? In this second episode of the second season, we’re reminded that Kido is not a man who can be trusted.
In the great opening scene, Kido (Joel de la Fuente) and Onada (Tzi Ma) are out on the town together, but our sociopathic inspector is not having fun. His bizarre detachment is called out by a woman who works the club. “Are you never not on duty?” she asks. “If your mind is always elsewhere, in a way you are never really experiencing anything.” Before he can confront his own icy demeanor, Kido gets a call about the shoot-out that ended the last episode.
As Kido races to the scene, Juliana (Alexa Davalos) escapes. She gets a lift from a kindly motorist, who even helps put her dislocated shoulder back in place before telling stories about life as a medic on the West Coast during the end of the war, when American soldiers were summarily executed. The Man in the High Castle often doesn’t get dark enough — we don’t fully grasp the plight of the Resistance or the darkness that must have descended on the United States as it lost the war — so Juliana’s savior serves a valuable purpose in this scene. Like many people, he knows he should do more to fight for the causes in which he believes, but he doesn’t out of fear and complacency. “Used to be I thought victory was winning. Now I’ve convinced myself it’s surviving,” he says. A scene like this one helps raise the stakes of the entire show overall, emphasizing the risk any character takes by choosing to fight instead of merely surviving.
Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) and Childan (Brennan Brown) are taken to the Yakuza by Kasoura (Louis Ozawa Changchien). It does not go well. Meanwhile, Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) is missing. Apparently, he’s gone back to San Francisco, where he hopes to just assimilate, get his job back, cuddle with Rita on the couch, and forget about his Nazi life. Good luck with that.
Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) learns that they’re going to transport materials for the nuclear project via passenger bus. He refuses to put citizens in danger. Will Tagomi be the one to stop nuclear fallout? He also learns more about how his visions of an alternate reality include events that never happened in this universe, like the Cuban Missile Crisis. In a sense, his newfound power could be related to the films; he’s seeing visions of what could have been and what could still be.
Smith (Rufus Sewell) has been a bit underdeveloped in these first two episodes, but that’s sure to change soon. He comes home to a truly bizarre Nazi Ladies Day in the perfectly maintained suburbs. Smith has an urgent assignment that will be difficult to accomplish and the Fuhrer is not in good health. How much longer until Smith betrays the cause in which he no longer believes? How long will he stay loyal to a dying regime?
Gary (Callum Keith Rennie) and Lem (Rick Worthy) are basically hanging at Juliana’s place and waiting for her to come home when Juliana’s driver stops in. She leaves a message for Frank to be on the bus to Sacramento. Of course, it’s a fake-out to distract Gary and Lem. There is no bus to Sacramento, and Gary’s starting to get pissed off.
Moving with a brisk pace the show didn’t really exhibit last season, we quickly discover more about the mystery man whom Juliana remembered in the final moments of last episode — the one who may be the key to stopping nuclear winter in the Bay Area. Juliana finds a photo of this man in a family photo album. His name was George Dixon, and he happens to be Trudy’s father. Arnold (Daniel Roebuck) doesn’t know the truth, but Trudy found out and that’s one of the reasons why she left. When Arnold comes home, it’s a bit awkward. He lets on that he knows about the Man in the High Castle, but just before things get really uncomfortable, Gary and Lem show up outside and Juliana flees.
Onward to a few scenes of domesticity with Joe and Rita, which help enrich his still-underwritten character a bit. There’s a thematically rich moment in which he reads from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with the line, “What’s the use learning to do right when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages just the same?” Later, we see Joe and Rita watching a cheesy Dragnet-type show called American Reich, which I’d love to see more of in future episodes. (How pop culture would change in this world makes for some fascinating world-building opportunities.) Before Joe and Rita can get into it, though, Smith shows up, offering to take Joe to Berlin to meet his father. Rita basically tells him not to come back.
Meanwhile, Juliana has run out of options. She goes to Tagomi for help. She needs a diplomatic visa to get out of the Pacific States. Somewhat unbelievably, he won’t help her. Yes, he’s restricted and likely under surveillance, but the show has largely defined him as a man who helps those in need — and he likes Juliana to boot. She tries to get Frank out too, but we see that he’s in Yakuza hands.
In a demonstration of stark cruelty, Kido threatens to kill everyone Ed (DJ Qualls) has ever met. He’ll kill Frink, he’ll kill all of Ed’s co-workers, and he’ll burn the factory to the ground. But he doesn’t. He lets Ed go — the reunion between him and Frank is a surprisingly emotional one — and then pins the shooting of the Crown Prince on Karen, the Resistance leader who was killed in last episode’s shoot-out.
In voice-over narration, we hear Juliana bring the episode to a close. “I don’t know if we can change it,” she says, “But I know that we have to try.” She’s fighting fate and refusing destiny. She walks toward an SS embassy as the Kempeitai on patrol outside recognize her and draw their weapons. “My name is Juliana Crain. I work with Joe Blake. I need asylum.”
- These first two episodes really feel like prologue — tying up loose ends from last season, giving us a few new ones, and ending on a note that seemingly pushes us toward the meat of this season. Will Juliana choose the lesser of two evils (the Nazis over the Japanese) to survive? Will Joe betray Smith? How will Frank continue to fight now that Ed is back?
- The Man in the High Castle still has issues developing its female characters. Juliana is often too boring. The only female Resistance leader was just killed and framed for a crime she didn’t commit. Juliana’s mother didn’t tell Arnold he wasn’t the father of their daughter. Rita’s gone. The show could really use a few strong, well-written female characters.
- Having said that, Jessie Fraser did good work as Rita despite a lack of serious screen time. I wish there were more supporting characters like hers — ones that didn’t feel tied to plot, but instead added background and depth to the show’s world.
- Perhaps one of the reasons this episode felt so tight was that it was directed by Colin Bucksey, who won an Emmy for his work on Fargo. He’s a TV veteran of shows like Masters of Sex, Better Call Saul, Ray Donovan, Breaking Bad, and dozens more, stretching all the way back to classics like Crime Story and Miami Vice.