The Man in the High Castle
“Travelers” is one of the strongest episodes of The Man in the High Castle. It’s thematically rich, tonally balanced, and doesn’t feel bloated, even though it’s the longest episode of the season to date. Of course, it certainly helps that the show’s two best actors, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Rufus Sewell, finally get to sink their teeth into emotionally resonant arcs.
As the episode begins, John Smith (Sewell) answers the door to greet a stern Dr. Adler (Kevin McNulty). Remember: Smith’s son has a degenerative disease. There are no symptoms yet, but he’s an imperfect Aryan, and that’s not allowed under the Nazi regime. The doctor even calls the child defective, and he notes how withholding his diagnosis is a crime against the state. John has to kill his son today or the doctor will turn them in and the state will take care of it tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) is off to Berlin to meet his father, who happens to be the Reichminister, a very powerful bureaucrat in the Third Reich. Seeing Joe get off the plane in Berlin, I was struck by the casting of Kleintank, who really looks like the American movie stars of the ‘40s or ‘50s. He could be in a movie with Sterling Hayden. Joe’s father tells him about “Atlantropa,” a project to create a dam near the Mediterranean that will create farmland in the Sahara Desert. This crazy idea is one of my favorite little touches in the show to date. I even love how it’s overshadowed by the tension between a father and a son who hates him. Human relationships always overshadow everything, even massive worldwide change.
Back on the West Coast, Frank (Rupert Evans) is getting deeper into the Resistance, talking to Ed (DJ Qualls) about how much he hates the city and wants to fight back. But they’re under the thumb of the Yakuza. He goes to Childan (Brennan Brown), with whom he wants to make forgeries to pay back the Yakuza for their help with Ed. Much to the fussy antiques dealer’s dismay, he even brings Ed along. Just before that, we get a brief reference to Louis Armstrong’s trumpet — “a quaint artifact from Negro history” — that reminds me of an important point: The show has not done enough to explore how race relations would be drastically different in a world run by the Nazis and Japanese imperialists. It would surely be worthwhile to address the issue.
After asking for asylum from the Nazis at the end of the last episode, Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) is being interrogated. First, she has to see a doctor. Her head is measured. She’s carefully studied — skin color, eye color, hair color. Diluting the gene pool would be of the utmost concern for the Nazis. She tells them that she was only with the Resistance to find out why Trudy was killed, and notes that she helped Joe escape with the film. When they demand an account of her activities over the two weeks since Trudy was killed, I shouted, “Two weeks?!” An amazing amount of drama has gone down in two weeks. I’m not sure all the flying back and forth to Berlin could even be done in that time. The Tagomi arc certainly seems like it’s been going on for much longer than 14 days.
Anyway, Kido (Joel de la Fuente) comes for Arnold (Daniel Roebuck). He tells Juliana’s parents that their daughter has defected to the Reich, and accuses them of offering her assistance. They claim that Trudy’s disappearance shook her up and she saw some the Man in the High Castle’s films. They even detail the vision of nuclear devastation she witnessed. Kido is rattled and annoyed. Then again, Kido is always some degree of rattled and annoyed.
Juliana’s interrogation is still going when … Smith walks in! The paths of these two major characters have rarely crossed, so it’s fun to finally see them together. He tells her that Karen is dead and that they need names of people in the Resistance. She won’t give up Gary (Callum Keith Rennie), a bit surprising given he tried to kill her yesterday, but nevertheless laudable. While Juliana’s Case Nazi wants to dismiss her because a once-fractured pelvis may make it hard for her to have children, Smith decides to grant her asylum. He clearly plans to use her for something.
Now that she’s in the Nazi Protection Program, Juliana will be known as Julia Mills from Seattle. How is she expected to repay such kindness? She has to help them find the Man in the High Castle. It’s interesting how long this episode sticks with Juliana and Smith. This show doesn’t typically linger on any one of its plot threads for very long, but “Travelers” does so here and it works. I’d be happy if the show took more risks like that. We don’t need Tagomi in every episode — or what if we had an episode that was only Tagomi? Let’s see it happen, High Castle.
Speaking of everyone’s favorite Dimension Jumper, Tagomi is getting reamed out for not approving the transportation of uranium via passenger bus. General Onada (Tzi Ma) demands that he sign the papers. After all, he says, it will only put American women and children in jeopardy.
Joe goes to a party at his dad’s house, which he instantly perceives as the old man showing off. Joe gets on his soapbox and declares, “I’ve seen the blood that pays for this Champagne,” and then storms out. He lights up and a gorgeous woman nearby asks for a light. They leave together.
The episodes end with two important plot-heavy arcs, and I don’t mean Julia-Juliana’s new haircut. First, Frank becomes a full-fledged Resistance member. He’s supposed to just be a driver for a Resistance job to break out some prisoners, but things go wrong and he’s forced into action. He kills a guard, marking a turning point in his life as a freedom fighter. There’s no turning back now.
Of course, the episode has to end with Smith. He’s fishing with his son, slowing dying inside. Sewell sells the inner turmoil, almost turning his sadness into rage. Cut to John with the doctor in a car. “You did the right thing,” the doc says, just before he gets a syringe in the leg. Smith is a killer and a good Nazi, but he can’t kill his son.
- A few questions about plot threads: Did the doctor leave no records? How will they explain his death? And Smith better hope his son doesn’t start showing symptoms soon.
- Although I love that Juliana gets some development in this episode, I was also reminded of her lack of essential character definition. Who is Juliana Crain? What does she stand for? What is she fighting for? This character is still woefully undefined. I’m not even sure why she goes to find Joe. Is it romance? What about Frank? The supporting cast is great, but the inconsistencies at the center of this show are most damaging to its potential success.
- Is the opening theme song actually getting creepier? It seems more heavily German-accented and more whispery to me.
- This was the longest episode of the season, but it didn’t drag at all. We’re picking up narrative steam at the right pace.
- That girl outside Joe’s dad’s house was played by Bella Heathcote, a fantastic actress who previously appeared in Dark Shadows and The Neon Demon. We’re sure to see more of her soon.