The Man in the High Castle
It doesn’t seem coincidental that The Man in the High Castle’s best episode yet was shot by James Hawkinson, the visual artist who turned Hannibal into one of television’s most striking shows, and directed by Brad Anderson, the filmmaker behind Session 9, Transsiberian and The Machinist. The writing and performances were top-notch in this episode, but I don’t think it would have been as much of a success without Hawkinson’s visual fluency and Anderson’s confident hand.
“Truth” begins where the last episode left off: Smith (Rufus Sewell) has caught Joe (Luke Kleintank) rifling through the folders in his home office. As Smith stands in the doorway, he expresses his disappointment in a deeply menacing way. He orders Joe to tell him everything that happened in Canon City: “Truth time. Tell me about the girl.”
Meanwhile, Juliana (Alexa Davalos) has discovered that her stepfather Arnold (Daniel Roebuck) works in a surveillance room for the Japanese government, meaning he’s likely the person who got Trudy killed. She escapes the Nippon Building before Arnold spots her, and goes home to read the card she took from the bin marked “Grasshopper.” (It’s a reference to a film made by the Man in the High Castle, titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.) The card mentions a “new gift that needs to go behind the curtain.” There’s another movie in the mix. Where is it? What does it reveal? Who will get their hands on it first?
After Frank (Rupert Evans) comes home, he and Juliana apologize to each other for their lame fight in the last episode. He tells her about the assassination attempt, then explains how he couldn’t go through with it after he saw a boy in the crowd. Evans is phenomenal in this scene. There’s no over-acting here; his performance is perfectly balanced. He’s the best actor on the show, which says a lot given how good Sewell is in, well, everything. Frank and Juliana kiss. It’s nice to see a bit of romance in this dark world.
Back in New York, Joe has confessed everything about Canon City to Smith. He tells her about Juliana, and how he helped her dispose of a body. He says he just wanted to keep his cover intact, but Smith sees through his excuse, knowing that he has feelings for Juliana. Smith’s lackey arrives and it’s time for a trip to Headquarters. When you’re forcibly taken to Nazi HQ in the middle of the night, you’ve got a good reason to panic. However, Smith just wants to use Joe. He orders him to find the Man in the High Castle’s new film, using Juliana to do so. The stakes of this new mission are clear: “If you fail, the girl dies with you,” Smith warns. Joe will have to betray her to save both their lives.
After Juliana tells Frank what she discovered about Arnold, she goes to her mother’s house to console her. Mom had believed that Trudy was dead, but now she’s convinced herself otherwise. Will Juliana tell her the truth? And could Trudy not be dead? Juliana seems unsure. Yes, we heard gunfire and saw the Kempeitai standing over her body in the street, but maybe she survived. Maybe she’s being used as a pawn. Maybe she’s hiding. Anything is possible.
When Joe finally makes it home, we learn that Joe has a girlfriend named Rita (Jessie Fraser) and she’s got a son named Buddy (Carter Ryan Evancic). This is an unexpected development. While it’s always been a little unclear if Juliana has feelings for Joe, he’s blatantly had a crush on her. Joe plays all sides, it seems — he pretends to be a Resistance member while reporting to the Nazis, and he falls for Juliana while he’s got a girl at home. I think we’re still supposed to like Joe, though, which makes him an interesting character. He’s a bit underdeveloped, but I’m fascinated to see where his character will head. My gut tells me that he’ll betray Smith and save Juliana.
Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa) is sad. He’s watering flowers and remembering the family that he’s lost. He returns to his office to see Officer Kido (Joel de la Fuente), who wastes no time voicing his dissatisfaction with the fact that Tagomi hired Juliana, “the sister of a known subversive.” Tagomi doesn’t care. He meets with Crain, and tells her that he believes she has a higher purpose. Tagawa is great in this scene, as usual. He plays up the mysterious levels of Tagomi, a man who could be using Juliana or, as I believe, has finally realized that he’s caught up in a conflict he wants to escape.
In a delicate bit of character development, there’s an excellent scene in which Frank meets with Sampson (Michael Gaston), the Jewish man who knew his sister. Frank is stunned by Sampson’s commitment to religion, and his willingness to raise his children Jewish even though it could get them killed. As Sampson says, “You can’t live your life in fear.” In a grim turn, their conversation reveals that Jewish Americans were rounded up and executed in Boston at the end of the war. Then, there’s a tremendous discussion of faith and art: How much does the enemy win when we give up the beliefs that define us?
In an unexpected subplot, antique dealer Childan (Brennan Brown, who is fantastic) becomes important after he’s invited to the house of his two wealthiest clients. Why are they being so friendly? While they drink whiskey, Childan admires their opulence — though he notices that their 1860 Colt revolver is likely a fake. It’s a fascinating bit of world-building, this idea that wealthy occupying forces would collect artifacts of an America that doesn’t exist anymore. They eat steak and talk about music and literature (including Miss Lonelyhearts, a 1933 novel by Nathanael West). But things end abruptly, and Childan realizes that they’ve treated him as a curiosity — just like the antiques he sells.
After they run into each other in the Nippon Building, Arnold and Juliana meet at a diner. As we suspected, he sold out Trudy — and he’s worked for the Japanese for 16 years. (If you do the math, that’s before the end of World War II.) He warns Juliana that she can’t get involved, but he doesn’t know she’s already part of the Resistance. Arnold also doesn’t know Trudy is dead, and thinks she escaped to the neutral zone. Also, he tells Juliana that there’s something different about the Man in the High Castle’s new film.
Frank goes to Childan with an offer to make fake guns, but the antique dealer has something bigger in mind. He can’t stop thinking about the “condescending bastards” with whom he had dinner, so he decides to scam them. If Frank fakes an antique, he’ll sell it to them. (“The gun that went through the famous battle and the one that didn’t aren’t different.”) Childan’s con is all about perception, which ties this story line back to a central theme of the show: Can the Man in the High Castle foment revolution by altering society’s awareness of history?
In the heartbreaking final scenes, Tagomi gives Juliana the closure she needs by telling her where to find her sister’s body. After she’s dropped off in a mysterious place, we discover that the Kempeitai toss the bodies of their victims into a hole. It’s a terrifying glimpse at the horror of mass graves. Juliana spots Trudy’s sweater, confirming that it’s her. She can no longer deny her sister’s death. As the episode ends, Juliana walks through the market, mournful and sad — while Joe follows her.
- More than any episode since the premiere, Hawkinson and Anderson imbue “Truth” with noir imagery. Davalos’s hair often covers half her face, there’s a soft light coming through the windows of Frank’s apartment, and so on.
- The episode resembles to Hannibal in several moments, such as the low shot of Tagomi breaking down when he looks at his family photos. I wish Anderson had a chance to direct an episode of that masterful show before NBC pulled the plug.
- “Truth” is the best episode to date in terms of pacing, tone, and visual language. Every scene works.
- With only three episodes left, it’s time to start wondering who won’t make it out of the season alive. The Man in the High Castle hasn’t been overly eager to kill off major characters, but I suspect some credited actors won’t be getting a renewal. Maybe Tagomi sacrifices himself for a greater good? Or Kido makes a fatal mistake?