“A Way Out” turns out to be a microcosm of this first season as a whole, with all the flaws and virtues that implies. There are revelations and cliffhangers and a final twist worthy of debate, but also the same problems with pacing and character development that have been present all along. The destination is worth the journey, but it was a close call.
The biggest problem, as ever, is Joe. After Frank and Juliana have finished watching the film that depicts Joe dressed in a Nazi uniform shooting Frank in the head, Joe arrives to tell them he hasn’t found a way out of town and to retrieve the film. They fight over it, but Joe gets away with the film and heads to the Nazi embassy, leaving Frank and Juliana to plead with Karen and Lem to find them a way out. Karen agrees, but of course there’s a catch: Juliana has to get the film back from Joe and kill him. They compromise, with Juliana promising to lead Joe to a spot where Lem can take him out.
The big emotional swing of the episode hinges on the true nature of Joe’s character, which happens to be the show’s most unknowable mystery. His actions suggest nothing to me but a guy who’ll side with anyone who offers him the best chance to save his own ass. Whatever convictions he may possess, however he truly feels about the Nazi Reich and his role in perpetuating its evils, Joe is all about what’s good for Joe at that particular moment. Conflicted characters are great if you have writing that evokes the subtle shades of that conflict and an actor who can deliver on it, but as far as Joe is concerned, The Man In The High Castle has neither of these things. It’s left to Alexa Davalos to do the heavy lifting as we have to take it on faith that Juliana’s experiences with Joe in Canon City are enough to push her past what she saw on the film and help Joe escape. She leads him nearly to the spot where Lem is waiting to put a bullet in his head, but when last we see Joe, he’s on a slow boat to Mexico. Don’t hurry back, Joe.
Frank misses the boat too, as poor hapless Ed is caught in the act of trying to melt down the gun. Frank tries to turn himself in to the Kempeitai so as to spare Ed, but Kido and company have never been interested in nabbing the right assassin, only the most convenient one. In fact, Kido has already found the right guy—a Nazi officer with a sniper rifle hidden under his floorboards—and gotten rid of him and the evidence tying him to the crime. Kido is an honorable man in his own twisted way, and he continues to put the interests of the Japanese Empire above his own. If a Nazi is named as the potential assassin, it’s war between the Reich and Japan—and that’s a war Japan can’t win. (At least, not without the Heisenberg device, which doesn’t figure into this finale.) Better to pin it on a patsy, and Ed has patsy written all over him.
Wegener, another potential assassin, returns to Berlin (a gleaming, high-tech metropolis in this timeline) for a brief reunion with his family before embarking on his final mission. That mission takes him to the top of the Austrian Alps and the Führerhauptquartier, which is most definitely a high castle. There is a man with many films in it, and his name is Adolph Hitler. If Hitler is truly the “man in the high castle” of the title, this raises many questions; for instance, is Hitler himself supplying the Resistance with intelligence and support every time a new film is delivered to him? These questions will have to wait, though, as Wegener seizes a hidden weapon and proceeds to…blow his own brains out. Like Kido, he has his own twisted version of loyalty and honor; indeed, he appears to be the one Nazi who can’t live with the knowledge of what he’s done. Hitler calls Heydrich at his hunting cabin to give him the bad news, allowing Smith to get the drop on him and let the Führer know he has a wounded traitor in his grasp.
It’s an exciting sequence of events, but what follows is the moment meant to leave us with our minds melted, eagerly anticipating season two (which will happen, Amazon has now confirmed). In truth, most of us were probably expecting some sort of glimpse of an alternate reality to close out the season, even if we had no way of guessing exactly how it would come about. It turns out that Tagomi’s constant meditating on Juliana’s heart necklace has been building toward the moment he sits on a bench, concentrates really hard, and somehow ends up warping into our own reality (or something very close to it). He is in a San Francisco with American flags, Lolita posters, and Ronald Reagan ads for cigarettes; a newspaper headline confirms that John F. Kennedy is the American president. Is this what Tagomi has been trying to do all this time? If so, how did he know about this other timeline (and the many other potential timelines represented in the films) and how to get there? What does the necklace have to do with it? (Please don’t tell me it’s because it represents love and love is the key to transcendence.) “A Way Out” leaves us with many more questions than answers, but they’re intriguing questions raising hope that there’s still time for The Man In The High Castle to become a fascinating head-trip worthy of Philip K. Dick.
- This episode featured one of my favorite alt-universe Easter eggs: Wegener’s son reading an issue of Ranger Reich.
- Hitler is now a character on this show. Heck, he’s probably the title character. This has to be a first.
- I feel bad for Ed, but at least his fate gives us one more appearance by Grampa “Mr. Sunshine” McCarthy, telling Frank he’s a selfish piece of shit.