The Man in the High Castle
To start the second half of the season, let’s vary our approach to The Man in the High Castle ever so slightly. When the episode dictates it, we won’t jump around the world as the plot tends to do, but break it down setting by setting. Throughout the season’s first six episodes, Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), Frank Frink (Rupert Evans), and Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) have been geographically and narratively divided. Meanwhile, Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) has journeyed to another reality entirely. Since their stories largely unfold independent of one another, it may help to understand them by considering each one individually.
Of course, not every episode will require this approach, and it’s somewhat indicative of the show’s frustrating writing. If the story lines were linked thematically in a stronger way, I’d feel more comfortable considering an episode like “Kintsugi” as a whole, but for now, the show merely hints at narrative depth through themes like the father-son relationship, allegiance, and the cost of resistance. It too often feels disjointed. Let’s try and re-joint it.
The episode opens with Tagomi on the other side, in the alternate reality where his wife is still alive but planning to divorce him. We discovered that Juliana was a part of his family tree in this reality at the end of last episode, and “Kintsugi” reveals that she’s with Tagomi’s son, Nori. She’s also running a Ban the Bomb meeting in his house. As the meeting unfolds, Tagomi speaks with a young man about the bombing of Hiroshima; nuclear devastation exists in this world, too. The writers are still playing games about exactly what’s wrong between Tagomi and his wife, but we can feel the tension building. Nori later tells them that he needs to sign the divorce papers — and he reminds him that he’s an American, not Japanese. Tagawa is very good at conveying the flood of emotions that must be going on inside Tagomi’s mind.
The episode’s strongest scene comes near the end, as Tagomi and the young people in his house listen to John F. Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis speech. The key passage is his message to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev: “I call upon him further to abandon this course of world domination, and to join in an historic effort to end the perilous arms race and to transform the history of man. He has an opportunity now to move the world back from the abyss of destruction.” Will Tagomi use Kennedy’s lessons and words to save his own world from nuclear annihilation?
Back in High Castle’s reality, Ms. Crain is still trying to convince George Dixon (Tate Donovan) that she can be trusted. He informs her that his people want her to try and get closer to Smith and his family — work the Nazi party from the inside. She seems to refuse, but finds herself drawing closer to the ladies of the Nazi Bridge Club before the Smiths. It starts at a card game, where some stark racism is spewed about Jews and the Japanese alike. The words “genetic defect” come up and Mrs. Smith (Chelah Horsdal) goes white as a ghost thinking about her son, while Juliana ends up befriending a woman named Lucy (Emily Holmes). They go shopping, talk about boys, and Juliana learns that Lucy is struggling to have children, which is a big no-no in the Third Reich, since the Nazis are obsessed with procreating a master race. Juliana tells her new friend about Kintsugi — the Japanese art of putting broken pottery back together again. (The concept is also thematically represented in Tagomi’s arc with a piece of broken pottery.) “Imperfection can be beautiful,” she tells Lucy. Juliana later speaks to George again about her mother, and what she meant to both of them.
Joe is still in Berlin, drawing closer to Nicole (Bella Heathcote) and struggling with his identity. He learns that he’s basically his father’s only remaining heir. No wonder dad is holding on so tightly; he wants to keep the family tree alive. Joe also figures out that Nicole was asked by his father to strike up their new friendship. Nevertheless, they do have something in common: It turns out Nicole was born in the same breeding program that produced Joe. Their union would be a Third Reich dream.
Nicole brings Joe to a party of beautiful people. Interestingly, they speak politics not unlike the young people in Tagomi’s arc. We learn that many of them oppose Atlantropa, a program that will construct a dam in the Mediterranean. Mostly, though, they’re too busy being sexy. Interrupting the flirt fest, Nicole gives Joe an acidlike drug. He goes on a trip that includes flashing lights and the first scene of the year between Joe and Juliana! (Even if it is just a hallucination.) She tells him that everything’s alright and they start sucking face … before she turns into Nicole. He sees his body in an open grave. Back to Juliana. Back to Nicole. Germany versus America. In the episode’s final scene, Joe is still contemplating his loyalty as he looks at a swastika armband.
Smith’s arc is brief, but the most dramatically satisfying in the episode. Everyone’s favorite Nazi has finally figured out what to do about his son’s genetic defect — and it’s a complicated plan. First, Thomas (Quinn Lord) gets a letter saying that he’s one of ten Hitler Youth members who will go to South America to spread the word of the Reich. While Mrs. Smith instantly refuses, her husband informs her in his office that it’s all a ruse. (It’s a great scene.) He lays out the truth: Thomas will be “kidnapped” in the Andes. The news will report that it’s Semites, but it will actually be people who can take the boy someplace where he’ll be safe for the rest of his life. Would you agree to never see your son again to save his life? What a horrible choice to have to make. Sewell’s final moment in the episode, in which Smith hugs his happy son, is heartbreaking. But will this plan actually work?
- Notice who was missing this episode? No Frank Frink! He must be too busy ignoring Ed for his new girlfriend. Poor Ed.
- It’s not a coincidence that the writers use South America for Smith’s plan to save his son. Nazis fled to the continent en masse after the end of World War II. If you’re interested, check this out.
- Bella Heathcote is a talented actress, but her German accent is distractingly horrible.