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On The Man In The High Castle, impulsive decisions lead to new beginnings

Rupert Evans, Brennan Brown/Amazon
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In the world of The Man In The High Castle, nobody really has a plan. When you surrender at the front steps of the Nazi embassy or throw yourself on the mercy of the Yakuza and try to cut a deal, it’s an act of desperation. You’re trying to survive for that moment, not planting the first seeds of some master plot against your oppressors. The circumstances are simply too overwhelming for that, especially given that so many of these characters are on their own, stripped of any support system. One on level, this is realistic and makes sense: these people are just trying to get by, moment-to-moment, as best they can. From a storytelling standpoint, however, it can be frustrating, especially when the characterizations aren’t strong enough to convey the psychology behind the actions. It’s all right if Joe and Juliana and Frank don’t have a plan, but it’s a bit more worrisome to consider the possibility that the creative team doesn’t have one either.


It’s too early to make that call, but it’s something to track as the season makes its transition from a traditional showrunner model to something closer to TV-by-committee. For now, impulsive decisions by several of the major players have led to new beginnings; in some cases, as the title suggests, in new places. Seeking asylum in the Reich, Juliana is put through a battery of tests to determine her level of Aryan purity: skull measurements, skin tone, eye color…you know, the usual ways to determine a superior human specimen. She is also forced to give a full accounting of her activities in the two weeks since Trudy died, which she tries to fake her way through. (Intriguingly, she is unwilling to name Gary Connell as a member of the Resistance, despite the fact that their relationship to date consists of him trying to kill her.) She is rescued, sort of, by the timely arrival of John Smith, who has decided to handle her case personally. In a flash they’re back in New York, where Juliana establishes a new identity (Julia Mills from Seattle) and hopes to reconnect with Joe. Instead, she meets Rita, Joe’s disillusioned ex, who informs her the man she’s looking for is in Berlin.

Joe is there at the behest of his father, Reichsminister Martin Heusmann, who is trying to establish some kind of connection with his estranged son after hearing of his heroic exploits in America. Joe’s still in “I’m not that guy” mode, but he also resents his father for abandoning him and and his mother. These Berlin scenes play like outtakes from a throwback spy movie, with Joe skulking around an elite soiree in a white tuxedo and making the acquaintance of a mysterious, alluring German woman named Nicole Dormer (Bella Heathcote). She has the air of a femme fatale about her, and with Joe believing Juliana to be dead, it shouldn’t take long for him to fall for her charms.


Back in San Francisco, Frank’s slow but steady transformation from sniveling coward to Resistance hero continues apace. He and Ed take over Childan’s living space in order to get to work on the first fraudulent piece of Americana needed to pay off their debt to the Yakuza. When Lem and Connell try to recruit him, he’s typically reluctant, but a Japanese-American Resistance member named Sarah has better luck. When a dozen citizens are rounded up by the Kempeitai for execution as retaliation for the two cops killed during Juliana’s escape, it is Frank who thwarts the attempt by shooting one of the Japanese officers in the head. Reluctant or not, it appears he’s going to be drawn into the struggle…assuming San Francisco isn’t nuked before that can happen.

And then there’s John Smith, a true believer in Nazi ideology and methods except when they affect him personally. Smith’s problem is that his son Thomas has a congenital disease that will gradually weaken and paralyze him. That’s a no-no in the Reich, as Thomas’ doctor reminds the Obergruppenführer, leading Smith to plan a Godfather Part II-style fishing trip with his son. When the moment comes, Smith can’t go through with injecting Thomas with the chemicals that will end his life, so he gives the shot to the doctor instead. Is this the first step on the road to redemption for Smith, or just a sympathy grab for a character who deserves nothing of the kind? The answer to that question will go a long way toward determining whether The Man In The High Castle is in good hands.


Stray observations

  • Has it really been only two weeks in show-time since the series premiere? That hardly seems possible, unless the Reich has developed faster-than-light travel. Joe has crisscrossed the country several times, as has John Smith, who has also found time to pop over to Berlin and back. I guess we’re using latter-day Game Of Thrones rules of travel here: you’re never more than a few hours from anywhere.
  • After being forced to approve General Onada’s transportation plan despite the potential danger to (non-Japanese) citizens, Tagomi vanishes from his office. Another glimpse of an alternate reality awaits.

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