The Man in the High Castle
We’ve reached the halfway point of the second season, but where are we, exactly? Our three young leads — Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), Frank Frink (Rupert Evans), and Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) — have been divided since the first episode, as their respective narratives play out in New York, San Francisco, and Berlin. The result has been a season that sometimes feels too divided and unfocused. Although Evans is a strong enough actor to develop Frank’s arc, we simply don’t know enough about Juliana and Joe to care about them. Having said that, the season’s subplots and supporting characters have been dramatically rewarding. Let’s hope the remaining five episodes build on what’s worked and correct what hasn’t.
We open with Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), who’s still in the alternate universe where his wife Michiko (Yukari Komatsu) is still alive. An American flag sways in the breeze on the porch. Michiko answers the door, but she’s not happy to see him. “I feel such shame,” she says. Uh-oh. He goes inside to find divorce papers. He hears about the Cuban Missile Crisis on the radio and stares at a $5 bill with Lincoln on it. Everything has changed, obviously, but he’s unsure if it’s for the better.
Meanwhile, Juliana is speaking with George Dixon (Tate Donovan), the mysterious man who could prevent the country from descending into nuclear war. The only vision in the Man in the High Castle’s films that doesn’t end in a nuclear fallout is the one in which George Dixon dies. So, consequently, he must have something to do with the bomb going off. George has no idea how he could be connected to such devastation. Maybe just warning him will be enough? Does he still need to die?
Frank comes back to Ed (DJ Qualls), who takes one look at him and knows he got laid. Ed is getting increasingly annoyed, recognizing that Frank is getting deeper and deeper into the Resistance. “We’re not like those people, Frank,” he says. Frank responds, “Well, yeah, maybe we should be.” The Resistance might tear these best friends apart.
Across the ocean in Europe, Joe Blake learns the truth about his background from his Nazi father. He always thought he was born in the States to an American mother with a Nazi father, but that was a lie. He’s a German, created as a part of a Nazi program. Joe’s father wants him to commit to his homeland. “I am proud of the man you have become,” he says. Be a power player in the Reich. Stay in Berlin. Join your father and live your destiny.
While Kido (Joel de la Fuente) discovers that Smith is protecting Juliana, the young lady has realized just how stuck she is. Dixon tells her that most of the Resistance wants her dead for allowing Joe to escape with the film — and Frank is now a deep part of that Resistance. (I wonder if he’ll be tasked with killing or capturing Juliana.) We see a scene with the Resistance trio — Gary, Sarah, and Lem — that reminds us Frank is still something of an outsider. Meetings are held and decisions are made without him. Frank tells them that he saw himself executed in one of the Man in the High Castle’s films. Gary (Callum Keith Rennie) hopes this pushes Frank to fight even more. He has to stop the vision of Nazi execution from becoming reality.
Kido goes to New York to meet with Smith. He claims General Onada (Tzi Ma) ordered him to come with a specific request — the extradition of Juliana Crain. Of course, Smith declines, but Kido does drop a bombshell: Juliana met with the Man in the High Castle. Although Smith still refuses, Kido looks oddly satisfied when he leaves. He had to know the Germans would deny the request, but perhaps sowing seeds of distrust was Kido’s main goal.
Cut back to Tagomi as he walks around in the “real” world. People are protesting the bomb, and it’s clear that Tagomi agrees with them. No matter who leads the planet, some human instincts and decency will always remain the same. Tagomi walks into a bookstore. He hears jazz. Sees freethinkers. Hears discussion of world leaders. All things forbidden in his world. He finds the history section and sees photos of the bombing in Hiroshima. Even in this world, death and tragedy still exist.
Juliana is having dinner at the Smiths, and it’s obvious that Mrs. Smith doesn’t trust her. While discussing sauerkraut and sushi, Mr. Smith gets a call from Joe. We learn that Smith knew about Joe’s past. “We’re done,” Joe says. I’m officially tired of Joe swaying in the breeze. Nazi vs. Resistance; German vs. American. Joe Blake needs to become a concrete protagonist with purpose that we can care about as viewers. Again, the biggest problem with this show is that no one cares what happens to Juliana or Joe. It’s been true since season one. I hoped that would’ve been resolved by now.
Lem (Rick Worthy) goes to see the Man in the High Castle (Stephen Root). He’s destroying most of his films. All that remains is a stack and what he’s locked away in his brain. As he says, “Nothing like a good spring cleaning,” before he throws a lit cigarette in his warehouse and watches the coveted films burn. Men and women have died to get him these films. The nonchalance with which he destroys them is a little surprising. Even the film that served as the centerpiece of season one goes up in flames.
Finally, Tagomi returns home in his alternate reality to find a furious son. “Why do you dishonor Mom?” he asks. That’s when we see Juliana standing there with a baby. Is it Tagomi’s?
- The idea that Tagomi would meditate himself to a better world only to find it, too, has flaws is creative and thematically interesting. Just don’t turn it into a gotcha soap opera. Don’t get goofy with it.
- Tate Donovan is always great. He’s been underrated for years, especially on TV. (He was particularly fantastic on Damages.) He brings much-needed dramatic chops to The Man in the High Castle, and I’m eager to see what he does in the back half of the season.
- We’re halfway there! If you’ve taken a break from streaming, how do you feel about the first half? Satisfied? Disappointed? Jury still out?