The great Karyn Kusama brings a tight directorial hand to “Land O’Smiles,” one of the best episodes of The Man in the High Castle this season. There are some pacing issues here and there, but this is Rufus Sewell’s best High Castle performance to date, and that’s saying something. Kusama also gets great work from Brennan Brown and Rupert Evans. As a whole, this episode has a more confident visual sensibility than the show often displays, while feeling much more focused on two stories instead of the usual six or seven it sometimes juggles. Kusama can’t quite make Alexa Davalos interesting, but she’s not a miracle worker.
New York: Juliana Crain and the Smiths
The most interesting arc in “Land O’Smiles” comes in the saga of John Smith (Sewell) to save his son Thomas (Quinn Lord), while his sins of the recent past aren’t quite ready to be buried. Juliana (Davalos) draws closer to the Smith family, which should be valuable to George Dixon (Tate Donovan) and the Resistance, but she may be developing honest affection for this sick young man. Will she end up betraying him for the cause?
Much of the episode’s interesting drama takes place at and after Dr. Adler’s funeral. While Juliana looks conflicted about giving the Nazi salute, Smith gives the speech of his life. Yes, the man who murdered Dr. Adler to protect his son has to give the eulogy. It’s a fantastic speech about sacrificing everything for family, and Sewell nails the complex emotions going on underneath it. Kusama directs the scene beautifully, underlining how Smith’s arc this season is about realizing there’s something more important than country or cause: family.
After the funeral, Thomas has an “episode” and Juliana sees it happen. Will they get him out in time? Juliana suspects something is wrong. Later, Mrs. Smith (Chelah Horsdal) tells her husband about the incident, but that’s the least of his concerns. After that bombshell, Smith hears from Dr. Adler’s widow that she didn’t have the body cremated because she wants an autopsy. Her husband had a recent physical and had a good heart; his death doesn’t make sense to her. And if keeping the secrets of his son’s health and his own crime aren’t enough pressure, the episode ends with Smith getting the call he’s been dreading. Hitler has collapsed. Himmler wants to know if Smith is on his side. “No man is immortal,” he says. Not even Hitler.
San Francisco: Frank Frink, Ed McCarthy, and the bomb
The episode actually opens with one of the show’s scariest scenes, as Frank (Evans) has a nightmare about his dead sister and her children. They’re talking about Jewish history when gas comes through a vent in the ceiling. Frank wakes up in a cold sweat. Their death started this all for him; he’s on a mission to avenge them.
The newest Resistance fighter goes to meet with Hagan (Michael Hogan), another leader of the Cause. I’m a bit concerned and confused as to what dramatic purpose this Hagan character will serve that Gary (Callum Keith Rennie) doesn’t already. We already have a grumpy old man to yell at Frank. Do we really need two? Also, does anyone else think they’ve wasted Rennie so far? I hope they give him something meaty to work with in the final three episodes.
Anyway, Frank figures out that the Japanese are building an atomic bomb. While doing recon to discern the best targets for the explosives they stole, he discovers what’s really going on and conveys the truth to the Resistance — while also revealing the nuclear fallout he saw in the Man in the High Castle’s films. They know this is bad. If the Nazis find out what the Japanese are doing, they’ll wipe out the whole area. Frank suggests they change the plan. “We bring a plague to the pharaohs,” he says, whatever that means. I’m glad this narrative shifted quickly. It seems like the show would have had another season-ending arc that built to another assassination attempt, this time by bombing instead of shooting. Frank’s “plague” should wind up offering more than a narrative retread.
While Frank plans his godly vengeance, Ed (DJ Qualls) and Childan (Brown) are trying to get out of debt to the Yakuza. We spend a bit too much time with Ed this episode. First, he finishes forging a pair of cufflinks, which will be sold as the ones that Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was shot. He works with Childan to sell them to a wealthy Japanese man, and the two take their profits to the Yakuza. After they’re thrown in a windowless room, this new buddy-comedy duo happens into some dumb luck as Kido (Joel de la Fuente) and his men bust into the place and shoot the Yakuza boss. Just like that, there’s no more debt to be repaid. Ed, Frank, and Childan are free! They celebrate by getting really, really high.
- Karyn Kusama not only directed one of the best episodes of Billions, but also one of the year’s best horror films, The Invitation. Seek it out if you haven’t seen it.
- If you’re wondering where you know Michael Hogan from, it’s probably Battlestar Galactica — he played Saul Tigh.
- I did not miss Joe Blake this episode (I never do), but Tagomi’s absence was definitely felt and Kido hasn’t been developed much the last few episodes. Still, I very much like when this show focuses on one or two narratives instead of getting fractured and disjointed across multiple story lines.
- It’s hard to believe there are only three episodes left in the season. Let’s hope the remaining trio are this confidently directed and focused.