The Man in the High Castle
Well, that was satisfying in a way this show often doesn’t allow itself to be. The Man in the High Castle has carefully avoided some of the obvious B-movie thrills that it arguably should have given into a bit more over four seasons. After all, this is a show about American Nazis — let’s get a little wild! Which we do this episode, with a nice bloodbath to end the series’ penultimate chapter. It turns out that John Smith was not going to Berlin to face his superiors and ask for forgiveness, he was going to initiate a massacre, destroying the Third Reich’s heart in Germany instead of just launching an attack from New York. This means it’s time for some wonderful revisionist B-movie history à la Inglourious Basterds, with the slimy J. Edgar Hoover stabbed in the gut in a Berlin war room and Himmler poisoned to death with an air tank filled with Zyklon B, one of the most horrifying weapons of the Nazi regime. Aw yeah. John Smith is in charge, and no one will ever question him again.
It’s funny how much of this season amounted to something of a fake-out, allowing us to spend so much time with Smith’s focus on the alternate world that we forgot what a leader he could be in his reality; the suspicion that he would flee the Reich to a better plane of the multiverse turned out to be misdirection. However, it does feel like the drama with Thomas Smith going to Vietnam influences the decisions he made in the reality in which the Nazis won the war. He realizes more American sons will die if he goes along with the Reich plan to occupy the entire United States, and he’s done looking the other way. In a way, he ends up being the one who embodies a line spoken by Juliana Crain this episode: “If that world is possible, it means this one can be transformed.”
The bulk of this episode is a misdirect, keeping secret John Smith’s plan, one it turns out he concocted with Himmler’s new favorite son. The writers lead us to believe that the series could end with America on the verge of another war with Germany as they reveal their greedy plan to reduce the West Coast to rubble. They start by dropping leaflets on San Francisco that read, “Resist Your Negro Overlords, The Reich is Coming!” This leads to panic and dissent. If the Germans are going to bomb and then invade through the neutral zone, can the BCR really stop them? In Berlin, John Smith sees the scope of the German plan, wondering what value California could possibly have if it’s bombed into rubble.
Meanwhile, something weird is going down at the Stargate. It shakes and vibrates, flashing lights and grabbing things from the room outside it. Is it collapsing? Is something coming through? Could a squid monster fall on New York? (Sorry, wrong show.) Interestingly, Juliana seems startled at the same time. Could people who have jumped like her and John now have a price to pay?
Hold that thought, because first we need to talk about Childan and Yukiko. Instead of just leaving this adorable couple in their happiness, the writers of The Man in the High Castle get a little cruel. First, there are men in Childan’s store. They’re looters, vigilantes, and just generally assholes. Childan pulls a bat, they pull knives, Yukiko pulls a gun. They survive the moment, but the threat is clear, and the newlyweds need to go to Japan now. When they get to the port, the Japanese guard ruins their lives. He doesn’t believe Childan’s letter from the Crown Princess is real, and then takes a couple of bribes, including Yukiko’s diamond ring, but will only let her on the ship. And so they separate in a tear-filled moment. It’s moving, but also a little mean. Let’s give someone some happiness. And if the last shot we see of these two is Childan watching the love of his life leave, that just feels vicious.
Back to the Smiths. First, Helen finds a film of John and Thomas in the alt-world, which, of course, emotionally wallops her. She cries as she sees her dead son eating a hot dog, and again when she sees how happy alt-Helen and alt-John are. She pulls out the card that Juliana gave her and calls the number. It’s time for a meeting.
The Resistance plans to get to Helen through the cover of a women’s clinic, which also apparently has a nice budget for old-man-janitor makeup for Wyatt. While Martha glowers suspiciously in the lobby, Helen meets Juliana in a back room. While they talk, Martha gets suspicious and marches back, opening the medical room door to find it empty. As Juliana tells Helen that she’s seen alt-Thomas, Martha and Wyatt fight. It’s intense, and it looks like Wyatt is about to lose when Juliana comes up behind Martha and strangles her with a tube. Wyatt finishes the job while stabbing Martha in the stomach. Helen comes on the scene and flees in terror. Like almost all Resistance operations, it’s not exactly smooth, but Helen knows something crazy is going on and might now give in to Juliana’s request to get close to John.
After a horrible meeting about bombing the West Coast, Hoover marches into the war room in Berlin and ambushes John Smith. He hands Himmler and the other good Germans a dossier on Smith, and they even have a slideshow! Yes, we’re running out of time, but would this all really go down in a meeting about starting World War III in Los Angeles? Whether or not you believe the timing, they take John’s sidearm and send him into a private meeting with Himmler. Big mistake.
Himmler is a whiny, coughing mess. He gives a horrible speech about how he looked at John Smith as his son and how he was disappointed that Smith didn’t come see him when he was shot or sick. Waah. Smith is done listening to this crybaby nonsense. “I never loved you,” he says. “I never saw you as a father. I saw you as a petty little tyrant. You’re a mediocre man. A failed chicken farmer. The very thought that you see yourself in me — it sickens me.” Himmler is stunned at the disobedience and has a coughing fit, which takes him to his air tank. Smith rushes behind him and forces the mask over his face. It’s not oxygen, it’s the same poisoned gas that Himmler and his allies used to kill millions of Jews.
Smith walks away from Himmler’s dead body and the show reveals the extent of his plan. Wilhelm, Himmler’s favorite son, betrayed him too. There are dead guards everywhere, and Wilhelm will run Germany while John runs America. And they saved Hoover for John personally. John looks in Hoover’s beady eyes as he stabs him in the gut. Finally.
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• Despite a couple of wistful scenes in which he watches the fall of the empire from his captivity, Kido was largely sidelined this episode, as were most of the major players in the BCR. It was really an episode for the Smith family and John’s revolution (and that Childan nightmare).
• One episode left! The Reich has been toppled in Berlin, but is it too late to save John Smith? Juliana and Wyatt still think they need to kill John to topple the Reich. Will he be able to convince them otherwise? Probably.
• What of the portal? Does it feel like the writing could get a little cheap here and it just “closes”? It was such a major part of this season, it needs to play a major role in the climax, right? We’ll know soon enough.